Rachel’s two ‘career-break’ Experiences in East Africa helped her future job choices – and were a lot of fun!
In 2006, thinking of moving into international development, she quit her job and pent 6 months working with www.majimazuri.org. This was her first encounter with microfinance; Maji Mazuri started as a micro-enterprise project for a group of 5 women who had formerly been working as prostitutes to feed their children. A microloan enabled them to set up a small tea kiosk and generate income from selling tea in the slums where they lived (right). “I was so struck by the simplicity yet huge impact of the idea – lend a group of women £30 and suddenly they can feed their children without having to work as prostitutes. I knew I had to find out more.”
Rachel returned to the UK and did a Masters in Development, specialising in microfinance, and eventually ended up working in the sector. Before that, however, she spent another month on a Microfinance Experience: “In 2011, I managed to persuade my boss to give a month of unpaid leave, saved up and took off to Tanzania where I was lucky enough to visit the Mama Bahati Foundation, an all-women microfinance project in Iringa which offers small loans, savings and training to women in remote, rural areas. It was incredible being welcomed into their meetings, sitting chatting under a tree about their businesses (and trying to explain, in broken Swahili, why I wasn’t married and didn’t grow my own vegetables at home), joining in with some training sessions and helping to count the cash on repayment-days. Yes, I had a Masters in Development by this time but for real understanding of how microfinance works, the impact it can have and what it is like to live on less than $1/day yet take a loan to start a business – give me field experience any day.”