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One Hen Takes Microfinance to School

By Emily Riemer

On Tuesday, I got the chance to visit local elementary schools in Oak Park and River Forest, Ill., attending wonderful presentations by children’s author Katie Smith Milway. She wrote One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference, a book about a Ghanaian boy named Kojo who receives a small loan to buy a hen and eventually builds his business into the largest poultry farm in West Africa. He moves from poverty to well-being to provider, creating opportunities for himself and for the rest of his community. Kojo’s tale is based on the true story of Ghanaian poultry farmer Kwabena Darko, who in 1966 turned a small loan of 100 baby chicks into a thriving business, and he used his success to help others in his community. The 2008 publication of Milway’s book has led to the formation of One Hen, Inc., a nonprofit aimed at helping children become successful global citizens who focus on using their success to help others.

Beginning her day at Hatch Elementary School in Oak Park, Milway spoke to an auditorium of third- through fifth-graders about One Hen and about their own experiences with microfinance. The kids were eager to tell her about their entrepreneurial activities: a mix of lemonade stands, dog-walking businesses, and selling their original artwork. “And what did you do with the profits from your businesses?” Milway asked them. “I bought songs at iTunes,” one boy said. “I saved the money,” another girl told her proudly. “That is good,” Milway said, “but did anyone do anything except spend or save their profits?” Most of the hands went down. Milway went on to explain that, just like Kojo, every child can use their success to help those around them, using their money to improve the lives of others in their communities.

The school visits by the Boston-based Milway would not have been possible without the support of Opportunity International board member, and chair of the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON), Betsy Perdue. Perdue, whose nine-year-old daughter attends Hatch School, introduced Hatch’s students, teachers and parents to the important lessons of microfinance contained in One Hen. Not only did Hatch start an ongoing afterschool class for kids to learn about microfinance, but parents, students, and teachers all joined together to support microfinance as part of an all-school event. Putting their lessons into action, Hatch students hosted a bead workshop for families, teaching them how to make traditional African beads out of scrap paper, in their campaign, “Make a bead, donate a bead.” Teachers and parents then pledged $0.05 per bead, to be donated to Opportunity International to fund a microloan for a entrepreneur just like Kojo.  At another workshop, Perdue helped families make “henhouse” banks out of recycled milk cartons, encouraging them to save coins every day to help others help themselves. At this writing, the pledges and banks are still coming in, but the kids expect to raise over $400 to help microentrepreneurs around the world. At age 9, to be able to say you’ve changed a life–that is pretty inspiring stuff.

To take action and bring the lessons of One Hen into your community, please contact us to receive a free volunteer toolkit. More information about One Hen is also available at Opportunity.org/GetInvolved

Check back in with the Opportunity blog tomorrow to read more about our exciting day at the elementary schools in Oak Park and River Forest.

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