Mark and Sue Real, Opportunity supporters from Colombus, Ohio, traveled on an Insight Trip to India to meet Opportunity's field staff and clients. The trip was eye-opening and inspiring—and they graciously shared a few of their experiences with us. We will be sharing their stories over the course of the week. Learn more about traveling on an Insight Trip with us at opportunity.org/insight.
Our Insight Trip was Sue’s fourth trip to India and Mark’s first. Sue immediately noticed the increase in traffic and corresponding air quality alerts, as well as a sharp reduction in beggars and roaming cows in Delhi and Agra. We were both struck by the colorful clothing and the festive atmosphere of Indians visiting national monuments and celebrating a Hindu Holy Week.
On our 90-minute drive to the Delhi office, our driver skillfully threaded his way around bicycles, tuk-tuks (a three-wheel open air taxi), cars, buses, motorbikes, and pedestrians. Several taxis bore signs that said, “We respect women.”
A sign inside the modest Shikhar Microfinance office celebrated “10th Anniversary Celebrating God’s Faithfulness, 2007-2017.” The staff spoke about the urgency of freeing families from unregulated, black market loan sharks who charged high interest. They cited examples of the dangers of leaving children at home unsupervised while both parents worked to repay high-interest loans. They described their work providing fair market rate loans as offering “redemption loans.”
The Shikhar staff was proud of the increase in the number and amount of loans. All loans are made to families in trust groups or to families with a proven record of repayment. They described how one client uses her loan to buy clothing whitener (kind of like bleach) in a large container. Then, she repackages the whitener in smaller, more affordable packages and makes a profit on each sale at her stationary store. She also employs four salespeople who sell the smaller packages at local markets.
The staff reported that most families in the trust groups are disappointed with their local public schools and want to enroll their children in a private school. They say there is a high absentee rate among public school teachers and some of these teachers are unqualified political appointees. This demand for private schools is leading Opportunity and its partners to expand its school loan programs in India. In every city, we saw scores of billboards advertising private schools which taught English. When we asked each group of clients about their hopes for their children, they were unanimous in wanting their children to obtain a good education and a better life.