Many years ago, a woman in Nicaragua was very poor, but she had a sewing machine. She was lucky because it offered a way to make money that a lot of women in her country didn’t — and still don’t — have. A customer gave her $5 to make a shirt, but she had to travel by bus an entire day to get the material and thread she needed to complete the project. The customer felt bad that she had to spend so much time and money, so he gave her five more dollars so she could make a profit.
Father Tony Kroll recalled that story — wearing the shirt the woman had made for him — during the annual potluck and raffle fundraiser organized by middle-school faith formation students at Holy Cross Church in Butler Nov. 20. He attended the event to help the youth raise money to invest in microloans that will help people in developing countries start their own businesses. “If she could get a loan for, say, $500, she would only have to go once a month to town to buy supplies and she could work for the whole month and make a living sewing shirts,” Father Kroll told the youth and guests gathered for the event.
A microloan is a small, short-term loan with a low interest rate usually granted to start a business. The loans are administered by a nonprofit organization, in this case, Working Capital for Community Needs, based in Madison, Wisconsin.
According to WCCN, 64 percent of their nearly 28,000 microborrowers are women, and the average loan is for just over $1,200.
Earlier in the school year, the students talked about Pope Francis’ challenge to help migrants and refugees, and they wondered what they could do in their small town.
“How could we, in Butler, accept that challenge and do something?” said Mary Peeters, their teacher.
When the idea surfaced for financing a microloan, the students were enthusiastic and confident they would be able to raise the $1,000 minimum needed to invest in the program, she said.
The students realized that helping someone start a business in a developing country would help that person stay in his or her home.
“I think they would rather stay where they are, instead of going to another country because that’s just like starting over,” said Jack Peeters, a seventhgrader. “And maybe some people don’t like them coming here and that makes it hard for them.”
“They need help to stay where they are living with their family,” said Kalli Steinbach, aninthgrader. “If they want to stay and do good, they should have the right to do that even if they need help.”
They started the fundraising project three weeks ago with a presentation after Mass.Eighthgrader Kami Steinbach spoke to parishioners about what the students wanted to accomplish, while other students were there dressed as small business owners, including a coffee bean farmer and a baker. They announced that the proceeds from the annual potluck would go to the cause and handed out detailed information about microloans. They raised $350 in donations that day.
“It feels nice to be able to help people and to talk to everyone in the community about what we’re doing,” Kami said.
Father Kroll, a retired priest of the St. Cloud Diocese and a long-time investor in microloans, gave Mary Peeters the idea for the project. He knows firsthand how microloans can help, having served in the diocese’s mission in Venezuela and leading many reverse-mission trips to Latin America. It’s only when people are forced to find a better place to raise their families that they come here, he said.
“This system of microcredit is capitalism in its simplest form, where we put the dignity of the human person first,” he said. “I get a lot of joy out of just knowing that I can help people stay at home.”
Due to bad weather and a rescheduled school play, the turnout for the potluck was less than what the students had hoped, but they still reached their $1,000 goal.
“I’m overjoyed and just overwhelmed that people can be so generous,” Mary Peeters said. “Sometimes you just feel so frustrated when you see the needs and it’s like, ‘Where do you start?’ I am just so ecstatic that we reached [our goal] today.”
She is proud that her students will be investing with WCCN to help a family grow their business and work their way out of poverty.
“It gives them a sense that, regardless of how small you are, you can make a difference.”