As you have read previously over the last 9 months I have been working with Micro Finance Institutions (MFI) around the world. I was very keen to do some more work with organisations in Asia and after some organisation with the Grameen Foundation, a Bankers without Borders project was set up to visit and photograph as well as provide case studies and stories of the clients of this MFI in the Ningxia Province in China, Huimin.
I have not written extensively before about the clients, I normally write a short essay about the organisation and about its clients but this was going to be a new experience for me, a lot of pressure as well as you have to not only capture great photographs but also make sure you capture all the Clients story details to be able to write up at a later date.
I was really excited though like I said as it was photographing a subject that I have been working on extensively for 3 years now but in a new region and country. So it was going to be interesting to compare the clients and the impacts.
The town we were going to visit was Yanchi with a population of about 160,000 which may seem like a lot but in Chinese terms it’s a very small town. Huimin operates in two towns in this province, Yanchi the first with 5,000 clients and Tongxin with 3,000 clients, but for the two days we were working with the MFI we were going to focus on clients from Yanchi.
Over the two days we were accompanied by a MFI loan officer Mr. Wu and also an interpreter hired for the project Christine, both of whom were lovely people and very helpful and essential to the success of the project with regards to meeting and being able to chat with the clients none of whom spoke English. Mr. Wu who was working his weekend made every effort to make sure we got to all the villages and clients and also made sure we were fed and watered. Christine a volunteer from a local University was excellent in helping us understand the client’s stories and also relaying our questions and thoughts about the work and impact to each of the borrowers.
Over the two days we visited the local office twice and 5 villages that were varying distances from Yanchi, but not only was it a great experience and depth of the client base but also a great experience for us to see a different part of China, a less trodden path shall we say.
One of the highlights from day one was visiting a village Si Guquan which was about 140km from Yanchi, it is a remote community that survives predominantly on farming both animals and crops. The unique part about this community is that its people still live in Caves carved out of the earth, although this is starting to change as the loans have started to work, a majority still live in this way and it was fascinating to see.
The community itself was so hospitable, taking us in as strangers and leaving them as friends. They provided bottled water and iced tea as well as a gift of some beautifully hand sewn slippers as we left the village. They were so enthralled and honoured to have us as their guests it was a great experience. It was tough as you cannot really offer to pay for things or not accept this as this would be considered rude, so we accepted graciously and vowed to make sure we send them copies of the photographs I took of some of their families and friends. It is also an honour apparently if you have photographs of foreigners in your home so the clients and their families were keen to get a photograph with Steph and I.
The next day we visited a couple more villages but my favourite of the day was visiting the client and her husband who were farmers they have pigs, hens and sheep as well as some fruit trees and crops. The reason it was so great was that with Mr. Yulan I probably had the best photo shoot to date with a human, despite the fact neither of us spoke the others language I managed to get some fantastic shots of Mr. Yulan and he understood the direction and even took to his own improvisation which was fantastic. He was a very smart man as we walked around I could see how he had manufactured all sorts of gizmo’s and gadgets to help him work his farm more efficiently and use up all the resources he could so that nothing went to waste. For example with old car tyres he fashioned water buckets from them with just the tyres and some nails and they did not leak!
Not to be out done Mrs. Yulan cooked us lunch which was amazing, just throwing something together in between her role running the little convenience store they have at the farm for the villagers and her role as leader of her small loan group and the whole village’s loan group.
All in all it was a very successfully project and we met some great folks and some amazing people who have been working hard and will continue to do so with Huimin’s help to improve their lives and that of their families.
The evening between each day of the project some of the managers and loan officers from Huimin took us out to dinner, here we met some new people who were also working with Huimin in varying capacities but also some of the folks we had met briefly at the office earlier that day. We also were able to experience for a second time the joys of socializing over the Rice Wine toasts!!!
I cannot write this and not give a big thank you to Steph who wrote and worked with Christine tirelessly, to take the notes of the clients stories and collect all details about the locations and villages we visited.
If you are interested to learn more about Grameen Foundation and what they do you can check out their website. For more photographs of the project and stories of Huimin, these will be coming to www.francisminien.com later in the year.