Africans are natural entrepreneurs. They have to be. When you live in a place where employment is uncertain and unpredictable you need to discover ways to eke out any income you can to feed yourself or your family.
I have found Africans to be incredibly resourceful and inventive. I was amused last year when I met a 12-year-old boy who kept two male rabbits that he rented out for a couple of dollars a weekend to act as studs. He earned enough money this way to pay for his school fees and supplies.
I’ve seen men who have constructed a knife sharpening apparatus from an overturned bicycle. And you can easily find someone who will use a treadle sewing machine to make you a made-to-measure shirt. They may also offer to charge your phone and maybe even cut your hair.
Others sell chapati and mendazi (like a deep fried African donut) from a wok over a charcoal fire by the roadside.
The CanAssist African Relief Trust has also helped communities to improve their earning potential. At one fishing village on the shore of Lake Victoria in Kenya, the fishermen were struggling with lower daily fishing yields because of stock depletion in the lake. Sometimes islands of invasive water hyacinth clogged the shoreline making fishing difficult.
These challenges meant they didn’t have enough fish to sell to the fish plant the purchaser everyday, so the buyer stopped coming regularly. If the buyer came only once a week the fishermen had no way of preserving their catch until it could be sold. The Beach Management Unit chairman knew a solution but there was no money to acquire it – until CanAssist agreed to fund purchase of a small freezer, the solar equipment needed to power it and a cleaning table. Now the daily catch can be cleaned, frozen, and wait for the weekly pick up. Waste is reduced. Income is increased. Everyone is happy.
That same Kamin Oningo fishing community on Lake Victoria is also exploring the possibility of raising fish in the lake in a mesh cage. The cage would be anchored offshore in the lake, stocked with fingerlings that would be tended and fed for a couple of months until they have reached harvest size. When the natural fish stock has dwindled, this seems like a possible income-generating venture.
In other projects, CanAssist has supported infrastructure needs to improve income generation for both individuals and communities. CanAssist has purchased sewing machines for a women’s group, computers for a vocational school, and irrigation materials for a school garden. All of these projects were suggested or requested by the various African groups.
CanAssist listens and responds to these entrepreneurial efforts when the proposal seems sustainable and practical. It is important that the funding organization takes the lead from the locals rather than imposing their own ideas and plans. Africans know what they require to advance. They just need help with acquiring the resources to get their ideas moving.
Tax-deductible donations to the CanAssist African Relief Trust (canassistafrica.ca) can help with projects like these.
Regular updates of CanAssist activity can also be found on the CanAssist African Relief Trust Facebook page.
Watch John and Cathy discuss his extensive work and experiences as the retired Director of Operations for CanAssist Africa on Bridging Post's Facebook page.
John A Geddes, a Kingston Ontario Family Physician, is a founder of the CanAssist African Relief Trust and has traveled extensively in East Africa since 2003. For ten years he was Director of Operations for CanAssist.