HOPE International and Seed Effect – Learning and Serving Together: A Report from the Field

When Missy and David Williams first started exploring the idea of beginning Seed Effect, they went to HOPE International, a leader in the field of Christ-centered micro-finance, to get feedback on their ideas. And because of HOPE’s foundational spirit of unity, they enthusiastically offered to help support Seed Effect with financial models, connections and additional tools as they set out to serve the South Sudanese in one of the hardest places to work on earth.

Now, almost 15 years later, the two organizations continue to work closely together and, in 2021, Seed Effect became a HOPE International Network Partner, which led to a recent trip to Africa together.

I was a member of the Seed Effect team that traveled to Malawi to visit HOPE Malawi’s savings groups in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. It was my first time visiting a refugee camp outside of Uganda – and the differences were stark. 

As we drove out of the capital city of Lilongwe into the dusty, sparsely populated rural area, we turned off the main road and into the refugee camp. Once inside the camp, it was densely populated and felt more like an urban slum, an island of humanity in the midst of its agrarian surroundings. The red dirt soccer field full of barefoot children near the entrance to the camp was the only open space inside the camp.

In Malawi, refugees travel from faraway places, primarily Democratic Republic of Congo, to get to the refugee camp. Once they arrive, they are confined to the camp, do not have land, and have very limited opportunities to work or grow crops. They are primarily dependent on aid to survive.

HOPE Malawi started savings groups at the camp a little over a year ago through the Dzaleka Christian Churches Union. We trekked through the narrow streets of the camp led by HOPE Malawi staff and ducked into small, dimly lit churches.

Once seated inside, we had the familiar experience of watching people file into the church, sit in a circle, and start their savings group meeting by singing before coming forward with whatever money they had available to save.

Fellow trip member, Walter Suckau, HOPE International Director of Partner Savings Group Programs shared,

“Without freedom of movement or work, no land for cultivation and the discontinuance of food/cash by the UNHCR we all were wondering how refugees in the Dzaleka refugee camp were able to survive. While we did not observe that people were starving, members of the Savings group, staff, and volunteers did mention that it has been very difficult for savings group members to save.”

Our next stop was Uganda. A group from HOPE International, HOPE Malawi, and HOPE Rwanda boarded a small plane and made the trip up to Adjumani in northern Uganda to see Seed Effect’s program.

As our caravan of vehicles made its way out of Adjumani and into the refugee settlement, it was difficult to tell when we’d entered the actual settlement. If there hadn’t been signs for UN agencies, nonprofits, and government offices, we could have easily been in one of the neighboring Ugandan communities. Life in a Ugandan refugee settlement does not look vastly different from the host community to the untrained eye.

Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in all of Africa, but also has refugee-friendly policies that allow freedom of movement, freedom to work and a small plot of land, which makes a noticeable difference in the quality of life for a refugee. All of the HOPE staff were struck by this difference. 

Also, the proximity of the refugee settlements in the West Nile region of Uganda makes it much easier to return to their home country of South Sudan just across the border.

The HOPE staff team visited the Holy Family Savings Group in the Pagirinya Settlement. The group welcomed us with singing and ushered us unto the church where they met, saved, and shared stories of the impact that group had made in their lives.

One of the group members took our group across the street to show us her business. As she passed around some fried bread, a local treat called mandazi, she shared,

“With the help of a loan from my savings group, I was able to start this shop and it helps me to support my family, especially pay school fees for the children.”

The world is facing an unprecedented global refugee crisis. And unfortunately, over 80% of refugee crises last 10 years or more. But as we saw in both countries, refugees are capable, and with the access to the right tools, people living in material poverty can provide for their families with dignity.

HOPE international works through the local church to train church members to start savings groups while Seed Effect directly implements its own groups both within local churches and within the broader community.

As Walter Suckau explains,

“While both organizations have different operational program designs, both teams in the course of our time together reflected on the strengths of the model of the other organization, the capacity and competence of their staff and volunteers, the consistency of implementation but also some of the complexities of implementation that might not be immediately apparent.

At Seed Effect and HOPE International, we believe that we are not competitors or rivals, but rather co-laborers.

We will continue to learn from one another, share resources, and are actively working on how we might serve alongside one another in a place like Malawi or Rwanda in the near future.

After all, the goal is restoration, and it doesn’t matter whether that happens through HOPE International, Seed Effect, or some combination thereof.

At the recent Seed Effect Luncheon, Peter Greer, President of HOPE International said,

“I love that we are invited to say ‘Let’s be part of something bigger together.’ And I would say that really is at the heart of this Seed Effect and HOPE International partnership. This belief that there is actually something way bigger than these organizations. Let’s see how many refugees can experience the love of Christ after losing everything. Let’s find how many of them can work their way out of poverty and let’s be open-handed and generous so that we can see what’s the best way of doing that. And I can tell you that is happening.”

It’s happening. Hope is emerging. Dreams are being ignited. Futures are being redefined.

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May 3, 2024

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