A Loan…At Last!

by Catherine Coyne
photos: CNEWA-PMP, Jerusalem

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“Give a man a fish,” says an old proverb, “and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for the rest of his life.”

Sometimes a hungry man needs to be taught how to fish. But what of the man who already knows how, and only needs a boat and a net to be able to provide for himself and his family? What about the man who has everything he needs to become entirely self-sufficient, except the down payment?

At its Jerusalem office, the Pontifical Mission – sister organization of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association – is helping many individuals start their businesses or keep them going through its small business revolving loan fund. Although the loans made are usually modest, they can mean the difference between financial failure and the chance to earn an independent livelihood.

The shaky economy on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been particularly hard on ambitious young people who are trained in a trade or profession, but lack the necessary capital to set up a shop or an office. Inflation and rising prices also hurt those who already own small businesses; they may be unable to replenish their stock, purchase needed equipment, or comply with local by-laws that require them to make improvements. Shop owners or prospective businessmen who seek bank loans may not be able to afford the extremely high interest rates.

With nowhere to go for help, some businessmen have had to close their doors, and young men starting their careers have been forced to emigrate in order to establish themselves.

When a business fails or a young man leaves, more than one person is affected. The owner of a shop or a small factory probably has a wife and children who are dependent upon him for support. The young person embarking on a career may want to take care of aging parents, or help put a brother or sister through school. But family members are not the only ones who suffer; the communities where these men live are deprived of their services or their professional expertise. The local economy and standard of living may take a turn for the worse.

The loan that is granted to one individual therefore affects the lives of many others as well. The Pontifical Mission Loan Committee takes this into consideration when it evaluates the applications submitted by businessmen.

Each applicant is considered not just as an individual but as a breadwinner and a member of the community. The committee inquires about the welfare of his family, and whether he employs other local residents whose jobs may be at stake. It looks at the kind of service he provides in the community, the possibilities for improving or extending it, and the likelihood of new jobs being created if a loan is made. Working conditions, hygiene, the needs of the community and the businessman’s own need for financial independence – all these enter into the decision to grant a loan.

Many businessmen have already qualified and received loans, and the results are heartening.

Jamil and Emile are tailors. Jamil had a small shop; Emile started his business in the living room of his family’s home. They took loans independently, but later decided to go into business together. Now they own seventeen tailoring machines, and employ fifteen people in their small factory. Their loans have been completely repaid.

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Tags: Gaza Strip/West Bank Economic hardships Funding Employment Pontifical Mission for Palestine