Small Grants Are Still Effective…

…sometimes even more effective.

Madaba, Jordan

This hypothesis is, of course, what won economist Muhammad Yunus the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He revolutionized development with his policy of microcredit, giving loans as little as $100 or less, especially to women, to start businesses in the cottage industries, handicrafts, and other mundane matters. Banks have traditionally believed that such tiny loans were not worth the effort, or were to risky, as such borrowers are the poorest of the poor. Yunus, however, found that these borrowers are extremely reliable, and that their contributions to the welfare and development of their communities were incredibly important to improving life in the poorest of the world’s communities.

That’s why I was so disappointed, in a job interview I did today, to hear that USAID has twice turned down a small grant of a few thousand dollars requested by the Greek Orthodox School of Madaba. They have started a new after school English program, open to the public and not merely their own students, staffed by volunteers who are native speakers of English and teach the British Council’s internationally recognized Cambridge curriculum in English as a Foreign Language. Such English programs are available in Amman for JD150 (about US$220) or more, and the Orthodox School is offering these classes for JD35, while simultaneously bypassing the inconvenience and expense of travelling to Amman.

The program has been popular, and the students have done very well on the Cambridge exam, as administered by the British Council. The program has been so successful, in fact, that they’re opening two more programs elsewhere in Jordan, and considering adding TOEFL exam preparation to their offerings. However, for many families in and around Madaba, even JD35 is far more than they can afford. In the interest of providing the most benefit to the most people, the Orthodox School asked USAID for a grant of just a few thousand dollars to provide partial or full scholarships to the poorest applicants, and the school’s request was twice turned down at the 11th hour.

In a country where almost all conversation now revolves around rising unemployment and the rapid rise of the cost of basic necessities like food and heating, a solid background in English reading, writing and conversational skills is almost invaluable. I remember, from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, how much emphasis parents and students put on the study of English, which is necessary for university education abroad or even here in Jordan, and required in the IT economy that Jordan, which has no natural resources, is hoping to develop.

It’s a real shame to deny the neediest families access to a resource such as the Orthodox School would really like to offer them.

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