I've been in Thika, Kenya, for this past week, training entrepreneurs for Five Talents International. Thanks to the wonders of modern communication, I'm writing this introduction on a borrowed laptop while sitting in the restaurant of the Blue Post Hotel in Thika.
Along with John Hutchins from Truro and two other Christian men, we are teaching business basics to about 200 men and women who are hoping to start or improve their businesses by learning basic business skills. As always, I have been struck by the eagerness of these students to learn what we have to teach, and their appreciation for the effort we have taken to be here with them. I confess, however, that I frequently wonder who is teaching whom, as they bring so much to the table.
The Anglican Diocese of Thika is a diocese on the move. Under the leadership of Bishop Gideon, the diocese has quadrupled in size in the ten years since its formation, and is still growing exponentially. The bishop told me this evening that 60% of his clergy are under 40 years of age, and that youthful enthusiasm seems to infect everything they do. The clergy I have met have been energetic, sharp men on fire for God's church, and seem eager to face the challenges ahead of them, numerous though they may be. Five Talents operates here as a partner with the Thika Community Development Trust, and the partnership seems to be working beautifully. Peterson Karanja, the Trust director, is a real visionary who has put together a first class team to manage the growth of the program. In just four years, the program (which operates under a savings and credit model) has gained over 1,400 clients, with more joining all the time.
I asked one of my fellow travelers tonight, a first-timer to Africa, what his dominant impression was of the trip so far. His answer was that he had never before seen the sheer intensity of the students who came to our training classes. They come with significant business skills already, but are eager to polish them, and to pick up additional tips we can offer. It is almost scary how much they soak in what we have to say, and sobering to realize that these are people who will go out and make major decisions about their business operations based in part on what they learn in our classes. Fortunately, we know we have a solid curriculum, and we have ample evidence from past visits that the material we use really does make a difference.
We're off to Uganda next week, and I'm looking forward to meeting old friends there and to repeating our business teaching in Kasese in western Uganda. However, I will carry fond memories (and a few hundred photographs) of the new friends we have made in Thika, and I hope that God will bring us together again in the future. I remind myself constantly that we are small links in a great chain that God is using to help His people, and that many others have gone before us to prepare the soil that is now reaping such a wonderful harvest. I am just thankful that I have been able to witness the incredible difference that microfinance in general, and Five Talents in particular, have made in the lives of so many people around the world, and I am grateful to God for letting me see the miracle at work.
By Jim Oakes, Five Talents International Board Member and Business As Mission team leader