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Blog: CHF Executive Vice President Chris Sale Visits Development Finance Clients in Lebanon

Published 04/13/2011 by Global Communities

CHF Executive Vice President Chris Sale Visits Development Finance Clients in Lebanon
PHOTO: Chris Sale, CHF International’s Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, talks about her recent trip to Lebanon, where she met many of the people who used CHF loans to start or expand their businesses and change their lives.
April 13, 2011—Thursday, we went over the mountains to visit micro finance clients of Ameen [CHF’s microfinance institution in Lebanon]. Their stories are truly inspiring and they attest to the great entrepreneurial spirit and hard work of the people we work with here in Lebanon.
We met a young man who imports furniture, lamps and decorative items from China. He has taken several loans from Ameen, now has expanded his store and is travelling to China every two months to buy inventory. He started a few years ago with his wife in a small room. He is now on the main highway with two storefronts and is telling other people how to do business in China.
We met a lady who, seven years ago, was making bread and selling it from her home. Six loans later, she has a partner and her own bakery. She herself makes 1,000 sheets a day and sells them to local groceries and cafes in the area. She recently borrowed $5,000 and rented the store next door, where she is putting in a dress shop, sub-letting some of the space. We also met her daughter, a school teacher who has a congenital blood disease and needs a complete transfusion every other week. She is the reason her mother started doing business. The daughter says her mom works 18 hours a day and is her hero.
Not far from there, we met a man who grows roses and sells the flowers. He started with a $1,000 loan, and today has 20 “greenhouses” (plastic covered semi round tunnels), where he grows beautiful roses for the florist market — 100,000 stems a year. He currently employs eight people, including himself and his dad.
We also visited a couple on a small farm: he does the field work and she takes a lot of his produce and processes it. The wife pickles eggplant, tomatoes, peppers. She dries chickpeas and grinds them for flour, or breaks them up for cooking. She takes grapes and makes grape butter; grinds wheat for flour, makes bread to sell, takes milk and makes cheese and a yogurt like cream cheese; she puts up honey, it goes on and on. The wife uses her loans to buy materials to store and ready her processed foods for market, while her family in Beirut helps her with sales.
On Friday, we took trip north to visit a dairy and fruit NGO. CHF helped build the facilities and provided technical assistance. We continue to partner with the organization whenever we can, and are clearly seen as champions of their work. They provide cold storage for fruit (mostly apples) for local farmers, which enables them to protect their produce and send it to market consistent with demand. We learned that boxing and storing of fruit, as well as proper grading and sorting, reduce loss by significant amount and let farmers distribute fruit over a nine-month period ensuring they benefit from produce much longer than before. They have a very high-tech storage and bottling facility for olive oil that also includes grading of oil. They recently started to sell oil to Europe and the United States. There is also a small demonstration facility for dairy, where they manufacture some yogurt and cheese products. CHF helped with building the facility and equipping it. On the ground, we are still seen as key partners in changing the way farm produce processing happens in Lebanon.
On Saturday, we spent the day in the south of the country, where we visited a local NGO working in agriculture. They have net-covered greenhouses under which they grow seedlings and sell to farmers at one-third of the price they would pay importers. These are for local flower trade and also for vegetable seedlings. One greenhouse, the size of a basketball size, holds 200,000 seedlings in trays. They are also experimenting, demonstrating and then grafting special varieties of avocado stock and selling trees to farmers. Similar work is being done with bananas and mangos. It is hard to believe that, only five years ago, CHF introduced net covers and drip irrigation and brought experts here. The place is on land donated by the Hariri family is now self-sustaining. They sell enough stock to cover costs and set aside money for maintenance and other expenses.
Later, we went into town and made our last stop at a really lovely sweets and catering store in an upscale neighborhood. Only it’s an NGO. All the ladies working in the kitchen are “marginalized”: they are poor, unqualified, frequently single moms. At the center, they are trained in first class kitchen, where they make local and French style cookies and chocolates by hand. Many leave to work elsewhere or run businesses from home. Others stay. Upstairs, an after-school program prepares kids for high school entrance exams and keeps them in school. Job training, referrals, job bank for domestic employment and computer literacy training are some of the services offered to the local community.
It is amazing to see how all these people took advantage of an opportunity to improve their lives and how much they have accomplished. I am truly inspired and touched by their stories.