A borrower's vegetable garden and home.

Grameen Bank and other NGOs have lifted millions out of extreme poverty. But, it is important not to get caught up in all the awards and achievements. The bank offers a struggling member’s loan to its borrowers. The loan is offered to beggars who usually rely on rice donations to get by day-to-day. In Bangladesh, as in many other nations, begging is seen as “a demeaning job.” The struggling member’s loan, which is void of any of the traditional rules and regulations the bank offers, gives beggars the opportunity to sell items — from fresh vegetables to ornamental jewelry — while they beg. This novel concept has lifted thousands out of the depths of extreme poverty. However, there is a great way to go.

A borrower's loan book, which keeps the record of her weekly deposit and repayment schedule.

At the Nowga office, I met a beggar by the name of Mariam. She was born to poor farmers, and she later married one. The landless are often the most destitute — a lack of capital can be absolutely devastating. Her two sons could not afford to go to school, and thus, the vicious cycle of poverty repeated itself. Both of her sons are now day laborers, and they do not make enough money to support their mother.

After Mariam joined Grameen Bank, her life improved to a certain extent. With her first loan of 500 taka (roughly $7), she purchased a goat (a source of milk). After paying back the loan of 500 taka, she then took a loan of 1000 taka and bought a calf, which she grew and then sold. Next, she took a loan of 3000 taka and bought a cow, which she raised and sold. Mariam now has a little extra money in her hand every month (about the equivalent of $2), which she is depositing in her Grameen checking account.

Mariam said, “I always lived hand to mouth and had a very hard life. I still don’t have a home. I was married before the Independence War [in 1971] , and I only have a few good years left in me. I need to work very hard now so I can feed myself in my elderly years.”

I hope that Mariam and women like her succeed. Her story put many things in perspective for me.