The Mercedes Club and the power of group loans
Reporting and photos by Tess Murphy
Stellah, Beullah and Tabeth make up the Mercedes Club Group in Zimbabwe, and all three women serve as the only source of income for their families. Over the course of ten years, their group has taken out several loans and supported each other both financially and also as friends.
Stellah, the group leader, is a shining example of how Kiva loans can transform lives and create jobs within a community. Stellah runs a hardware stand, and she used her first Kiva loan to expand her product type. Stellah’s second loan allowed her to buy a bigger table and move her stall to the front of the market. This new location had more foot traffic and helped increase sales. Stellah now runs a shop in town with the help of 2 employees and her third Kiva loan. In addition to hardware supplies she hopes to sell plumbing and roofing materials. “Before my first loan, I had nothing. I wish you could take my picture then, so you can see the before and after of how I looked. I was a totally different person. I couldn't afford nice clothes. I could hardly afford anything.”
Beullah sells clothing out of her house. She uses her Kiva loans to pay for transportation to Mozambique and South Africa, where she purchases clothing in bulk, and returns to Zimbabwe to sell them. She has a booming business with over one hundred clients who place clothing orders. With the profits from her business she has been able to build a house for her family and pay for her children’s school fees. Beullah has 4 children and is the guardian for 3 more. There are many orphans in Zimbabwe who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Beullah will use her next Kiva loan to stock up for winter, her busiest time of year, and also hopes to open her own shop one day.
Tabeth has owned her electrical hardware stall for 13 years. She sells everything from batteries to radios to solar panels. Due to frequent power cuts in Zimbabwe, solar panels are very popular and remain the easiest and cheapest method for power. Like Beullah, Tabeth has used the earnings from her business to purchase a home for her family.
The group meets once a month to check in with each other. Despite the challenges they face, these women have taken matters into their own hands by starting businesses and supporting each other along the way. Because both Beullah and Stellah make frequent trips to South Africa and Mozambique for supplies, they often exchange orders and pick up items for one another. If one is falling behind on loan repayments, the others help her. Even though their businesses are separate, their visions are the same. It’s this system of support that make group loans so powerful and inspiring.