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Published: December 1st 2007
It all started when Professor Muhammad Yunus looked out the window of the Economics Class that he was teaching at Chittagong University and saw people dying of starvation from the famine. He wondered what good all of his great economic theories were when there were people dying right outside his classroom. He decided to close down his class, and, with his students, go out to Jobra, a poor village near Chittagong University to learn from the poor.
Yunus told The Associated Press in a 2004 interview that his "eureka moment" came while chatting to a shy woman weaving bamboo stools with calloused fingers.
Sufia Begum was a 21-year-old villager and a mother of three when the economics professor met her in 1974 and asked her how much she earned. She replied that she borrowed about five taka (nine cents) from a middleman for the bamboo for each stool. All but two cents of that went back to the lender. "I thought to myself, my God, for five takas she has become a slave," Yunus said in the interview.
"I couldn't understand how she could be so poor when she was making such beautiful things," he said. The following day, he
and his students did a survey in the woman's village, Jobra, and discovered that 42 of the villagers owed a total of 856 taka (about $27). "I couldn't take it anymore. I put the $27 out there and told them they could liberate themselves," he said, and pay him back whenever they could. The idea was to buy their own materials and cut out the middleman. They all paid him back, day by day, over a year, and his spur-of-the-moment generosity grew into a full-fledged business concept that came to fruition with the founding of Grameen Bank in 1983.
November 2007 update - Grameen Bank has now loaned $6.6 billion to 7.4 million people - 97% of which are women. This includes 85 thousand beggars.
We met with the first borrower and I video interviewed her (see a link to that video below). The communication was very difficult (her reluctance to speak and translation problems. I have the video unedited as there are those who will be trying to provide me a more complete translation. Near the end of the six minute clip - you will find some translation) but she spoke of her first loan and how
much she appreciated Professsor Yunus. Now, 33 years later, she is still making baskets, has received many loans, has a current loan and is still attending Center Meetings. Her home is the nicest of any that we had seen - while at the same time still very modest. I was lucky to be able to be in a picture with her as normally she would not allow a man into her home and she would not come out of her for photos.
We also met a man who was the first center leader. He spoke reaonable English, but I did not have time to interview him.
Before we visited the first Grameen Bank office. One person was still working there from when the office openned.
We drove to Chittagong University. The new Economics Building was named after Professor Yunus.
We had now had time with Professor Yunus and the Original Borrower and saw and heard first hand about the start of what is now the beacon of hope of millions of poor - a way that millions of people have already escaped poverty.
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