I felt compelled in these Covid times to get these words out into the world. When there are so many challenges mounting on our own doorstep in the western world, the needs of those in faraway lands gets drowned out. However, these forgotten communities require more support than ever. I’d like to highlight the great work of Deki.
By James Potten
May 15, 2020
It was Deki’s 10th anniversary last year and in that time, Deki has changed the lives of over 60,000 people. As Chair of Deki over the last five years we’ve seen some highs & lows and at times we have struggled to get the wider message of the mission to give people in Sub-Saharan Africa opportunity beyond poverty. Getting airtime for this message is now exponentially harder.
Deki was started by Vashti Seth, back in 2009 after her father’s death. She was inspired by her Dad sponsoring a child called Deki Dolkha in an orphanage founded by the Dalai Lama. Vashti went to visit Deki Dolkha in India and found that she was trapped in a cycle of poverty, reliant on the handouts. So Vashti created the Microfinance charity Deki to take a more holistic approach, providing loans to individuals like Deki Dolkha so they could work their way out of poverty. The charity focus became Africa and the first peer-to-peer lending platform in the UK was created, also enabling the lender to learn from the enterprising spirit of Deki entrepreneurs.
Our last field visit to Togo with the amazingly talented Deki team took place in November 2019. Our mission, to observe the work and build a deeper relationship with our Field Partner IADES and to measure the impact of the work they have been doing.
On the flight over to Togo we went via Accra, Ghana and I sat next to Peter, a Ghanaian who lives in London. His sage advice was ‘don’t think you will be able to solve all the problems, you have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you talk’ (…so wise. He’d only had to ‘listen’ to me for 4 hours!).
Lome, the capital city of Togo was bustling and the surrounding communities welcoming. Each time we arrived at a village, they would sing a welcome song in a large circle, we’d have a dance and then a lesson would take place. Song is a powerful communication tool in these communities and they carry important messages through the medium of songs such as saving money for a rainy day!
Some of the key challenges we heard during our community meetings were:-
– 1. Patriarchy/Polygamy – in Togo men can have multiple wives. There is also very little family planning, thus a man with three wives can have many children with each wife and not be able to afford to contribute to their upbringing (financially or time)
– 2. Health – there weren’t too many signs of malnutrition but if someone falls ill in the family, it is often the mother that takes out a loan to fund the treatment (see point 1)
– 3. Education – the government fund primary school but not secondary school. Many of the girls were not educated beyond primary school (as parents have to decide which children they send to secondary and the boys are usually chosen). With little family planning, girls in their teens end up becoming mothers and the cycle goes round again and again (see point 1)
Changing the patriarchal society is a huge challenge but via our theory of change model we believe through education (SDG4) and providing the tools for self-determination, we can help lower the impact of extreme poverty (SDG1). I often refer to this diagram below to remind me of the steps needed to shift from equality, to equity to systemic change.