Revolving Loans, Sustainable Businesses

Nhkum Kai Tang preparing bottles of soap
“We will try to expand the business and improve our family situation, especially for our children’s future,”
Nhkum Kai Htang
Author: Nhkum Naw Mai and Dustin Barter,  Durable Peace Programme, Oxfam in Myanmar

“Fighting broke out nearby in 2011 and we had to flee – a soldier died near us and then we moved here. On the day of fighting, we fled quickly; we had to run. We came here on a boat. I had a baby at that time, so I couldn’t bring anything else. I only had 2,000 Kyat ($1.7US). I couldn’t even pay for the boat. The boat was free because I couldn’t pay, so I used the 2,000 Kyat for food. Everyone fled on boats,” recalls Nhkum Kai Htang, 34-year-old, mother of three. Kai Htang’s family are amongst over 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) since the resumption of civil war between the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Kachin Independence Army in 2011 in northern Myanmar.

IDPs urgently want to return home, but can’t because of insecurity (landmines and fighting particularly), leading to uncertainty over the future, and ultimately low levels of wellbeing and happiness. Oxfam’s Durable Peace Programme’s recently released baseline study explores these issues in depth. Languishing in crowded IDP camps, there are limited income opportunities, yet Kai Htang and others are taking the lead in realising a better future. In this case, one soap bottle at a time.

Equipped with natural soap making skills and a business plan, Kai Htang was ready to create that future. Alas, she had no capital. Understanding such needs, the Durable Peace Programme is rolling out revolving community grants to improve IDPs’ incomes and resilience, in this case through Oxfam’s partner Karuna Mission Social Solidarity.

“Two months ago, I received a cash grant of 140,000 Kyat (circa $118US). With that money, I’m making soap and key chains. I sell both in the camp and community. Making the soap takes two to three hours. I get a list of buyers, then make it and sell it all in one day. In the last two months since the grant, I have sold 18 batches – 180 bottles.”

“I am saving the initial capital and using the profit for food. My husband is a carpenter and works far away sometimes. He needs electricity for his work, so we also bought a generator from the soap profits (and other money) for his work. I have to pay back the grant to the Livelihood Support Committee within six months. Then the grant goes to another person,” explains Kai Htang. As the grants are repaid and shared with others, new businesses are sprouting up, from animal raising to handicrafts.

Life in the camp remains challenging; uncertainty over the future and a desire to return home remain at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Peace is critical for this to happen. In the meantime, Kai Htang and others won’t let that hold them back.

“We will try to expand the business and improve our family situation, especially for our children’s future,” proclaims a resilient Kai Htang.

The 3.5 year Durable Peace Programme is funded through a seven million Euro European Union grant, and managed by Oxfam and implemented by a consortium of KBC, KMSS, Metta, Nyein, SwissAid and Trócaire, and 18 civil society organisations.