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Nun tells the story of African poverty

Sister Toni Temporiti (center) with women of the village of Kiteredde in Masaka, Uganda. They were celebrating the completion of their farm preparations and the fact that they would soon receive their cows.
Provided Sister Temporiti

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 12, 2013: Having to decide which of our children will be able to eat doesn't happen to most Americans on a daily basis. In Africa, that is quite the contrary.

Sister Anotinette "Toni" Temporiti, founder of MicroFinancing Partners in Africa (MPA), a microloan company based in St. Louis, believes it’s time to tell that story.

Inspired by her annual trips to the continent, Sister Toni has written One Potato Two. The book depicts life through the eyes of Mumbi as the young girl witnesses her mother transform a family faced with starvation through the help of a microloan.

Written as a children’s book, Sister Toni believes this is the best way to get the message across. "Children’s literature gets to the essence of the idea and heart of a concept," she said, in an interview with the Beacon. "The real issues, simple and profound both at the same time can be difficult to grasp; yet reading this to children, they get it, when it’s taken me all my years."

The story is one of triumph, and shows how the smallest ounce of trust can change a family’s life forever. After her father’s death from AIDS, Mumbi, her mother and three brothers and sisters find themselves in a struggle for survival. Forced to beg on the streets, Mumbi’s mother is approached by a young, kind women who shows her the opportunities available from an investment in a single potato. Building on that advice and sticking with her investment scheme, she works her family out of poverty one potato at a time.

Sister Toni’s interest in Africa began in 2003 after she was granted a sabbatical by her church to travel there. Starting in Cairo in a rickety old van, she drove down the continent’s east coast passing through 18 countries until she reached Cape Town in South Africa. Stopping at several villages along the way, Sister Toni spoke with many of the women in the communities about the troubles they faced and how they coped with them.

"After getting back to the U.S., I was totally changed in the most positive way, all I could think about was the amazing women I met,” said Sr. Toni. “I got home and met a psychotherapist and continued with my counseling but just couldn’t stop thinking about those women."

In researching what could be done to help in Africa, Sister Toni said she frequently came upon the term "micro financing." In November 2006 she went to a conference in Nova Scotia that celebrated 100,000 people who had been rescued from poverty with the aid of microloans.

There she met Muhammad Yunus, who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and U.S. Congressional Medal in recognition of his founding of micro credit. Inspired by his work, Sister Toni came back to St. Louis starting up MPA.

"Yunus and Ingrid Munro, a retired architect from the U.N. and founder of Jamii Bora Trust convinced me that if people had credit they could start a business,” said Sr. Toni. These programs give them back dignity, an opportunity to provide for their children, an education; what a marvellous miracle.”

MPA helps raise funds in the U.S., which are then in turn donated to micro credit companies such as Jamii Bora. The St. Louis based company is involved with three separate efforts in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

An example of how a microloan can be used to initiate a self-sustaining economic program is the Caritas MADDO Cow Project in Masaka, Uganda. Through a comprehensive training program, impoverished families transform their farms so they can care for a cow. The microloan used to buy a pregnant cow is repaid by "raising and passing on the first female calf to the next qualified family." The milk is  sold on the market, allowing for a steady, modest income for the families.

"It’s a truly amazing program that’s open to anyone, no tribal barriers, no religious barriers, just an amazing program," Sister Toni said. "They are also able to utilize bio fuel from the feces and urine meaning they don’t have to cut down trees, protecting the environment and also helping them to cook more efficiently."

Click here to purchase a copy of One Potato Two and for more information on MPA, visit:  www.microfinancingafrica.org/

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