Law Students Visit Microfinance Operations in Malawi
On March 15, 2012, a group of fifteen students from the College of Law traveled to southern Malawi as part of a course on the Law of Microfinance. Professor Christine Hurt supervised the trip, along with Assistant Dean for Academic Administration and Dean of Students Virginia Vermilion and Dr. Timothy Larson from the Geological Survey. The students had raised over $500 this semester, which they used to buy school supplies for a local school in the Mulanje district. In addition, the group had agreed to carry 36 donated wedding dresses from the U.S. to be used by a group of women microentrepreneurs who rent them out to brides in Blantyre. Accordingly, the group arrived in Blantyre, Malawi laden with supplies, wedding dresses and nervous expectation.
During the week that the group was on the ground in Malawi, they met with various microfinance institutions, both for-profit and not-for-profit, in an effort to learn more about how microfinance functions in Malawi. One of the most impoverished countries in Africa and the world, Malawi has been a popular region for the growth of microfinance. Microborrowers in Malawi are mainly rural, though the law students were able to meet with microborrowers in urban markets outside of Blantyre as well. The students also saw tea estates, an agricultural rice cooperative, and a weaving factory. Though many of the microborrowers the students were able to interview were chosen by their loan officers, the students were also able to meet with former microborrowers in a more candid setting. Finally, students immersed themselves in experiences to get a sense of the culture of Malawi: touring village schools and hospitals, observing a village church service and fundraiser, and seeing firsthand the problems that arise from lack of water and food security.