Student Reflection

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Julia Wittrock

Class of 2015

I am very blessed to have had the opportunity to travel with other select Wheaton College students and faculty on the Iron Sharpens Iron trip to South Africa, Malawi, and Ghana. The trip provided us with hands-on education in the fields of international relations, business, and economics through 14 business visits and 8 political visits. Our business visits ranged from village microfinance meetings to large corporations such as Pick N Pay and Damco/Maersk. One of our political visits included a tour of Robben Island and Nelson Mandela’s prison cell; the exact same cell President Obama visited just weeks later. Some visits that stood out in particular to me were the visit with former President F.W. de Klerk and the microfinance visits with the Joyce Banda Foundation and Opportunity International. In addition to our site visits, we climbed to the top of Table Mountain, went on a safari, sailed in Lake Malawi and went on a canopy walk through a rainforest.

President de Klerk was very generous to spend a considerable amount of time talking privately to us about South African politics, the effects of international policy, and the role of faith in his work. It was fascinating to hear President de Klerk’s personal insights about working with other world leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. We also learned about the work President de Klerk is doing in South Africa and the world through two organizations he has created, the F.W. de Klerk Foundation and the Global Leadership Foundation. It was not only interesting but also educational to get first-hand information about political leadership, and I am very thankful for the J. Dennis Hastert Center connection that allowed us to have this opportunity.

Another opportunity that I particularly enjoyed was being able to see microfinance in action through site visits to Opportunity International and the Joyce Banda Foundation. Microfinance often capitalizes on the one form of collateral that is easiest for people in poverty to offer – social collateral. Thus, microfinance often takes the form of group loans, in which loans are given to individuals, but group members are responsible for paying back the debts of other members of their self-selected groups if needed. In our visit to Opportunity International, a Christian microfinance organization operating in Malawi, we were able to attend a meeting of about seven such loan groups which were learning about how their groups should keep financial records. We also got to see a variety of businesses that were run through microfinance, such as a dried fish business and a cooking oil store. The Joyce Banda Foundation also encourages group microfinance in Malawi. We met women who were a part of savings circles which partner with the Joyce Banda Foundation. It was awesome to see how these women used their God-given entrepreneurial abilities, along with the finances they were given, to create innovative small businesses.

 

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