Sokom Son, 28, resident of a rundown neighborhood in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, looks forward to the time each week when she can make a loan payment. Sokom, like other mothers affiliated with the Mothers Bank I of Phnom Penh, is not a masochist. Rather, she is part of a trend-setting effort by relief-and-development agencies worldwide to provide small loans to hard-working poor people with good ideas but no capital and no credit history—people shut out of traditional loan programs.

The Mothers Bank members, says Sokom, enjoy their weekly meetings because the Christian facilitators who organized the bank instruct the women in nutrition and health-related issues. Sokom says it was at one of these meetings that she learned how to treat diarrhea with a simple solution of clean water, sugar, and salt. That knowledge has revolutionized the health of her four children. As the bank meetings end, the women often engage in spiritual discussions, sparked by the facilitators. As a result, several women have turned over their lives and businesses to Jesus Christ.

The Mothers Bank I is one of six established in Cambodia by Carol Stream, Illinois-based World Relief, which recruited local Christian women and trained them as facilitators. They, in turn, went into poor neighborhoods and explained the loan-bank concept to women like Sokom. After a short training period, the 40 mothers received a total of $1,500. Several borrowed money to purchase pushcarts for neighborhood fruit and vegetable stands. Another bought a 55-gallon drum and outfitted it with wheels so she could sell drinking water in neighborhoods without running water. Sokom, the group’s president, used an initial $25 loan and a subsequent $37 loan—both requiring repayment in four months—to ...

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