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DUBLIN, Ireland – What do garlic, goats, water supplies and hurricanes have to do with credit unions? Each of these seemingly diverse things has been related to programs run by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) Development Foundation as they fulfil their mission to contribute to the relief of poverty in the country. Relieving poverty is too huge a mandate for any group with only five full-time and three part-time employees. The mission has been narrowed to promote and develop credit cooperatives in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. The co-operatives in turn help support small farmers, help with water shortages and disaster damage. “This is a long-term development process, with the aim of enabling credit unions to become self-sufficient and sustainable for the benefit of the individuals and communities they serve,” Nancy Belfiore, International Projects Promotions Officer, said. The laundry list of programs the Foundation and the local credit unions worked on in 2004 was varied according to the needs of the communities they were in. In Guatemala women were provided with micro credit and savings opportunities. Two houses were built in South Africa. A community center to be used for training and education was bought in Rwanda. In Malawi organic farming initiatives were developed while in Kenya they worked on HIV education. In the Caribbean help was needed for credit union members to handle the devastation of Hurricane Ivan. An example of the long-term commitment Belfiore says is best shown by their work in Albania which began in 1996. Their project was co-funded by the European Union Phare Programme. The goal was to establish six credit unions in Europe’s poorest country that was undergoing political and social unrest. The situation in the country reached a crisis in 1997 when 50% of the citizens lost their life savings in a financial pyramid fraud. The Foundation and its local partner, the Development of Savings & Credit Associations Movement Foundation (DSCAM, a local NGO), worked hard until it the Credit Union Law of 2001 was passed by Parliament. At the same time the Central Bank of Albania approved the rulebook for guidance. Instead of six credit unions, 42 have been opened. “Credit union members, volunteers and leaders have been directly involved in formulating objectives and activities, truly reflecting local needs,” Belfiore said. At the end of last year Jehona, became a functioning league to represent Albanian credit unions. The Foundation was actively involved in training the Jehona Board with visits back and forth to Ireland. The Foundation selects projects based on an application process. A five-person board reviews the applications and matches available funds to those they deem the most needy and accomplishable.

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