U Kyaw Tint has provided a home, food and education for his family of eight, created a living income for 30 employees, and put a shirt on the back of thousands of people in his community.
He told me last month that it’s all down to small loans from VisionFund, World Vision’s microfinance subsidiary, with advice and support from local World Vision staff.
I was privileged to meet Mr Tint in South Dagon, a peri-urban area of Myanmar’s capital, Yangon.
“I buy used cotton shirts in bulk from Japan, then we clean and scrub them, put on the patterns and sell them,” he explained.
He showed me his secret technology, a cunningly carved bamboo clip which fits over a paintbrush and which channels dye into a narrow slit.
This enables some gifted, artistic women to draw perfectly accurate check patterns onto the shirts. Others use stencils and a variety of tools to turn plain white shirts into instant business attire and works of art.
“My first loan was for [the local equivalent of] $30 and took six months to pay back,” he recalled. “Then I got $100, then $200. Right now I have a loan of $800 which has enabled me to make this business what it is.”
He gets the equivalent of almost a dollar profit per shirt. Demand is high, and the result is a thriving enterprise.
He pauses to pay one of his staff a handful of kyat notes as she finishes her shift, and she beams – in this recently liberated economy, this is an income which makes the difference between children being malnourished or thriving, going to school and getting qualified for the future world of work, or struggling on in menial labour for the rest of their lives.
World Vision has been offering loans in Myanmar, Asia’s second poorest economy, since 1998. In the last two years, since President Thein Sein announced political, social and economic liberalisation in the previously secluded nation, these small businesses have really started to soar.
“Thanks to this business, I was able to put up a proper house for my family,” Mr Tint smiles.
“I have six children, the oldest 27 years and the youngest 13, and we lived in a hut before, a small bamboo hut. Now we live decently, and one child has gone to university while the youngest is in Grade nine at school.”
Can microloans make a difference to the development of the world’s poorest people? You can bet your shirt on it!