Earlier this week, Matt Damon urged you to ask your Senators to stop billions of dollars in development assistance from being cut from the President's request by signing on to an important letter to Senate Appropriators. ONE members responded by sending over 100,000 letters to Congress in just 24 hours. That letter now has 45 signatures from Senators on both sides of the aisle from all across America. We have just one day before the deadline. We want 6 more Senators to sign before the letter is sent.
When the guests arrive, the women burst into a welcome song: "Welcome visitors. We are happy to see you here, God bless you," they sing in Nyanja, one of the more than 20 languages spoken in Zambia. Dancing and clapping their hands, they form a guard of honour for Matt and his brother Kyle to walk through. This is a local custom to show respect to visitors.
The Damons are led to white plastic chairs under the shed. The centre members themselves sit on the ground in front of them. Having the visitors seated on chairs, too, is an important sign of respect in the local culture. In fact, a couple of chairs is one of the first purchases for many of the women who have started to make profit through the businesses they run with funds from the microfinance project.
Matt wants to know if the fact that the women are suddenly making their own money has had an influence on the social dynamics of the families. "Oh yes!" the clients say with one voice, "There is much more respect now".
"What if everybody starts using their loans for the same kind of business?" Matt directs to Rashid, who then speaks on the Grameen Bank training and supervision elements, which serve to ensure that the clients develop a sense for business. In general, Matt seems to know a great deal about Microfinance and the Grameen Bank model in advance. He is also conversant with world trade and debt relief issues.
Just before leaving the market place, Kyle, Matt’s brother, sees a pirated DVD with a collection of films starring Matt on a rack standing in front of a makeshift cinema that shows movies on a TV in a little room. There is a group of five men standing in front of the cinema but for them Matt is just another muzungu, a white stranger visiting their market – until Kyle points the DVD out to Matt who takes it in his hand and looks at it.
"Isn’t that him whose photo is on the DVD cover?" one of the men asks from the others. "Of course it's not him," the others say, "what would he be doing here?" But then the men agree that the man standing in front of them wearing a red baseball cap and sunglasses is indeed the man on the DVD cover – finally somebody in Chongwe has recognized Matt Damon.
It will be different in the United States. There, Damon cannot walk in the streets without being recognized. That, together with his talents in acting and writing, can make him a powerful advocate for Africa.
Photo caption: Matt Damon and Maluba Wakung'uma discuss microfinance at Chongwe market