Details about the Rainbow Network, an international philanthropic organization based in Springfield that has worked with Monett physicians, were shared at last week's meeting of the Monett Kiwanis Club.
Jim Oman, a former Methodist preacher and U.S. director of the Rainbow Network, told Kiwanians about how the organization was founded by Keith and Karen Jaspers. Owners of the Jaspers Hotels construction and development firm, the Jaspers sought a way to use their resources to have a local impact.
After a visit to Nicaragua, the poorest country in the American hemisphere, the Jaspers formed the Rainbow Network to impact the poverty they witnessed in several ways.
Oman pointed out Nicaragua faces serious environmental and economic challenges. The population mostly lives in a rural setting in great poverty. In addition to problems with clean drinking water, the country has eight active volcanoes, more than any other country, causing a wide range of respiratory problems.
The Rainbow Network has supported 100 villages with medical clinics. Monett physician Dr. Mark Costley and dentist Dr. Stephen Stidham have both worked with the organization to bring care to rural residents.
"One of the objectives of the Rainbow Network is to instill Christian values and to help the country's people improve themselves," Oman said.
One approach the organization has used is making small loans to individuals, rather than giving money away. A typical micro-loan would be for around $200 and used to buy chickens. Oman explained people can barely support themselves and buy chickens to have enough to feed their families. The next step is to help individuals get far enough out of poverty that they can raise more chickens that can be sold.
Making loans in a setting of great poverty may seem risky. Oman said the default rate has only been 10 percent. The Rainbow Network has had success teaching Christian values and hard work as ways to success, he said. The average loan is paid back in two-to-four months.
Nicaragua has no public school system. To nurture the next generation of leaders, the Rainbow Network sponsors 1,800 high school students. A donation of $300 a year can pay for books, uniforms, school supplies and basic necessities.
The organization has also built 620 houses. The cost at present is $3,200. Inflation in construction supplies has impacted Third World countries more than in the United States, Oman said. At one time a house could be built for $500, he added.
Some health problems have had simple solutions, Oman said. At one time, parasites on the feet were a major concern. Getting shoes to people proved to be a big help. Women were dying at a young age. Now they are living longer, Oman said, long enough to struggle with respiratory problems from the volcanoes.
Rainbow Network has a staff of five in Springfield and employs around 60 people in Nicaragua. In a country with few goods and services, poor roads and sweat shops for industries, Nicaragua benefits greatly from private donations, Oman said. A non-government organization, Rainbow is supported by international donations that can be made over the Internet.
Oman said a gift of $900 can help three children. Donors can also sponsor a doctor's work. Additional information is available by calling the Springfield office at 417-889-8088 or visiting the website at www.rainbownetwork.org.
Kiwanis President Lisa Balmas presided at the meeting. David Steward was the program chairman.
The Monett Kiwanis Club meetings for lunch and a program on Tuesdays at Happy House restaurant.