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Actor Matt Damon visits UN anti-poverty projects

Actor Matt Damon visits UN anti-poverty projects on advocacy tour in Zambia

Internationally renown oscar-winning actor and screenwriter Matt Damon has just returned from Zambia, where he visited United Nations health and anti-poverty projects as part of a “listening and learning” trip sponsored by the advocacy group founded by U2 front-man and actvist Bono, the UN Volunteers Programme (UNV) said today.

“To see so much hope from people who have so little made this an inspiring and life changing journey for me,” Mr. Damon said of his five-day journey in early May to Chongwe, a rural district some 60 kilometres from the Zambian capital of Lusaka.

The Chongwe district is home to a small-scale loan initiative carried out by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in conjuction with UNV which uses the successful Grameen Bank of Bangladesh microfinance model to support poor women locally in establishing empowering and profitable small- to medium-sized businesses.

Under the initiative, qualified women are provided with small loans collateral-free to open a business or expand an existing one. Once selected, the recipients regularly meet in groups to discuss, share and learn from each other, receive guidance from the project team and make payments on their loans.

The microfinance team consists of two Bangladeshi and ten Zambian UN Volunteers who have for the past two years supported the two local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing hands-on assistance to the women’s groups.

“Before we could afford to eat only one meal per day, and that was lunch,” said the Zambian group’s leader Catherine Miwanda. “Now we can feed our families three times a day.”

In addition to the microfinance project, nearly 100 Zambian UN Volunteers work with the local government and the UN to implement initiatives in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with the main focus aimed at raising awareness and providing technical assistance in carrying out mitigation activities.

Mr. Damon and his brother Kyle conversed with a local women’s group to learn of the project’s impact. “The promises America and other rich countries have made to Africa must be more than words,” the actor stated. “Those promises need to put hopeful children in school; help parents put roofs over the heads of their children; and get life saving AIDS medicines to the patients who need them now.”

The Damon brothers also visited an HIV/AIDS clinic jointly funded by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as an organic cotton farm sponsored by the African Development Foundation. His trip was sponsored by DATA (Debt AIDS Trade Africa), the African advocacy group co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono, and the American NGO, ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History.

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