Turning Virtual Lessons Into Life Loans

Katie Smith Milway

Devoting her life to communities in Africa and Latin America, Katie Smith Milway was eager to bring home the lessons she learned and pass them on to others.

"I wanted to inspire kids to know, at their age, they can take a step that could have repercussions for their community, for their town and for others," she said.

The result was "One Hen," a children's book written by Milway about micro-financing that's become a hit around the world.

Read in 65 countries and counting, it tells the story of Kojo, a young Ghanaian boy who, through a small loan, bought one hen. The resulting chicken farm he was able to build provided for his family, paid for him to go to school and ultimately allowed him to give loans to other members of his community.

VIDEO: Katie Smith Milway inspires kids with her book One Hen.
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Micro-financing -- making small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries -- is not usually the stuff of children's books. But Milway believed kids would get it.

"Anyone who'd run a lemonade stand could identify with setting up a small business and how that helps you to earn some money," said Milway. "And with that money you can either make more lemonade or invest in something you want."

"One Hen" is more than words on a page -- it's also an interactive Web site. Kids log on to www.onehen.org to play games where they earn beads that they can then donate in a virtual market.

"Our theme is learn, play, make a difference," said Milway. "One of the things the kids learn on the site is it's not just small loans. ... It's using that loan, making money, paying it back, getting your next loan."

Milway brings the story to life. Every bead kids earn online adds up and turns into real dollars. "One Hen" has partnered with two micro-finance organizations that turn the virtual beads into loans -- $50,000 so far this year -- for people in need in Africa.

Schools Adopt 'One Hen' Lessons

Vivian Adamah, a schoolteacher from Ghana, received one of the loans and used it to expand her school.

"I do it because I'm absolutely passionate and personally inspired by what I'm hearing and seeing happening in the schools," Milway said. "And I just think it is such a high calling in an era where we've seen financial crisis in our country."

The book and Web site are now used with schools across the country to teach kids about social studies, math, personal finance and also global citizenship.

"Most schools want kids to make a difference, they want kids to give back to their communities," Milway said. "And this is a way to weave that notion into the subjects they've got to learn, anyway -- reading, math, social studies."

Schools in more than 30 cities in North America use the book and an interactive Web site to create a curriculum.

At the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Canton, Mass., as part of the 4th grade curriculum, the principal loaned the students $75 at 10 percent interest. The class then used the seed money to start a bead-making business. So far, they have paid the principal back with interest and made $300. The students will donate all the money they make to people in need.

"We've seen financial crisis in our country and we've seen what comes of the hubris," said Milway. "We think we're geniuses that can create value out of thin air. And it turns out you can't. Turns out it's actually a good time to start learning from folks in other countries who had to create value by creating things that people really need."

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