It's not every day that you can say you have given one million dollars to needy people in the community, but that's just what Rashid Habib from Lismore Neighbourhood Centre (LNC) can now proudly claim.
As LNC's microfinance manager, Rashid has been managing the No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) program and over the last two years has seen people's lives changed through having access to affordable finance options. The NILS program is open to low-income earners who wish to purchase essential household items with an interest-free loan that is paid off over 12-18 months.
"It's a safe, affordable finance option where people can borrow up to $1200," Rashid said. "People can apply to buy things like a fridge, but the loan doesn't cover things like rent, bond, vehicle or living expenses."
Every day, LNC's Aboriginal loans officer Noeline Hickling talks with people who need to buy some basic household appliances but can't afford to.
"One lady was paying over $400 per fortnight to a rental company for her household furniture and appliances," Noeline said. "When she came to us, we were able to advocate for her to have the goods sent back and she took out a no-interest loan with us... Within a year, she owned her fridge and washing machine.
"Another lady applied for a NILS scheme loan to buy a bedroom suite. Her family contacted us to say that she is now sleeping through the night, rather than pacing though the house and that she now felt like a queen."
Rashid said all NILS applications were assessed by a committee to make sure the loan would not put too much financial hardship on the applicant.
"Lots of people come back after they have paid back their first loan," Rashid said. "They might buy a fridge then re-apply to buy beds. It makes such a difference to their lives and we get positive feedback from people in crisis who are able to get set up with essential stuff."
The NILS program is supported through a capital grant from the National Australia Bank and has outlets from Grafton to Tweed Heads.
"The NILS scheme recycles funds so they can be re-loaned to other community members in need and no-one makes a profit," Rashid said. "As people repay their loans, the money is then available to loan out to other people."
For more information about the NILS scheme visit the website www.lnci.org.au.
Lots of people come back after they have paid back their first loan.