Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Development Reminders

Although I have lived in Latin America before, I am reminded daily of the joys and challenges that come up on a constant basis with "development work." My coworker, Vanessa, went out to do a village bank presentation to a community out in the country side. The joys: seeing a cohesive group of women chatting, laughing, asking questions, and finally seeing their eyes light up at the possibility of saving some money (something they haven't done before). On top of that, they were excited about the opportunity to learn to read and write. What more could you ask for at a initial presentation?

The challenges: Upon visiting a village bank group meeting, I found it hard to discuss with the women what is it that would help you be the mother and business woman you want to be? This group is very reserved, content to listen and knit. I think the women were skeptical of what I am doing here in Peru; How on earth can I help them? They opened up a little bit towards the end of the meeting, but it took some jokes, and many questions. I am here for all the village bank women, but I begin to wonder if only some of the women and groups will approach me and seek out support, and above all follow through with their request and our work together. If I only work intensely with few women will that be enough? That is something that I am exploring and asking myself. No answers yet.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Highs and Lows

My highs and lows usually come within 24 hrs. of each other. This week my low was the frustration of finding a map of the communities I will be working in. I had to go to the Municipality bldg. 3 x, not to mention I also had to go to 2 other bldgs. to get the right signature, receipt for payment, and exercise. It took almost 2 hr. to buy a map. This was after an unsuccessful meeting with literacy teachers, unsure if they can commit to helping some of our women learn to read and write. And after these frustrating experiences, Vanessa and I got completely soaked on the motorcycle with not only water balloons, but buckets of water. The joy of carnival has started!

But my high happened within 24 hrs. - I visited one of the bank presidents, Lorenza (pictured below with her kids). We chatted all morning about some of her hopes and wishes for herself and family. She has been the first woman so far to ask for a specific training: how to manage money. She says she takes her money puts it in a notebook for safe keeping, but maybe there is another way? She has pigs, but eventually would like to buy a cow so that she can sell milk. But a cow is more expensive, at least twice the price of a medium size pig. She likes to talk, share ideas and always calls me "senorita." She filled me with happiness and excitement and when we were done chatting I kinda skipped down the dirt trail to find my 'combi' (old, rusty minivan that serves as public transport). Next month when her bank meets to make their loan payment I will organize a small talk on managing money.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Literacy Search

This week was spent responding the desires of the women from the Intro. meeting we held the week before. There was a huge response from some of the women to learn how to read and write. Together with my co-worker we visited the Ministry of Education (sound like a scene from Harry Potter, and it was a bit chaotic, so it could have been - minus people on broomsticks). We were able to talk to someone who works in Adult Education, but he couldn't tell us how feasible it would be to recruit some teachers to start classes immediately. We need to go to a supervisor meeting next week. In the meantime my project is to find out truly how many women have the time and interest in committing to 3 days a week literacy classes. Back at the office I tried making phone call after phone call, only to find out that many of the women don't have their own phone number. Their son, husband, or neighbor has a phone, and when I got of hold of them, they weren't especially excited to pass the phone onto the women I was looking for. I am finding out the best way to communicate with people is to "pasa la voz." This means tell someone that knows someone that can tell the person you want to talk to your message. It worked, because on friday afternoon one of the women called me back, and told me she would "pasa la voz" to others about the classes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Introduction Meeting

Together DHF and AFIDER held our first meeting with the women involved in village banking (a total of nearly 200 women). My goal was to clarify my work with them and gather their ideas of a starting point. I explained I was not here to offer any money, but rather offer support that they felt they needed to reach their goals and dreams. With money alone we will never get to where we want to be. We need the opportunity to grow, confidence, and knowledge of ourselves and our live hoods.
We had a turnout beyond my imagination. All 100 plus chairs were full - women, kids, babies, and their knitting projects were all there. We had an agenda, and followed it, but when it came time for me to lead the "brainstorming" activity it got a little crazy. Maybe I didn't explain it well, we had too many women, or it was just too interactive/new/different for the women? Although it became chaotic, at the end of the activity the women had made long lists of themes that they wanted to learn about this year (both to help them with their business and personal life). Some of the most popular ideas were exporting goods to the U.S., women's health issues, and learning how to read and write. We also inaugurated a new village bank and held elections for the "comite" of all the banks. We ended the afternoon with coffee and cachangas (yummy fried bread treats), which put the whole room into total chaos. And I am thinking to myself how can I make this more organized?, when really we all agreed at the end of the day that everything turned out just as it should. No the coffee didn't arrive on time and not every women participated in writing down her own idea, but I felt an intense energy that great things can happen this year.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Sol in Action

This week I have been especially impressed with one of my co-workers, Soledad - or Sol as we call her. She has been working with village banks for the past couple of years, recruiting new banks, visiting existing ones. She is tough, lays down the rules in a sincere but realistic way, and on top of that the women come to her and trust her. But when she started working with the groups, they didn't trust her at first and "walked all over her." It took some time, just like it will take a little time for me to find my place with the banks. Now, they tell her all their sufferings and hardships. She listens. She supports. When she tells women not to drink soda because it is poison - they listen. Her purpose is so much more than giving and collecting money; she is a role model and social support for every women she visits. Here-in lies the power of microcredit. Here she is pictured (far right) with an existing bank here, collecting their monthly dues and talking about life, yarn, and ladrones (robbers).