Thursday, September 25, 2008

Financial crisis

So you'll have to understand that I am somewhat in tune with the news in the U.S., but not completely. I have heard the mumbling of a huge financial crisis - economy crashing, assets losing value, banks going under.... I can't say much about what that means and how horrible it may be for Americans. But, I can tell you about a financial crisis that I see everyday with my eyes here in Peru. I spoke with Sebastiana today, she has been a regular at our sewing classes.
"We missed you at sewing class this week."
"I know, I wanted to go but I couldn't. I need to get food for my sheep, help my husband (he just found a new job), and ...well, I just didn't have the 4 soles (about $1) for the co-pay for class."
"Next class. You better be there...and take care of those sheep so that you have some good looking wool this year."

Then there was another conversation I had this week...

I am coordinating our literacy test dates and materials, so once again I find myself at the Ministry of Education (this time I bring my knitting because I know I have to wait at least an hour before I actually talk to someone). As I was waiting (and knitting) I sparked up a conversation with some of the literacy teachers that were also waiting (but not knitting). They had been working for 2 months with promise and promise of a paycheck, yet nothing. They spend loads of money out of their own pocket to pay transport so that they can go out to the countryside and work with their literacy groups. These are teachers, like most Peruvians, that have little to no capital - so the money coming out of their pockets is running pretty low. But, I guess this is nothing compared to the last group of literacy teachers - they worked 6 months without pay. The pay finally came, but that is not the point. Can you imagine working 6 months without pay and being able to live off of who knows what?

I only share these experiences because they go hand in hand with all the amazing experiences I also have here. I don't know what will happen with the U.S. economy or Sebastiana or the literacy teachers. None of us live in a carefree, protected money bubble. Money is a necessity - a source of pain and happiness. We all have our good days, bad days and despair and hope. We face our bad days with the strength and faith that each of us finds somewhere deep inside and our good days is our time to rejoice. And probably what all of us want - no matter where we live - is to be able to spend more of our time rejoicing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

endless designs...and opportunities

We finished our Bakery/Cake decorating class yesterday with happy stomachs. The women got to try their cake when our class finished and there were lots of happy faces. The students in this class were one of the best groups we have had for classes. They (mostly all) came on time, were present at all of the classes and asked a lot of questions and really got into the cake making process. I think that is a reflection of their intense interest, but also having a great - and strict - teacher. Our teacher, Luisa, gave them little bakery and decorating secrets and a basic guideline about using their bakery skills as a business. The feedback was unanimous - the women want more! The majority of women want to use what they have learned in the form of a business. I give them so much credit. To be an entrepreneur is not easy. Could I start a bakery business from scratch? Probably not.

This is really Discover Hope coming alive - creating opportunities that women use to create more income. The true test will be in a month or two to see if the students have used what they have learned. Everyone wants more practice. Luisa said, "practice with your family members, save money and make your own cake for events at home and the word will pass that you make cakes and you can start small with your bakery business."

I actually arrived late to bakery class yesterday because I was out in the countryside with one of our literacy groups that is preparing for their literacy exam next month. We were all sitting in the grass, knitting, chatting, waiting for the literacy teacher. Andrea just casually says, "you know now I can write my own receipts for the milk I sell. Before this class I never even picked up a pencil and I would have to ask my kids to write the receipts. But, now I can do it myself!"

I love it - DHF creates hope and the women in return fill me with hope.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bakery chaos

We are just rockin' out with classes this month. The women ask and they receive. There has been a number of request to learn how to make cakes (finely decorated cakes for Birthdays and other celebrations). Well I found just the right teacher who is patient and explains instructions with such detail, that almost anyone could learn the cake process with her. We are holding a 3 day class this week and yesterday was the first day. Women learned how to make the flowers and petal designs that go on top of the cake when we finish it on Thursday. We had a great crowd - 16 women from various village banks. I recently started this new process where women have to register and pay for class a day ahead of time (novel idea!) and if they don't they register ahead of time they pay more the day of class. Well, some of the women didn't like this new change. I stand strong in stating that if you want to invest in yourself and your business you need to organize your time and money (ahead of time). Like any new concept, there will be some bumps along the way. I hope these bumps serve as good learning opportunities and can encourage healthy business habits too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Literacy day Celebration

We had a lovely celebration for Literacy Day this Monday. We have three village banks that are finishing their 6 month literacy classes next month and it only seemed fitting to celebrate Literacy Day on Sept. 8. I thought it was either going to be chaos in the 'campo' (countryside) or a smashing success. It was a little bit of both, but mostly a smashing success. The morning before, on Sunday, a group of 6 of us from 2 different groups went to the market to buy all the necessities to cook for almost 50 people. The women put the heavy potato bag over their shoulder with ease and were so happy and filled with energy to shop for the event.

On Monday morning I met one of the groups and we walked together to the other's groups house. Little did I know they were long lost cousins (or some other related relative), so everyone got along splendidly. They cooked the chicken, potatoes, rice (and everything else that we ate) in a smokey kitchen filled with more clay pots than I have seen in my whole life.

Laura and some Afider staff joined us for the good eats and celebration. They really put together an amazing lunch - a three course meal - more than enough for one person. We ate like queens and then started with certificates and prizes before some of the women had to go home to milk cows. After the literacy recognition part of the afternoon we played some fun games: musical chairs, balloon partner walk and the hacky sac run. The women were laughing and smiling from ear to ear. It was so fun to be able to celebrate with them and give them a break from all their hard work during classes. It was a moment of bliss to share the afternoon with them.

For Laura it was her 2nd to last event with the women. I know they loved having another gringa around, someone else who cares and is interested in their well being. Although she was only here for a short time, she will be missed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Message from Laura:

After spending a week and a half in Cajamarca working with Nora and getting to know dozens of women in many different village banks, I feel my work with the Discover Hope Fund has come full circle. I began collaborating with DHF about 9 months ago as an intern, and later as a member of the marketing team, working on the fundraising and event planning side of DHF. Then I jumped on the opportunity to make a trip to Cajamarca do some program evaluation work in the field, actually meeting and getting to know some of the women after working behind the scenes for several months.

Nora has taken me to many development classes and village bank meetings so that I can talk with the women and learn what about DHF is working and what needs changing. So far I have heard some really great suggestions for improvement, but overall the women have expressed to me how much these microloans and classes have helped their businesses, their families and themselves. Using what they have learned in the classes, the women are improving or expanding their businesses and becoming more confident in the work that they do.

I will leave Cajamarca in a few days with many new friends, a suitcase full of handmade purses and jewelry from the women, and a unique perspective on international development work.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Laura with jewelry

Laura registering women on Buying Day.
Laura modeling jewelry that Amalia made!

We had a Buying Day this Wednesday and Laura helped us out - register women and their products, select the best quality - and most importantly - she is taking it back to the U.S.! This week has been really crazy, lots of activity and Laura is in the heart of it all. She has been a big help and I think has gotten a deep, inside look into all the joys and frustrations of micro-credit.

Yesterday we tried a new activity where we gathered a group of women to all work on coin purses together and see how many we could make. It has been one of my longest activities (3 1/2 hrs.) and after all that time we had finished only 10 coin purses. We had a couple women stay and finish up, but Laura and I went home exhausted (before all 30 purse were finished). The coin purses that we finished are suppose to be U.S. bound, but our group lacks the "exportable" training to really make their products sell-able outside of the U.S. We think next time we need to have more sewing machines, bigger space, more examples of what is "exportable." DHF is trying all kinds of new things with our women and learning as we go - just like the women.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Skirts and Shirts come to an end

Our sewing class ended today. The women that came today were putting the last touches on their skirts. It turned out that the women had enough material to make more than a mini-skirt, but some women reassured me that they were still planning on making a mini skirt in the future. Gloria is here modeling her new skirt - notice her skirt passes the knees.

The general feedback from the women was that they loved the class (but then again I have yet to hear back from women that they don't love the classes we hold). Women talked about making more skirts and shirts for their family members - but also use this new skill as another business opportunity. A skill that pays. The women continued to tell me they need more practice, practice, practice so that they can become really good sewers. This month there will be more opportunity to practice as we've decided to offer a Pants class. From the planning side I know we have definitely learned some things through this class. In the future we will stray away from a month long class as we tend to lose participants that have a hard time with the time commitment. More sewing machines and less screaming kids are also in the future sewing class agenda.

This week is special for DHF - we have a fabulous volunteer working with us here in the field. Laura arrived yesterday and has already visited 4 different groups. Nothing like throwing her into the fire. She has been such a great trooper; very open and talkative with the women and a huge heart that shows she is interested in getting some good feedback for Discover Hope to use in the future. Hope to have some of her thoughts in the next posting.....