so.much.to.tell.

August 14, 2010

This past week I have felt like a little kid on Christmas morning just about everyday–I’m not ready to leave. For starters, FAC had its very first ever loan deposit made last week–It’s actually really happening!!

This piece of paper means someone who has never used a bank before went, deposited money, and brought the savings deposit to a meeting. I'm satisfied.

Secondly, FAC also had its first group of savers approved by the central office in the United States (for security reasons we’ve built up this whole ‘institution’ with a central office in the US who calls the shots, and a boss that tells me what I can and can’t do)! Fortunately for me, I had the pleasure of telling a group of ex/somewhat current gang members that they were approved to enter our savings program! They each also made pretty significant deposits yesterday..

On Tuesday we had the best workshop thus far, and ironically it was over budgeting. So originally I came down with 6 workshops and over 1200 copies for 30 women set in stone, big mistake. I was fortunate enough to have a group of super people help translate all these workshops (shout out to Aida Perdomo (my mom), Armando Perdomo (my dad), and Linda Chamiec-Chase (my friend)), but at the end of the day such trainings proved to be too advanced, convoluted, and just frustrating.

As a result, everyday I am constantly sitting behind a computer screen putting workshops together, and making handouts and forms as the need arises. Sarika Mendu left on Wednesday, she was a big help in the education aspect of FAC and is spearheading it this year. Sarika, you have been missed. Long story short, the majority of the work I’ve been doing here in Gaute is not sexy, but it does have its moments that make it all worthwhile.

Aside from the first loan and savings deposits, interacting with the 5 women in a group setting has been phenomenal. Unfortunately two weeks ago the FAC Central Office in the US declined a loan application for a number of reasons, but let’s just say that the disgruntled applicant has been acting in a way that negatively affects the approved women. Consequently, at the meeting on Tuesday one of the five broke down into tears and was milliseconds away from pulling out of the program until the borrower group evolved into its real purpose: a support system, right before my eyes.

I have absolutely loved seeing theory become reality in the past six weeks, but more than anything in terms of the borrower group. As aforementioned our group is made up of women from two different colonies of La Limonada who if not for FAC would have never talked, learned, and work together, much less care enough about the others’ feelings to show it. So, upon breaking down, the other 4 women from the 2 colonies stayed an extra 30 minutes after class to comfort, talk, and laugh with the other. It gave me goosebumps for a good 20 minutes. Moving forward, if FAC doesn’t work out, at least it bridged the significant disconnect between two groups of people, which makes me think: in theory borrower groups are supposed to choose themselves to create the most possible solidarity, but if we can connect gaps that are practically taboo for people to cross alone, we might just keep forming groups?

Speaking of theory, microfinance is supposed to be something that empowers marginalized communities with the tools to help themselves, but in La Limonada microfinance is a completely different beast. Contrary to popular belief, microcredit does exist in the ghetto, and the bureaucracy of such organizations make it easy for its clients to be completely taken advantage of and practically robbed. True story: in one organization if one can’t afford their weekly payment, a program employee will go to one’s house, confiscate an asset, and auction it off to the borrower group’s highest bidder to simply cover that one weeks payment. In other words, you can’t pay your $5 this week, I will take your $200 TV, auction it off to your “friend’s” (aka borrower group) for $10, pay your $5 payment, pocket the other $5, and leave you TV-less, or oven-less, or refrigerator-less, or bed-less, you get the picture. With this system its not unheard of someone losing EVERYTHING they have in a month’s time.

In summary, there is a dire need for responsible lending in La Limonada. But above all, there is a need for true relational support and human capacity training. These women know how to make money, but they are even better at spending it. Thus, I am certain FAC’s financial literacy and business management training overshadow the monetary loan, and undoubtedly increase the true loan value. Tuesday’s the big day: loan disbursements!

For those of you how have been asking for pictures of FAC in La Limonada (mom), for some weird reason I’ve been told to not bring a camera (temptation) into an underprivileged area where parents will understandably do anything to feed their families. how strange. Anyways, I’ll leave you with a few things I’ve learned in the past six weeks.

Guatemalan take-aways:

  1. Photocopying is three times cheaper in Guatemala– you were right, Dad
  2. Don’t assume people know or don’t know anything
  3. There is a beauty in simplicity with everything
  4. Have a plan B, C, and D
  5. Guatemalan women can cook, wow
  6. The Guatemalan rainy season really is rainy.
  7. I love folder filing
  8. I love waking up to Mohammed scream when three dogs jump on his bed
  9. Guatemalan mosquitoes are skilled
  1. you taught me well, Maggie West

  2. he's too nice to them, sucker..

  3. I don’t have the patience to format wordpress posts.

    Ruthless blood suckers.

That’s all I can think of for now.
Love,

Santiago

Update!

July 30, 2010

Well, it’s been a little over  a week since I last updated this thing, and while I keep telling myself that I must get better at writing regularly, I’m about to reach the halfway mark and seem to be getting busier and busier as each day becomes more and more “action-packed”.

To give you a quick update in the past week there has been:

  • 2 Business Training workshops on Entrepreneurship, Savings, and Loans
    consistent attendance: 6 women
  • 1 Meeting with a Director of Fundacion Micros, an MFI in the city with several years of experience
  • 1 “business” account set up
  • 6 loan packets completed (app, collateral form, etc)
  • multiple surveys given to collect the first of the baseline data
  • countless loose ends tied up: buying a check ledger, forming a seal, creating an accounting system, standardizing a thousand different forms, and figuring out a data entry system for our impact analysis!

Business Module 1! Photo Cred: Sarika Mendu

Needless to say, I was very naive and severely underestimated all the work that needed to be done to get FAC up and running…When considering the fact that I am honestly not a nuts and bolts kind of guy,  filling in small gaps here an there has been super challenging for me. But progress is being made (or at least I like to think it is)!

Fortunately, I have at last began to see some of the fruits of my labor and many theoretical concepts come to life right before my eyes in the form of entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, and networking opportunities. In other words, all of the women that are going to be FAC’s first members are absolutely amazing. Each and every one of them are so bright, on top of things, and bring something unique to the table and to the group. My interactions with them simply reemphasize the fact that these women know what they are doing and how to make a living, they simply need the support of a hand up.

Contrary to a prior post, the first 5 or 6 FAC loans should be disbursed before the end of my stay here in Guate. While this all seems fairly quick, the relationships, capacity, training, and receptiveness is all there, what more does one need? In other news, our loan officer, “N” is on top of his game! He continually impresses me by the way he talks with people (and not to them), and always manages to see the potential in everyone. Urban poverty is an extremely demanding challenge, and “N” understands that asides from the entrepreneurship and financial training, relational support and character building is what will set FAC apart from other microcredit institutions.

In the midst of all this microfinance fun, we have however continued to be spoiled westerners ziplining and crusing through Lake Atitlan, exploring Antigua, and hiking the erupted Pacaya volcano! (pics below–still don’t actually have many pics from inside La Limonada due to how unsafe it is to walk around with a camera )

Hasta luego!
Santi

Antigua!

Exploring Atitlan

Ziplining

Atitlan

Ah!

July 20, 2010

Just got back from our first business module and it could not have gone better…detail soon to come!!!

Until then, here is a picture of us in La Limonada for your enjoyment.

La Limonada!

July 15, 2010

After much work and anticipation, I am finally here in Guatemala City!!! Traveling, adjusting to everything, and our work has all been surprisingly smooth (knock on wood).

Now that I’m fully dedicated to my work here I will try to post updates on a somewhat regular schedule. So we got here Friday night and went straight to our homestay place, an 18th century Italian-esc home owned by the nicest German couple. Their house is super nice and I’ve been eating 3 wonderful home cooked meals a day–I’ve never eaten better in my life (sorry Mom). Since then we have gone to a discoteca, went on an unofficial tour around the city, met and networked with FAC people, and worked in the La Limonada Schools!!

The work Lemonade International and their team do in la Limonada is incredible and motivating–among several things, they hold daily school for over 300 children from the ghetto that would otherwise be out on the streets sniffing glue. You should definitely check out their work.

Anyways, FAC update:
Our loan officer, “N” is one of the most competent and passionate people I have ever met and it is a privilege to work with him.

In just our first meeting with “N”, we figured out several “key” pieces of FAC’s theoretical model that might not work out as well as I had hoped. More specifically the following is currently thought to not be viable:

  • month long delayed loan disbursements: giving 2 loans, waiting for a month of consistent repayment, giving 2 more loans….
  • sweat equity: in case a borrower fails to repay, installment can be delayed by working in the schools
  • 6 weeks business training: hosting a mandatory business module prior to loan disbursement

So, for loan distributions we are thinking of changing the delayed disbursement to two weeks or simply not having it at all. In case of borrower default, charging a manageable fee for redrawing loan terms and stunting credit (if a borrower has built up to $2.000  in credit, they re-start the next loan with $1.000). We are still exploring other methods of effectively handling defaultees. Finally for training, reducing the workshops to four weeks before applying for a loan, and continuing education throughout the loan term.

The 20 initial women who FAC is targeting were chosen by Lemonade International staff, have very strong relationships with key community members such as the school teachers, and are thus thought to be trustworthy as possible borrowers. Just yesterday we made home visits and it was incredible to see how entrepreneurial and how much potential there is in every single one of these women. Now what does scare me a bit is that “N” and others in Lemonade International staff feel that we can have loans out within the next five weeks!

Time line wise, this could be possible, but I don’t know if this community is ready for it all. I highly highly doubt this is what will occur, but I guess we will see how everything develops and keep you posted. On a brighter note, our first business training is this Tuesday, and there seems to finally be enough teachers/facilitators to best serve our future borrowers!

What has also been very refreshing is that we are slowly getting plugged into and getting to know the community we hope to help and learn with. It’s interesting that we came down to La Limonada to “help them”, yet we don’t know what they want–whether to move out, send their children to school, buy a new tv, etc etc. But I think the Community Empowerment Fund in Chapel Hill hit the nail on the head by saying, “we want to help people actualize their desired quality of life” whatever that may be.

Because we have been able to if only briefly analyze the needs of La Limonada,  we are starting savings circles with ex/somewhat current gang members that are being provided with employment/vocational training at Lemonade International’s carpentry workshop!! If you didn’t already realize, this blog will focus more on FAC and how things are coming along “business wise”, so if you would like to hear more about our day to day activities and fun you should definitely check out Sarika and Mohammed‘s blogs. Comments/suggestions/anythings are welcome!

Hasta luego,
Santi

June 24, 2010

The countdown has begun– in approximately 17 days, 12 hours, 18 minutes, and 43 seconds we will be in La Limonada!! Because I have yet to go abroad I don’t have anything super exciting to write about, but I can  update you on the evolution of FAC.

La Limonada, being the community with the 4th highest murder rate in the world, you can see the blatant dangers of three UNC students walking in, piloting, and publicly advertising a microloan program..my parents can’t afford to pay a ransom. Hence, we have decided to keep FAC as much on the down low as possible–community outreach will be done strictly by Lemonade International and entrepreneurial workshops will only be open to potential clients (all of which is bittersweet). On a brighter side, after multiple months of international emailing and many many instances of miscommunication, our fist loan officer, Nestor, started his formal training at another microfinance initiative in the city this past week!

It is a very exciting time as everything is beginning to come together, but I’m being super weary of getting infatuated with the theory of FAC and I am constantly trying to step back and look at the big picture to make sure FAC stays as far away from mission drift as possible. In addition to the temptation of getting obsessed with the thought of starting a successful and sustainable microfinance initiative, one of the biggest challenges has been to wrap my head around the possibility of not giving out a single loan this summer (that feels so good to see on paper).

What it boils down to is that being a foreigner to La Limonada, I can only imagine the need and while I have done my research and have been going to Latin America all my life I have no relationship with the community and it is unrealistic and irresponsible to expect to make a connection, train, choose, and disburse loans to women I don’t even know yet. Ultimately microfinance and my “good intentions” can do a lot more damage than good and I am not willing to play with lives to “learn something from experience”. However regardless of what happens, we will be hosting entrepreneurial and business trainings and if loans don’t feel right for any reason then we will start savings circles with women!

I’m not trying to be negative by any means because in reality everything for FAC is on schedule and going pretty smooth, but just imagine the potential and possibilities for the following years if we start the pilot program with a strong base of trained borrowers with assets, a loan officer with experience and advanced training, and founders(?) who might figure out what they are doing! Anyway, I’ll try to keep everyone entertained on this blog with super stories and what not–feedback is welcome via email (santibeltran90@gmail.com) or the comments below!

Saludos,
Santiago

Welcome!

June 7, 2010

Hello and welcome to my blog. This is where I will be sharing my stories and experiences from La Limonada, Guatemala City where I will be from July 8- August 18th.

Until I write my ‘first official blog post’, you should check out FAC Internacional’s website (www.facinternacional.org).

Many thanks to everyone who has made this project a reality.
-Santi

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