Kiva Service-Learning in Guatemala: Day 1

by Marika Dy ’16 As a Kiva Student-Leader, I was so excited to travel to Guatemala to see how microfinance works in the economic and cultural structure of the country. Our first day we trekked up stairs that led to an overloo k of the city of Antigua. Looking out on the whole city, I could feel the history and culture that seeped from the town and its colorful homes and shops lined along the cobblestone streets. We could see preserved ruins of buildings that retained traces of Spanish culture and colonial-era architecture. Some of the buildings were Catholic churches, hinting at one of the many influences of Spanish colonization.kiva in guatemala 2015 1 At Museo del Café, we learned about the culture and traditional celebrations of Guatemala that have been passed down from generations for so long. After being able to learn about the Guatemalan culture, we went on a tour of the coffee farm, learning how coffee is grown, harvested and produced. Learning the production process of coffee and tasting the product of course made us hungry for more knowledge of the corruption of the Guatemalan economy. Carlos Columbi was there to explain to us what fair trade and microfinance is and how it functions in Guatemalan economics. The coffee farm that we visited was a fair trade coffee farm. I was shocked when Carlos shared that only 16% of profits goes to the producing country—the rest goes to the consuming country. The fair trade movement was started in response to create a regulated system to help people in struggling economies. This allows producers to receive more money, and give back to their workers whom are mainly indigenous women. Since most workers are women, they bring along their children with them, either because they can’t leave them alone at home, or they cannot afford to let them go to school. Children that are able to go to school will only learn for about a month. In Guatemala, school starts in January, which is the beginning coffee harvest season. These children will not start school until harvest season is over in April, only to leave again after 1-2 months when they have to return to the fields to plant for the next harvest. Kiva Guatemala 2015 2Along with fair trade, Carlos spoke of how microfinance has helped many people of developing countries. Microfinance institutions make small loans at low interest, and provide business advising and training to help businesses be able to support themselves and their community. When people think of microfinance, most relate it to economics. Not many realize it also ties into public health, which is what interested me the most. Since most microfinance clients live in poor, rural areas, most have no exposure to health education and face more health risks. If a client or family member becomes ill, payments on loans become impacted due to expensive treatment. To prevent this, some institutions provide health services and education to promote healthy living in the community. Although Carlos didn’t speak much on the link between public health and microfinance, this is something that I would like to research later because health seems like one of the main roots of poverty. If people don’t know how to take care of themselves, they’re more likely to become sick, eliminating the ability to work for money. Without this money, families can’t afford school supplies for their children that could allow them to create a better future for their generation. Since returning to the Bay Area, I’ve tried tying in what I learned and experienced in Guatemala into my life. I’ve wanted to try to find ways we can continue supporting these fair trade and microfinance organizations that are giving people an opportunity to live, sustain and thrive. In the coming year, I want to find ways I can bring the lessons I learned to SHC’s Kiva Carnival, which I am beyond excited to help lead. As students, we don’t realize how lucky we are to receive an education. I didn’t realize how little time children have in school in Guatemala or any other developing country. Because I never noticed the impact my education has had on my life, I want to make a stronger connection between the Kiva Carnival with education. I think that we should center our focus for the carnival this year on education, focusing the money raised into loans that invest in education to promote the importance and impact of it.

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