Kiva Service-Learning in Guatemala: Day 2

by Miranda Escobar ’16 On our second day in Guatemala, we finally learned about microfinance in the country and we even had a chance to work with children. Our first stop was Namaste, a microfinance organization that only gives loans to women. Karen, a woman who works at Namaste, greeted us and we were taught about the NGO. Bob Graham, who lives primarily in San Francisco, founded the organization nearly ten years ago after working as an accountant. At Namaste, they emphasize personal connection. Field advisors recruit new members by visiting people door to door, and visits with clients are about once a month. They always speak the native Mayan language of their clients. Namaste works in cycles. The first cycle is primarily focused on business education for the women to ensure they understand how to effectively run a business that will generate a profit that they can both use to pay back their loans and rise out of poverty. An example of the way that these women are provided with education is a three-day retreat at Lake Atitlan. The women are able to attend workshops on an array of topics such as domestic abuse, marketing and accounting. This retreat is the first time many women are away from their families. With the education they are given and the time away from their families, these women are left feeling empowered to start their businesses. At our Kiva Teach-In this year I would like to emphasize the importance of education in business. Just like Namaste, I would like to see education and loans going hand in hand. When seniors ask for loans it may be helpful to provide an educational workshop to ensure everyone understands their business plan. The second cycle is a loan of about $300-$400. Once the women pay back these loans and grow their businesses they are eligible to start the third cycle, called the Star Program. In this cycle women are given loans of about $3,000. Namaste is currently creating a fourth cycle that will act as a transitional step between the second and third, being a loan of about $1500. While these loans may seem very large, this system is working with only a 2% default rate. After our visit with Namaste, we piled back into the van and took a 45-minute drive up to Guatemala City. As we drove through the country we saw wealth but we also saw a lot of poverty. Sixteen percent of the world’s population is considered disabled, and sixty percent of that population is living in the Southern Hemisphere.Kiva Guatemala 2015 5 Unfortunately, like many cultures, most disabled people are not accepted or they are abandoned by their families in Guatemala either because of the financial strain it puts on the family or because the individuals are unable to actively participate in the local economy and not financially able to provide for their families. We visited a center where 19 children live, most of whom are orphans. There are 10 girls and 9 boys, and only four could walk. It was the strangest feeling being at this center with these children. Part of me wanted to cry because it broke my heart to think such amazing children were left because of circumstances, but I smiled because of the way that I felt playing with them. We took the children to the park across the street and pushed their wheel chairs around. Some of us raced wheelchairs, and some stopped to pick flowers with them. Following our time in the park, we went back to the center for a dance party and enjoyed playing with balloons, blowing bubbles and dancing the macarena with them. Many students that are currently studying to become Special Education teachers work with the children, and a group of boys that attend the high school nearby also were there to help with the children. When I first walked through the doors of the center I wanted to cry because I was sad that the children weren’t living with their families, but by the time I left I realized that they are so loved by all the people working at the center.

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