Kiva Service-Learning in Guatemala: Day 4

by Alexis Balomaga ’16 On day four of our trip, we indulged in a microfinance-packed itinerary and visited three institutions. The first was Adigua, an established microfinance institution (MFI) in Guatemala. Adigua is an organization which was founded in 2003 and provides small loans to small farmers and entrepreneurs, mostly indigenous women. Adigua centered their vision around the human connection, serving 100% indigenous people while being 95% indigenous in staff. Only having a choice between big banks that would deny the poor loans, and loan sharks that would take advantage of the indigenous community, Adigua created an alternative in the Lake Atitlan region to give aspiring entrepreneurs access to capital and education through a safe, close personal relationship with the organization and their field partners. An ideal used by the majority of the microfinance institutions we visited was the financial education of the clients, increasing their financial literacy. Through the use of field agents, Adigua offers the loan, consultation and technical skills to decrease the risk rates of default. Adigua goes one step further, interacting and collaborating with a number of other organizations, one of which focus on lobbying to prevent laws from targeting the vulnerable. I found it very interesting and impressive just how professional Adigua was. When entering the conference room for a presentation, we were greeted with tea and coffee as well as a complimentary pastry. The amount of people Adigua has reached is amazing and expands throughout the rural areas of Guatemala. DSCN3493We visited Mayan Families next, an organization which provides services to anyone of Mayan descent who is in need of medical support and family aid. Mayan Families offers both medical assistance to tend to more urgent medical issues, as well as educating for further growth as a community through health. Mayan Families focuses on healthy foods for children and offers classes to improve quality of life. Nutrition and welfare education are emphasized—basic knowledge of how to care for babies and preventing malnutrition in 3-5 years olds. Another initiative of Mayan Families is their artisan store which allows women to have purchasing power to receive fair amounts of pay for their work. Mayan Families offers vocational school for families covering skills like sewing, computer literacy, carpentry and beauty. In the microfinance realm, Mayan Families offers Grupos Solidarios, holding a group accountable for repaying loans. I really enjoyed the Mayan Families organization—their focus on education and life skills to empower Mayan Families is really amazing. It was moving to witness a room of indigenous Mayan women all congregating with designs in the sewing vocational training room. I sensed an atmosphere of empowerment and courageous strength in these families. It was evident how much the organization was trying to accommodate all family aspects to increase their chances of success. The last organization we visited was Mayan Traditions. They specialized in preserving Mayan craft, like the various traditional weaving techniques, and incorporating fair trade principles in its sales and distribution. Centering on women, Mayan Traditions allows Mayan women who have a certain talent in weaving to get paid proportionately to their work effort rather than being exploited through a middleman. This organization supports 100% indigenous women, providing health programs in addition to support for Mayan crafts. They incorporate natural medicine through a medicinal plant garden, and support Mayan healers. We observed a few indigenous women weaving in the front yard using a traditional, Mayan back loom. These women, who were away from their children, took the initiative to create opportunities for themselves and their families. Seeing all the patterns and designs made by these women was a wonderful experience. It also heightened my awareness of the exploitation of their work when sold through another source that is not fair trade. I feel that we all learned valuable lessons and gained a greater understanding of microfinance and how it affects people in a positive way. We should incorporate these ideals and strategies at the Kiva Carnival, first by introducing our experiences to the student body. Throughout the trip and the visits, I noticed that the human connection aspect remained an overarching theme. The idea of creating a safe environment for both the lenders and clients through actual relationships is a key factor of microfinance success.

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