Posts tagged ‘Independent Travel’

A Mexican Tale of Women and Sheep

Emmanuel M. von Arx | KF 16+17 | Mexico

Who would have thought that my second Kiva Fellowship would teach me just as much about microfinance as about the rearing of sheep? Seriously, ask me anything you want: How do you best hold a lamb? How do you wrestle with a grown-up mutton? How do you treat sheep for worms? Where and how often do you set them a vaccine? How do you determine a sheep’s age? Why does a sheep bite normally neither hurt nor bleed? For what reason does a sheep have four stomach compartments? And how do you compel a lamb’s reluctant mother to accept her kid after birth? I owe this knowledge to UNAM-educated veterinarian Linda Velázquez Rosas, who made a sheep-expert not just out of me, but also out of 200 amateur sheep-owners in and around the little town of San Felipe del Progreso, two hours west of Mexico City. This training was made possible by Vision Fund Mexico (also known as Fundación Realidad or FRAC), a Kiva field partner that excels both at financial and non-financial services (in a previous blog post I documented an artisan fair in Mexico City that was co-organized by FRAC).

Continue Reading 6 July 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

Beyond Financial Services: Mexico’s Greatest Artisan Fair

Emmanuel M. von Arx | KF 16+17 | Mexico

Shortly after arriving at my first Mexican microfinance organization, FRAC (or Fundación Realidad, soon to be called Vision Fund Mexico), I had the joyful task of presenting in the name of Kiva two Social Performance Badges to its enthusiastic staff: one for Vision Fund Mexico’s strong and persistent focus on poor people, and one for the organization’s success in empowering families and communities. The description of the Family and Community Empowerment Badge on Kiva’s homepage immediately piqued my interest: it states that recipients of this badge “implement innovative business practices and offer services in addition to their financial products to meet the needs of the people they serve.” Innovative business practices and additional services beyond financial products? At FRAC? I began to ask members of FRAC’s staff and was soon pointed to some great examples of non-financial services that Vision Fund Mexico has provided in past months and year: they include support in product marketing and distribution given to beekeepers and artisan villages, over 380 free financial literary workshops for well over 4,000 borrowers, and free expert veterinarian training and medical services provided to hundreds of borrowers who are raising cows and sheep in their backyard. While I hope that some of these topics will be addressed by future guest blog posts of FRAC staff members (continuing the series that was started by Rosa’s gorgeous post on her recent field visit), I will report here on FRAC’s selfless contribution to Mexico’s largest artisan fair, the Expo FONAES. In many ways, this is just another example to David Gorgani’s great piece on the wide range of non-financial services that Kiva field partner organizations provide.

Continue Reading 22 June 2012 at 08:00 4 comments

Recycling for Life and Family in the Mexican Countryside

Emmanuel M. von Arx | KF 16+17 | Mexico

I have a confession to make: I love to browse Kiva borrower profiles – even occasionally without any actual intention to make a loan. I believe that reading the stories of borrowers from all over the world and knowing their dreams tells me more about a country and the mentality of its people than even the best of all travel guidebooks. And knowing some of the challenges they are facing in their lives and how they are surmounting them, being aware of the long hours they work every day and their dedication to their families – all this inspires me deeply and on a very personal level: if people can thrive under difficult circumstances thanks to incredibly hard work and a dream, then I should and will be able to do something meaningful and lasting with my own life as well! My Kiva lender profile reads: “I loan because… Kiva borrowers never cease to inspire me with their courage, talent, and dedication!”

That strong sense of inspiration that speaks to me out of every Kiva borrower’s history has been multiplied during my time in the field as a Kiva Fellow in the course of many personal meetings with borrowers. I have met literally dozens of borrowers who have left an indelible mark in my heart and mind. But recently I have met a borrower who is so extraordinary and unusual that even I – one of the more seasoned Kiva Fellows – was blown away. Her name is Ma de los Angeles and this blog entry tells the story of her work and her success.

Continue Reading 1 June 2012 at 08:00 6 comments

The Heart of Kiva – A Guest Blog from Mexico

Emmanuel M. von Arx | KF 16+17 | Mexico

Kiva is all about stories – what draws us all in and inspires us to lend are the stories of courageous micro-entrepreneurs that speak of hard-ship and success, challenges and dreams, love and dedication. But Kiva is not just about borrowers and their stories. It is also about the people behind the scene on the ground – the staff of the close to 150 field partners of Kiva – who screen loan applicants, grant, administrate, and look after Kiva loans, and make sure that Kiva borrowers are treated respectfully and fairly. Their stories are almost never told. Yet, the local staff of Kiva´s Field Partners are those people who make the magic happen – they are the ones who make Kiva possible. If Kiva Fellows are called the “eyes and ears in the field”, I propose local MFI staff be called “the brain and heart of Kiva.” MFI staff has insights on the conditions on the ground, the local mentalities, and the practical aspects of microfinance that can rival (and – I have no doubt – normally exceed) those of Kiva staff and Fellows. Yet, their perspective is seldom heard and their stories are rarely told.

Just how much local field partner staff have to tell and to share with the world I learned during the brief three week period during which I had the pleasure to be the Kiva Fellow for FRAC or Fundación Realidad (soon to be known as Vision Fund Mexico) in Mexico City. FRAC, has over 200 employees – they encompass 200 breathtaking stories and lives from all over Mexico, coming together in FRAC’s vision of wanting to provide financial and non-financial services to those families who do not have access to formal banking services in order to improve their quality of life.

During my work in FRAC’s Mexico City Headquarter, the MFI’s staff turned out to be an endless source of inspiration for me. There was not one person I talked to whose story and motives wouldn’t be worth sharing. Within a few brief hours I felt not just surrounded by close friends, but soul-mates – I discovered that everybody around me was at least as passionate and enthusiastic about FRAC’s and Kiva’s work and the impact of micro-finance as I am.

As soon as I told FRAC’s staff about the Kiva Fellows Blog, I was bombarded with requests of staff members to publish their thoughts and their experiences on it. Many have a particular pet project they feel most passionate about; others have made an experience on the job they are keen to share. Thus grew the idea of creating a little guest blog within the Kiva Fellow Blog. I offered to all staff to publish their thoughts and words on the Fellows’ blog as a way to make readers aware that Kiva doesn’t just connect lenders with borrowers, but that it connects lenders with local staff with borrowers with friends with staff with borrowers with lenders with… stop! Let’s just say: Kiva connects people through lending!

Rosa Gonzalez is the first staff member of FRAC who agreed to share her experience. She was hired by FRAC as their English-Spanish translator a few days after I joined the organization as a Kiva Fellow. Rosa translates both borrower profiles and journals for FRAC borrowers before they are being published or sent to lenders. But let me introduce Rosa in her own words – you will immediately see that they are pure poetry.

Continue Reading 24 April 2012 at 08:58 5 comments

Producto Creer: How for a Bank Doing the Right Thing Can Pay Off

By Emmanuel M. von Arx, KF16, Guayaquil (Ecuador)

My host and Kiva´s partner organization Banco D-MIRO provides over ten different types of microloans to borrowers in and around Guayaquil: among them loans to finance housing improvements, school expenses, medication, and loans awarded specifically to employees, young clients with a business idea but no experience, and – as Ecuador´s only microfinance institution – discount loans for HIV-positive micro-entrepreneurs. Yet, one borrower group beats all other borrowers in their dedication and commitment to paying back their loans on time: the well over 400 disabled borrowers of Banco D-MIRO, whose payment discipline has turned “their” loan – “Producto Creer” (“Product Believe”) – into the most successful and inspirational product of D-MIRO´s extensive spectrum. The delinquency rate of Producto Creer is by far lower than that of any other major micro-loan type of Banco D-MIRO, which means that borrowers of Producto Creer are better at paying back their monthly rates than any other client group! In these times of economic and social turmoil, Banco D-MIRO´s Producto Creer may be a much needed reminder that it may pay off for banks to do the morally right thing.

Continue Reading 20 December 2011 at 04:00 1 comment

A Typical Day in the Life of a Kiva Fellow: Loan Officer Training (Video Blog Post)

By Emmanuel M. von Arx, KF 16, Guayaquil (Ecuador)

Video posts on a “typical day” in the life of a Kiva Fellow are a time-honored tradition on the Fellows Blog. Without any more words, here is my contribution to the video series of documenting a typical day in the life of a Kiva fellow. Like all previous contributors to the series, I am keenly aware that there is no “typical day” for Kiva Fellows. But taken together, the growing number of “typical day”-videos may at least convey something of the diversity, unpredictability, spontaneity, and joy that a typical untypical day of a Kiva Fellowship entails. Enjoy!

Continue Reading 6 December 2011 at 04:00 3 comments

Village Banks BY Farmers FOR Farmers: A Microcredit Labor of Love

Oxen hauling coffee harvests in La Sierra, Platanares, Costa Rica.

 By Julie Kerr, KF16, Costa Rica 
Part 2:  Microfinance Models in Costa Rica – Featuring FUDECOSUR
 
(See Part 1 for details on how FUDECOSUR’s village banking model works)
 

The warm red earth pulls me in, as I follow FUDECOSUR loan officers on their labor of love.

Serpentine paths lead us through farm lands carved out of dense swaths of jungle, as borrowers take us to the plots of land they proudly cultivate, thanks to the help of Kiva lenders.

As I slip and surf along steep paths slick and thick with monsoon rain, sprawling ferns the size of a family hut, reach out to us, with unfurled leaves heavy with the same mist that envelopes us.

Majestic white oxen haul mighty harvests out of the valley depths, where machines dare not tread, due to thick, quicksand clay mud, which all too lovingly pulls all things passing, toward the womb of the world. We move to the side of the path, making way for the heaving beasts of burden, as they pull weighty sacks of coffee beans and other food crops, in brightly painted “carretas” (wooden carts with wooden wheels).

Continuing along our trek, we descend into a warm, moist Eden of lush green, where water-collecting trees grow taller and stronger as we approach the river.

“Welcome to La Sierra! Here we take care of nature!” – Village welcome sign in La Sierra, Platanares, Costa Rica.

Unlike farms I’m used to seeing in the United States, Costa Rican farms boast fields of crops coexisting with an abundance of medicinal plants and native trees, which are protected by law.

True to Costa Rica’s conservationist spirit, owning land means that one is charged with protecting existing plant species essential to long term survival, while cultivating crops essential to immediate survival.

Cutting down old-growth, or endangered trees, or trees which sprout, stretch and rise along rivers, is strictly punished by hefty fines and jail time. These rules apply even if one destroys any such tree on land one owns.

The result?  Farming in Costa Rica is no longer synonymous with deforestation. Because of the great care that has been taken to preserve the environment, Costa Rica has become a Mecca for biologists and laymen lovers of wildlife. The nation boasts the largest percentage of protected land in the world (25%, compared to the developing world average of 13%, and the developed world average of 8%). While making up only 0.25% of the earth’s land mass, Costa Rica is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity. And though such animals are nearly extinct in neighboring countries, large jungle cats, a variety of monkeys, reptiles and amphibians, and an abundance of bird species and marine turtles, survive and thrive in the ecologically rich coast that is Costa Rica.

Oxen hauling farmer and son to coffee fields - La Sierra, Platanares, Costa Rica.

Protected land swells and wells with sweet, crystalline springs, rolling rivers, tumbling white waterfalls, lakes, mangrove swamps and marine estuaries brimming with life.

Due to a deep respect for the earth, exceptionally clean water and fresh air blanket the country, and are a great source of pride for Costa Ricans.

Those who work the land are especially proud of it, and in the eyes and smiles of Kiva borrowers and FUDECOSUR loan officers, beams a joy and passion that comes from living a labor of love.

In The Fields:  Loan Officers Serving as Agricultural Development Partners

Not only are FUDECOSUR  village banks run by village farmers, as detailed in Bank-O-Mat Under a Hot Tin Roof, but they are also trained and managed by loan officers who are farmers themselves.

As FUDECOSUR  seeks to assist and develop agricultural communities by becoming an integral part of each community, FUDECOSUR’s loan officers provide much more than a mere financial services relationship. Since loan officers Geiner Gonzáles Marín, Gerardo Barrantes and Danny Zuñiga all come from farms themselves, they also serve as valued partners, advisors and mentors, not only from a bank operations training and guidance perspective, but also with regards to helping clients optimize crop and livestock output.

Geiner Gonzáles Marín: Chief Loan Officer

Geiner Gonzáles Marín entering a coffee farm in La Sierra, Platanares, Costa Rica.

When visiting borrowers and the lands they cultivate, Chief Loan Officer Geiner Gonzáles Marín, often leads the trek into plunging valleys or up steep mountains, with unceasing enthusiasm.

Born and bred on a coffee plantation with dairy cows and various food crops, Geiner is in his element and is unstoppable –copious rain or shine.

With an absolute passion for the land and the fruits of farmers’ labor, his camera is always in hand, snapping photos of crops grown with Kiva loans. He also interviews the farmers with great interest, inquiring about crop cultivation challenges (such as destructive wilting or fungus caused by excessive rain), and offers vital suggestions on how to combat various crop infirmities and increase crop yields.

Gerardo Barrantes: Loan Officer 2

Gerardo Barrantes with the largest of his giant Ayote harvest, measuring 67cm long, and weighing 17 kilos – San Rafael Norte, Costa Rica

Sharing the same intense passion for the land, loan officer Gerardo Barrantes shows off photos of gigantic yucca and ayote crops he’s produced organically. Clients are wowed by the 37-pound mega-vegetable Gerardo proudly cradles like a newborn child.

While eagerly inspecting and praising crops produced by Kiva borrowers, he offers guidance on stronger, more rain-resistant produce likely to benefit from organic farming methods.

Gerardo’s love of the land is also reflected in his paintings. One features his childhood home – an evergreen dairy farm, fed by fresh spring water, cascading from the mountains shadowing his boyhood village. Gerardo’s artisan talents are also used to turn “carretas” (ox-drawn wooden carts) into rolling works of art, for the proud farmers in and around his village.

Danny Zuñiga: Loan Officer 3

Danny Zuñiga (far right) with his proud parents in the family sugar cane fields - Pilar, Costa Rica.

Like his counterparts, loan officer Danny Zuñiga has always had a deep desire to remain close to the land, and the people who tend it.

As a small child, Danny’s mom jokes that it was hard to get him excited about school, since he preferred spending time with dad in the family sugar cane fields.

True to his passion, Danny enrolled in an agriculture-based vocational school program. From grades 7-12, Danny bussed his way to Colegio Tecnico Profesional de Platanares, which has a working coffee farm, and livestock farm full of cows, pastures, pigs and rabbits. Just like his colleagues, Danny’s favorite part of the job is being out of the main office, and in the field with borrowers. As such, Danny is especially proud to help serve client needs with his agronomy training, both in theory and in practice.

In addition to informal cultivation guidance provided by loan officers, FUDECOSUR borrowers also benefit from community and business development courses funded by FUDECOSUR profits.  Free technical training and education are provided to increase crop and cattle yields, improve community health and sanitation, and expand alternative job opportunities. Course themes are requested by the Village Banks, and are coordinated by the FUDECOSUR director and loan officers – who source experts in each field of training (such as technical college agronomists for crop cultivation or livestock care courses, or information technology instructors for computer training courses). Village bank communities in need have benefitted from detailed courses combining theory and practice, such as:

  • Livestock Health Care and Output Optimization
  • Coffee Cultivation and Output Optimization
  • Hydroponic Farming Capacitation (to optimize more environmentally-friendly, and disease-free farming)
  • Food Handling and Sanitation (to improve community health and support start-up food service businesses)
  • Computer Training (MS Office for children and adults)
  • Sewing/Clothes Making
  • Community Recycling
  • Water Purification

FUDECOSUR provides these free courses not only as a form of long term community development, but also believes that such courses are responsible for client loyalty and very low default rates (2% reported for 2010). The more involved FUDECOSUR is in the village bank communities, the greater affinity clients feel for FUDECOSUR as a member of their community, and the more willing and able clients are to repay loans (per FUDECOSUR’s philosophy).

Furthermore, borrowers who are taught methods to improve production, make stronger clients and business partners in the future, since they’ll eventually have more income resources.

In The Village Banks:  Loan Officers Serving as Financial Operations Partners

Working “carreta” painted by FUDECOSUR Loan Officer Gerardo Barrantes.

Beyond working to provide agricultural communities with formal and informal business development guidance, FUDECOSUR loan officers also train farmers to run village banks, which operate in the communities where farmers reside.

With dedicated mentoring and guidance from loan officers, FUDECOSUR’s Village Banks (also known as Credit Committees) are run by 5-7 dedicated volunteers, who are elected every 2 years by members of their community.  Partnering with FUDECOSUR’s loan officers, Credit Committees are responsible for assessing and approving loan requests, disbursing loans to borrowers, collecting loan payments, documenting all credit requests and exchanges, and monitoring borrower progress. Credit Committees are also charged with educating their community members on FUDECOSUR rules and requirements for soliciting, receiving and repaying loans.

Geiner Gonzáles Marín (right) inspecting and gathering coffee beans for Kiva borrower Rigoberto Garro Godinez - La Sierra, Platanares.

Given their intimate knowledge of the land, FUDECOSUR  loan officers are deeply respected and revered by clients as fellow farmers, who bring much-needed credit funds and education to underserved communities.

“Geiner is one of US!”  Village bank members of Cedral de Cajón exclaim (referring to the Chief Loan Officer).

Since agricultural communities are commonly excluded from traditional financial services, the introduction of FUDECOSUR funds and training has given clients a renewed sense of hope, pride, and excitement.

Many FUDECOSUR clients recant tales of suffering through intimidating, confusing and lengthy application processes for traditional bank loans.

After losing money to travel costs, and crops left unattended for multiple visits to national banks, farmers are often left disheartened by rejection at the end of the process.

After struggling unsuccessfully for years to obtain national bank loans to support his farm, Antonio Vargas Hernandez, is now Vice President of FUDECOSUR’s village bank in Cedral de Cajón.

“After being rejected for loans with national banks time after time, I never imagined I’d actually be running a bank!” Antonio is radiant with warm pride and enthusiasm. “I’m so proud to be able to help my community move forward with affordable loans that can be obtained right here!”

Geiner Gonzáles Marín descending into the valley of La Sierra, Platanares to reach a Kiva borrower’s coffee farm.

The complexity of the national bank loan process, plus the constant rejection of farmer applications, made many farmers feel inadequate and incompetent when seeking credit.  In contrast, FUDECOSUR has taught clients that they are not only valued borrowers – they are also essential, competent and capable financial services partners.

As farmers with intimate knowledge of the land, and personal experience with members of their community, Credit Committees are well-suited to decide which business proposals are most apt to thrive from a micro-loan.  If an unprofitable business proposal is presented (such as planting crops in areas not conducive to successful crop production), the hands-on farming expertise of Credit Committees is leveraged, to help prospective borrowers come up with alternative proposals, which will generate positive growth, and help borrowers thrive.

Because of FUDECOSUR’s inclusive village banking model, farmers who formerly perceived themselves as financially illiterate, have become highly functional village bank operators who now beam with confidence.

“Loan officers like Geiner make us better people” says Arrelio Arías Brellas – President of FUDECOSUR’s village bank in Cedral de Cajón.  They’ve made credit processes easy to understand, and loans fast and easy to obtain. Because of their time and dedication, we are now equipped to help our community improve their businesses, and make life easier.”

Miguel Mora Vargas, Treasurer of Cedral de Cajon’s village bank, explains how loan officers lead by example, and are a great source of inspiration for village bank officers, who are also borrowers themselves.

“Geiner’s hard work makes us want to work harder every day to help our community succeed. Loan officers like Geiner are always punctual, and they stay after hours to ensure all credit exchange tasks are understood and complete. Their knowledge and expertise becomes our knowledge and expertise, and we learn more every day. Our community is stronger because of FUDECOSUR.”

Thumbs-up and smiles from a proud coffee farmer - La Sierra, Platanares, Costa Rica.

As village bank operators express their gratitude for FUDECOSUR’s inclusive and educational community development model, monsoon rains often thunder down outside, making a mighty rap-a-tap-tap chorus of sound, which mimics roaring applause.

Cedral de Cajón is just one of many communities expressing deep thanks for FUDECOSUR credit services, and the Kiva loans that help make them possible.

Time and again, I have the pleasure of seeing borrower hardships converted into eventual successes through Kiva loans, and I redefine the concept of wealth every time.

Most FUDECOSUR borrowers, due to their isolated location, have never had a relationship with a national bank, and therefore, don’t even have savings accounts. They are subsistence farmers who don’t become financially rich with Kiva loans, but who are able to maintain crops and cattle for more consistent production, or grow their businesses when weather and market conditions are optimal.

With each new loan received (after years of exclusion from traditional financial services), FUDECOSUR borrowers feel that their work is valued and more important than ever. With each successful harvest supported by Kiva loans, farmers stand taller. Single mothers raising pigs which give birth to litters of 6, or chickens producing piles of healthy eggs, radiate with a newfound belief in themselves as capable and successful providers for their children. Sons producing more abundant coffee beans or corn with nutrient-rich fertilizers, beam with pride, as they are able to care for aging parents, and feel confident about supporting a future family of their own.

What price tag can you place on the renewed sense of life, optimism, enthusiasm and excitement that comes from feeling valued, confident, competent, capable and hopeful?

The value, in my humble opinion, is priceless.

And though life is not easy for these hardworking borrowers, they are growing wealthy in many ways human beings should be, thanks very much in part, to generous Kiva lenders.

Past Blogs:

Upcoming Blogs:

  • Kiva Borrower Stories and Thanks from The Field
  • Jungle Journals – Adventures in the Wilds of Región Brunca

How YOU Can Help:

  • Lend to a Kiva entrepreneur today!
  • Apply for the Kiva Fellows Program!
  • Join the FUDECOSUR lending team!

Julie Kerr is Kiva Fellow serving in San Isidro, Costa Rica. She currently supports FUDECOSUR (Foundation for the Development of Southern Communities).  FUDECOSUR is a non-profit microcredit provider, dedicated to empowering Southern Costa Rica’s disenfranchised agricultural sector.

18 November 2011 at 12:06 4 comments

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