An Ordinary Borrower Visit: The Reality of Microfinance in Honduras

14 February 2012 at 19:05 18 comments

Santiago Cortes | KF 17 | Honduras

I’ve just arrived in Tegucigalpa after my first trip to one of  Kiva field partner Prisma‘s branches. I left Prisma’s headquarters on Wednesday on the back of a pick-up and drove to Danli, home to the nearest branch. My main goal with this visit was to test some policies I want to implement across Prisma. I hope to change all the processes related with Kiva, so I used this branch as a sort of “pilot branch.”

I didn’t know what to expect, Honduras being one of the most dangerous countries in the world. After a couple of hours heading south with an entire family in the back of a pick-up Toyota, I arrived in Danli in southern Honduras late at night.


The pick-up that took me from Tegucigalpa to Danli.

The next morning, I had just gotten to the office when they told me that there was a problem: There’s a new law in Honduras. Two men cannot ride on the same motorcycle because most of the murders — Honduras has the highest urban murder rate in the world — were being made on motorcycles. While one guy drives the bike, the passenger shoots without stopping, ensuring a quick escape. This is a huge problem because loan officers visit their clients on their motorcycles. They only ride motorcycles because they have no cars at this branch and I needed to evaluate the current processes.

We had to find a solution. They told me the problem is in urban areas, so I proposed taking a bus to the countryside and meeting the loan officer there and continuing by motorcycle. I went to the bus station, hopped on the first bus and left.

You can imagine the bus: chickens, children running around, a guy selling some kind of homemade Viagra (using VERY graphic explanations in his sales pitch) and the man sitting by my side eating “tamales” and “elotes.” After a half an hour, I finally arrived in San Diego, which has about five houses in it. I met the loan officer, put on my helmet, hopped on the bike and began the journey. I certainly had no idea what kind of journey!

We were immediately stuck in the middle of a herd of cows that surrounded us and wouldn’t move.


I actually took this picture one minute before we were surrounded by them.

Then we began going up a mountain. I must remind you that this whole trip was on dirt roads in very, very poor conditions. Even an SUV with 4-wheel drive wouldn’t have made it. At one point, when we ran into a river, I asked the loan officer, “Are we seriously going to cross that river in the bike?” Answer: of course! So we did, and we made it.

After an hour or so, we had to cross a huge pile of mud, and you could tell how easy it was to get stuck there: really wet and deep mud. Again, the same question: “Are we really going to give it a try?” The same answer: of course! And we did. It was way more difficult than the river but we made it through.


Up on the mountain, paths only accessible on a bike.


One of the good and dry parts of the road.

Finally, after a two-hour ride, we got to a village where some Kiva borrowers live. It was a 30-minute bus ride and a two-hour bike ride on rough roads to get to a borrower. Every time a loan officer visits one of their borrowers they have to make these kind of trips, for a $250 loan or for a $500 one. Almost six hours total (round trip, visit, quick lunch), lots of miles of dirt roads and two rivers to get to a borrower who’s asking for a $250 loan.

Sometimes these loans are to invest in their crops, or in their land to improve the harvest. But most of the time, in Prisma’s case, these loans are used to buy a solar panel to have electricity at night. These are isolated areas without electricity. For example, the borrower we visited this time had no electricity of any kind, so they can’t work at night and their two little girls can’t study after 5:30 p.m.


After an hour up the mountain — one more hour till the borrower’s house.


Finally, we made it!

This is a regular day in a Prisma loan officer’s life. It was already late when we came back to Danli, so we could only visit that one borrower. These are the difficulties MFIs face to get to their clients, and you can imagine how huge their operational costs need to be to reach these types of borrowers that traditional banks would never reach.


Walking with the borrower and loan officer to the borrower’s house. Like a minute before the “rattlesnakes warning.”

It was a great experience overall. I got to meet the borrower, his family, their two beautiful little girls, and his generous wife. Walking through his coffee plantation, he told me “watch out for rattlesnakes,” and a couple of minutes later “we have to go by a hive of wasps” (I obviously thought I was going to die right there in that plantation).

But I made it safe back to the Danli Branch — after another two hour bike ride, another two rivers, another huge pile of mud, and another 30 minutes on the bus (without the homemade Viagra salesman this time) and a shared taxi. It was totally worth it. The loan was approved, and now the borrower’s little daughter can dream of a better future.


Father and daughter walking together through the coffee fields.

Santiago Cortes is a Kiva Fellow working with  Prisma Honduras in Honduras.

Entry filed under: KF17 (Kiva Fellows 17th Class). Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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  • 1. Adam  |  6 July 2012 at 11:24

    Interesting article. I lived in Honduras as Peace Corps Volunteer and did my training just outside of Danli. Travel is definitely a challenge there. If I was lucky, it took me 4 buses and 8 hours to get to the capital (barring broken/washed out bridges and mud swamps). Sometimes a farmer might get a loan to pay his workers, but if it involves purchasing, it seems it would be more effective to meet at a centralized location (where they sell solar panels, for example) or pass credit through to the store, since that’s where the money is being transacted.

  • […] Not really a tip so much as a statement of fact. Motorcycles can get you quickly where cars or buses can’t reach, and they’re an absolute godsend in the field. Just be sure to put on a helmet and hold tight, cuz the roads are going to get bumpy. […]

  • […] Not really a tip so much as a statement of fact. Motorcycles can get you quickly where cars or buses can’t reach, and they’re an absolute godsend in the field. Just be sure to put on a helmet and hold tight, cuz the roads are going to get bumpy. […]

  • […] long time has passed between my first post (An ordinary borrowers visit: The reality of microfinance) and this one — partially because I have been working very long hours and spending a lot of […]

  • 5. Jitendra Puri  |  25 March 2012 at 12:58

    Hi Santiago,

    Liked very much your narration style of your trip. I could visualize your experience.

    Also, i think you are very fortunate to live that experience and we are proud you are helping the unprevilaged improve their lives.


  • 6. alexkiva  |  12 March 2012 at 19:56

    Great post santiago, I really love that last photo, it’s one of the best I’ve seen out of all the blog posts. Hope all is going well. As for me, I’m finally heading to La Tierra de los Rolos this week!

  • 7. dgorgani  |  29 February 2012 at 15:19

    A bit late, I know, but this post is hilarious. Let me know how the homemade viagra works!

  • […] Connecting in New Orleans: Saints, Daiquiris & Mardi Gras Dollarization in Ecuador, where 1 = 1 An Ordinary Borrower Visit: The Reality of Microfinance in Honduras First Day as a Kiva Fellow in Cambodia From One City to Another: A New Yorker in Tagbilaran […]

  • 9. mbrowning  |  17 February 2012 at 02:44

    EPIC blog post, Santiago. Just epic.

  • 10. Devon  |  16 February 2012 at 04:16

    You are amazing. Such a great post. Be safe over there!

  • 11. ~200 Samoans down… ~199,800 to go! | Talo Time in Samoa  |  15 February 2012 at 20:07

    […] Such variety!- Each center really had their own style, ranging from small to large, quiet to loud, curious to apathetic… It was awesome to see all the different ways SPBD’s model could be implemented. Many of the centers required their members to wear uniforms to each meeting, while others were more casual. They met in many places–members’ homes, meeting halls, church group centers. A couple served refreshments to lighten the atmosphere. And thanks to Samoa’s size, each one was no more than a short drive away–unlike my fellow Fellow, who had a 6-hour trip to visit one borrower with a $250 dollar loan! […]

  • 12. jacobkiva  |  15 February 2012 at 09:24

    Great post Santiago! It really conveys both the difficulty and the payoff of reaching borrowers in remote places. Stay safe out there!

  • 13. scortesl  |  15 February 2012 at 06:51

    I would´ve loved to have taken pictures of the rivers and other parts of the road but if I had tried I would´ve fallen off the bike for sure!

  • 14. Antonia Riva  |  15 February 2012 at 01:42

    Thank you so much for this interesting insight – I especially like to help financing solar panels !!!!
    Wishing you a very happy and positive stay in Honduras.

  • 15. jktruong  |  14 February 2012 at 20:52

    Agreeing with Adria–seriously cannot wait until your next post! People in the office are all wondering why I’m cracking up by myself. Loved your post…details, pictures, and all.

  • 16. jonathanleehiebert  |  14 February 2012 at 20:13

    So cool. Jealous that you get to leave your office! Very candid story, I can’t believe that it is this hard to get to the borrowers! Wow.

  • 17. adriaorr  |  14 February 2012 at 19:57

    Santiago–you’re still cracking me up from Honduras! I love all the pictures and the crazy story of your trip. I can just picture the look on your face through all this. It’s so interesting–Samoa is so small, the number of borrowers that my loan officers can visit in one day is very high. I don’t even know if there’s a place on this island that would take 4 hours to get to! (maybe if you went to the other island it would take that long)

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