Several months ago we started a social loan fund at Mujeres Cambia. The idea behind the fund is that if a member has an emergency they can ask for a loan from this fund. What we didn’t realize in the beginning was how popular this loan fund would be. One member asked for a loan for $10 for a birthday cake for her son. Another asked for a loan to buy prescription glasses for her daughter. It didn’t make sense, especially because we saw the group bringing in money. In addition, there were more people asking for loans than we had available. Bringing in more money wasn’t enough if the women didn’t have a savings plan.
So, we added a Savings Program to the financial literacy component of the group. In the past few months we have helped members open up personal bank accounts at a local bank. Of the 18 members in the group, 2 had accounts when we started while the remaining 16 had never had a bank account before. So far, we have opened 12 new accounts and counting! The process is actually rather complex and is further complicated by the fact that some women in the group share the exact same name as other women, meaning that they have to prove their identity even further at the main bank branch in the city before they will be approved. The next step is how to work with new account holders so that this tool can be helpful in their lives.
Starting in 2013, we will work with the group to maintain financial diaries in order to set personal financial savings goals. A financial diary can be helpful because it helps identify what you spend on an average month and what are the emergencies that put a strain on your regular monthly budget. The next step is to use this information to set personal goals for each member that will prepare them for the financial strain of a death in the family or a medical emergency.
Recently, I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast entitled, “Could a Lottery be the Answer to America’s Poor Savings Rate“. The podcast investigates the success of several savings programs that incorporate a lottery component.
Melissa Kearney, an economist from the University of Maryland made an interesting point about gambling in America. She said,
So we know Americans like gambling. They always have, the majority of them do it, and they’re going to keep doing it. And so what we do is take seriously the idea that people want some small chance of winning a large sum of money…So a lot of Americans think the lottery is their only chance at winning big sums of money, why don’t we take that appetite for gambling, for a product like this and attach it to a savings vehicle that offers some positive return? It’s a win-win situation.
Prior to listening to this podcast, we had been thinking about how we could encourage members to participate in the Savings Program. The idea of a raffle appealed to us, but was this the right approach? Hearing the podcast and talking to members confirmed our suspicions. The women wanted to save but they just needed the tools and an extra incentive. We will start the monthly raffle in February. To participate, each member will bring her end-of-the-month bank statement in to compare against her personal monthly savings goal. If she has made her monthly goal she will receive a raffle ticket for the chance to win a prize. First prize in February is an iron.
Best of luck, ladies!
Due to circumstances beyond our control we are moving sites. While this surprised and saddened us, we are moving forward and thinking positively about the future.
We are not going to return to Pucará but instead we will be living and working in PALMAR. Palmar is a fishing village of about 10,000 people in the province of Santa Elena on the Ecuadorian coast. It is home to a mangrove forest, a youth group called Neo Juventud, a tourism association, and a community banking program.
Past Peace Corps volunteers in the Youth and Families Program have served in Palmar establishing several small businesses from an internet café to a bakery. I will be working in business advising and Mari will be working in HIV/AIDS and environmental education. We will know more details later this week about our counterpart organization and will be headed to our new home in Palmar on April 5th.
Mari and I are excited to:
- Sit on the beach and watch the sun set
- Meet our new host family and counterpart organization
- Eat fish and yucca
- Make new friends
- Go kyaking through the mangrove forest
- Unpack and make a new home
- Visit one of the two restaurants in town
- Eat oysters
For the past few weeks Mari and I have been getting ready for our Peace Corps service. We needed boots and gear and have made the hour trip from Danville to Greensboro several times. We booked our flights the other day and are scheduled to leave on January 17 th for a one-day orientation in Dallas. After that and for the next several months we will be at a training center right outside of Quito in Ecuador. The address where you can send us fan mail is on the column to the right.
To learn Spanish we have been watching a telenovela on Telemundo called Casa de al Lado. After 30 episodes, which translates to 30 hours in front of the computer, I am beginning to understand most of the dialog. One da,y who knows, I may even have dreams in Spanish. Mari reports to already have started dreaming in Spanish.
On Thursday we got into Needham, MA to help out Sarah and Jon with our new nephew Jack. We are staying in a spare room and between entertaining Sam and Talia we are saying our final goodbyes to the Casey family and to our friends Matt, Kerry, and Charlie. The weather has been mild but cold in comparison to the Virgina winters. After 10 months of traveling, the Peace Corps is beginning to feel very real.
We can’t wait.
Sir Ken Robinson’s argument that the structure of our public school system needs to be re-imagined is compelling. How did we make school boring anyway? Does it need to be and how can we change it? Post your thoughts below. Thanks to **Justin** for sharing this video with me.
El Clima is a magazine created by current Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador. Check out the most current issues below.
Thank you **Sarah R** for finding these.
If you are interested in connecting with more volunteers leaving in January 2012 search for our Facebook group called “Peace Corps Ecuador Jan 2012.”
For three weeks I lived in Bangladesh participating in a program at the Nobel Prize-winning micro-finance Institution, Grameen Bank. The program was called “Comprehensive Training Program for Replicators.” I applied for this program in order to connect my background in accounting and finance to my future work as a Business Adviser in the Peace Corps. My hope is that micro-credit can be used to support the businesses I will be working with in my host community in Ecuador. After completing the program I left with the skills to either support an existing micro-finance institution or to build a new program from scratch.
Credit is a fundamental human right denied to the poor,
Credit is a way to alleviate poverty and empower women,
Poor borrowers will honor their loans even in the absence of collateral.
Starting with 27 dollars this economist gave small loans to a group of women. To his surprise they paid their loans back in full after investing in materials to build baskets and stools, which they sold in the market. Today the organization has over 8 million members, nearly all women, who use the loans to invest in projects from livestock to grocery stores.
In the training, I was placed in a branch in the village of Purila Poba for a little over two weeks conducting the rest of my training in the cities of Dhaka and Bogra. Because I did not speak Bengali I worked with a translator and program coordinator **Matin** who later I would also call friend. **Muhammad Sidduzman**, the Branch Manager spoke no English but spoke with me for countless hours going over the technical side of running a branch office. Discussions included how to recruit new borrowers, lead meetings, establish loan ceilings, check loan utilizations, approve or reject loans and maintain security, among other topics.
Today marks exactly two-months before we depart for Peace Corps training in Ecuador on January 18, 2012. To mark the occasion I’m sharing some of my favorite travel quotations.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao-tzu
Not all those who wander are lost. – J. R. R. Tolkien
People don’t take trips – trips take people. – John Steinbeck
Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken. – Frank Herbert
Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it. – Winston Churchill
Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness. – Ray Bradbury
I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. – Susan Sontag
Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. – Will Rogers
Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe. – Anatole France
Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled. – Mohammed
It is not down in any map; true places never are. – Herman Melville
A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles. – Tim Cahill
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller
To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted. – Bill Bryson