First Impressions From the Field
“Unity, discipline, hard work and courage – This is our way of life.” With this lively introduction to my first Adelante assembly, I realized that despite several years of experience with microfinance and education in Central America, I had much to learn about the Adelante way. Driving on dirt roads and past never-ending rows of banana trees to get to our clients, I had plenty of time to reflect on what has been the recipe for success for Adelante over the past thirteen years.
Investments, Not Charity
With an average group loan of $145 per woman, Adelante reaches the most impoverished women living in rural areas across Honduras. During my trip this past October, I met with two assemblies of borrowers and made house visits to ten loan recipients. Each woman I met had strengthened her business through a series of loans over time. As a woman pays her loan back, she is able to then take on a larger group loan, or opt for Home Improvement or Individual Business Loan.
Credit Officer Carla knew each woman, of her life’s struggles and of the travails of her community. Passing through the community, I could see the women’s small businesses have already begun to grow. There were women selling used clothing and shoes, raising pigs and chickens, and operating basic goods stores. One woman has a tortilla business and makes 300 daily. My own struggle to flatten the corn dough to perfection next to this expert was a truly humbling experience – I guess practice makes perfect!
As the assembly got underway, Carla began the first of two educational lessons being offered that month – How to Separate Your Personal Money From Your Business Money. The women engaged in a lively discussion about how they have handled their finances and were interested in learning from each other and from the credit officer. By facilitating this type of continuous learning environment, the microfinance program that Adelante offers becomes more than the loans disbursed – access to business education, community building, and women’s empowerment are key benefits that each assembly of women receives. For the women I met, whose businesses have grown and families have been fed because of their increased earnings, the impact that their involvement with Adelante has on their lives is a source of pride and satisfaction.
Adelante also offers Home Improvement Loans for those clients who have developed a proven record in paying back their loans after at least three cycles but have shown demonstrated need for extra support. One woman who I visited recounted the many struggles she has faced, telling me, “No one else would lend me the money to improve my house.” Her home has now significantly improved, going from a small dirt floor home with a thatch roof to a home made out of cinder block, solid tin roof, and concrete floor.
Another borrower, Norma, told me of the collapse of her home – walls made from dried palm branches and a rusted tin roof – as a result of heavy tropical winds. With a Home Improvement Loan, she was in the process of building concrete walls and a roof to protect her and her family from nature’s forces. I reflect on those homeowners in Colorado, who had lost their homes as a result of heavy rains and severe flooding. Rural Honduran women have no formal support system to help rebuild after natural disasters or fire. That is why the level of appreciation for Adelante is so high – no other organization would help them.
As I visited with borrowers, I heard repeated dreams from the women to keep their children in school – so that they can attain a better job and future. Our clients’ children are eager to continue studying to graduate from high school or trade school. Adelante listens to the voices of our women and their children. In February of 2014, Adelante plans to initiate a Secondary Education Loan – to send children to school in hopes of breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty. This is not a charity model. This is the Adelante model: Empowering women through microfinance and education.