Guest Blog – Assembly Meeting Visit
“Unidad, disciplina, trabajo y valor. ¡Unidad, disciplina, trabajo y valor!” I never expected that four simple words could be so impactful – especially when sheepishly chanted by six Honduran women I’d just met. We were in a closet-sized hut with a dirt floor, the sun’s blazing 90-degree heat seeping through the two doorways. I kept thinking to myself, if I got lost here, my family would never know how to find me… only few were familiar with the small, rural hillside village. Their words echoed over the hills… unity, discipline, hard work and courage.
As a young professional living in Washington D.C., it has been a challenge pursuing my passion for microfinance, especially being very immersed in my demanding job as a Forensic Accountant. However, while perusing for potential volunteer outlets, I stumbled across Adelante online last winter and my eyes lit up. It was especially meaningful to see that Adelante was based in Honduras – a country that has become a huge part of my own story. My family and I have frequented the same Honduran orphanage since I was young, and several kids from the orphanage now live with my parents in Chicago and have become siblings to me over the years. Being exposed first-hand throughout my childhood to the poverty and struggles that exist within Honduras’ borders has made Adelante’s mission supremely meaningful to me.
So I contacted Tim Brandle, Adelante’s U.S. Director of Operations, and began volunteering for Adelante last January. When I found out I could go on my family’s annual Honduras trip in July, I knew that I had to figure out how I could visit an Adelante assembly meeting while I was in there. After lots of jumbled communication with loan officers and local Adelante workers in Honduras, we were finally able to set up a time to visit an assembly meeting. Some family friends who were in Honduras with us also decided to tag along to the meeting, as they were interested in seeing microfinance operations as well.
That Thursday morning, the loan officer, Octaciano, picked us up from our hotel in Comayagua and drove us to a small village in the mountains about an hour away. Per Octaciano’s request, we picked up a pizza to split on the drive up to the village. (The pizza was very messy. Not my lunch of choice in a moving car on a bumpy road) We chatted and laughed as I asked him about his experiences working with Adelante, every so often relaying his responses translated to English to my friends in the back seat. Finally, we started up a VERY bumpy, steep dirt road that led to where the loan meeting was being held. The natural beauty on the green hillside amidst the abounding poverty evidenced by the garbage-filled roads and the broken-down huts was a powerful juxtaposition.
Finally, we pulled up to a tiny, door-less, dusty little hut (maybe 5 feet X 7 feet) where the loan meeting was being held. A few women were waiting inside and others trickled in, babies and toddlers dangling off their arms and legs. We waited a few minutes, and then Octaciano began the meeting with attendance and Adelante’s signature “values” chant- “¡Unidad, disciplina, trabajo y valor!” Six out of twelve women in the group were present. There was a little bit of bickering and gossip among the women surrounding the topic of attendance- especially emphasizing their dedication to the meeting while the absent women had “no excuse” for not showing up. (I found it amusing that this was such a point of contention). Octaciano assured the group that the six absent women would be charged a small fine for missing the meeting. After all, the group has to have some type of accountability for attendance.
The meeting then progressed to an “update” session where each woman gave an update on how they were using their loan to further their small business. They ran a variety of small businesses, from selling eggs to selling ice cream cones to sewing clothing to buying a pig (to fatten and later sell the pork). One of my favorite elements to observe was how various women were given responsibilities throughout the meeting – secretary, treasurer, etc. I noticed how those women with responsibilities seemed especially invested in the meeting, as it depended upon them to operate smoothly.
After about 30-40 minutes, Octaciano wrapped up the meeting with some incredibly moving motivational words for the women. I particularly remember him saying (in Spanish): “if you can manage a business worth 100 lempiras, you can manage a business worth 1 million lempiras.” I loved hearing his high hopes and dreams for these women. And I too knew that they had great potential. The meeting ended with the same chant- “¡Unidad, disciplina, trabajo y valor!”
One of the most powerful lessons I took away from that meeting is how much HOPE there is, even for the poorest of the poor. What a blessing it was to realize that these beautiful women, with the help of Adelante, had an opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty. Not just accept a charitable donation, but use their skills and work ethic while learning good financial practices to become economically self-sufficient. Adelante’s loan program can not only improve the women’s current financial state – it can give their children and their children’s children more opportunities, education and financial flexibility than they ever dreamed of growing up.
Thank you, Adelante, for this eye-opening experience.