Las zonas urbanos y rurales

Hi all!

Today was one of those incredible days that I feel so completely grateful to be working with Kiva. Here a few of my experiences...

Un dia con FAPE...

I awake with a jump to the alarm clock ringing in my ear. 5:30 am in Guatemala City and its time to start the day. I throw on my running shoes and hit the streets for my morning exercise. If I don't do it now, it simply doesn't get done. I weave through the streets of this immense city, dodging early morning traffic and squinting my eyes as the tropical mist drifts down from the surrounding mountaintops. It's a beautiful, crisp morning and as I round the corner on the way back to my hotel I prepare myself for the day to come.

At 7 am I'm met at my hotel by don Marcos of the Fundacion FAPE. An institution that has applied for partnership with Kiva, I have planned to spend the day with them, visiting clients, getting to know their operations and methodology, and finally training them on how to use the backend of the Kiva website. After a few initial introductions we're in the car and barreling through the morning traffic, on our way out of the city and up into the surrounding countryside to meeting with 2 groups of women who are involved in FAPE's Bancos de Confianza program. At 8:30 we pull into the first town and are met by a beautiful, vivacious woman dressed head to toe in stunning Guatemalan fabrics. She greets us warmly and hops in the back seat of the car to guide us to our destination~ her mother's house, and the meeting place of the first group we are to visit, Trabajadores del Fe.

The Junta Directiva of a Banco de Confianza, FAPE Guatemala

We bounce along the recently re-done road (this mayor has gotten good ratings from the community for making a real investment in much needed infrastructure), and eventually pull up in front of the house. Ducking through the low-framed doorways (why do I wear heels to the field???), we enter the inner courtyard of dona Marta's house, and are greeted with warm smiles by the early arrivers. As is the tradition in this part of the world, we greet each person with "mucho gusto, que dios le bendiga" nice to meet you, may God bless you and then eventually find our seats near the front of the crowded space.

The woman begin to gather for their bi-monthly payment meeting, bringing their cuotas payments + interest + savings to deposit in the FAPE bank account, the 5th of what will be 12 payments in their loan cycle. When everyone has filed into the room we are introduced to the group, and I make a little speech on who I am and what I represent... Me llamo Michelle, vengo de un institucion en los estados que trabaja con instituciones microfinancieros para buscar recursos para que su banco pueda seguir adelante... At first these speeches were hard for me to make, I would get nervous and think I was intruding on the normal flow of events. But they've gotten easier, and as I grasp the local formalities used in public speech and feel more comfortable in each culture I visit, I've come to enjoy presenting myself as a representative of Kiva.

Payment Meeting

After our speeches heads bow and we begin the opening prayer. Each woman launches into her own oration, filling the meeting space at once with all colors and tones of voice, part Spanish, part local Mayan dialect. I'm moved close to tears by the grace of it all, the beautiful traditional dress of the women, their deep faith in God, their commitment to paying back the debt they've taken on, in the face of their extreme poverty. The prayer lasts a few moments and then its silence and down to business. Pens and paper come out, one by one the group members are called up to the table to make their payments.

I mull around the room and talk to some of the borrowers. Play with the kids. Learn about their businesses, why they chose to enter into this community bank, what their hopes and dreams are. Before I know its over and we're off to the next meeting. This one at 10am and just down the street... we enter into the second meeting space, a crumbling house kept so clean inside that I hesitate to enter with my shoes on. The same process ensues, although this time the women each take a moment to share stories of their work and what they are dedicated to en que se dedica..

Dona Marta, the community's true mover and shaker (she is the one that organized BOTH groups) pulls me aside to show me some of her beautiful textile work. She's about ½ way through making a traditional shirt that will be sold in the nearby market. The hand-made process takes 3 months to complete (!!!), and she earns about $400 for her labours. The detail of the patterns and the vibrant colours are astonishing, and as she walks me through the process I'm engrossed by her stories and the details she happily spoons up.

After another hour or so we bid farewell and head to grab a bite, then its back to the city to spend the afternoon in Villa Nueva, a severly marginalized slum on the outskirts of Guatemala city. Don Marcos navigates his way seamlessly through the choked traffic of this massive city, and the further out we travel from the city the more run down the neighborhood gets. Big stores cease to appear, the road narrows a bit, and the bumpy paved street turns to mud. We turn the corner and are confronted with a gray, muddy, broken down expanse of shacks that stretch out for ½ mile front of us and then crawl their way up a deteriorating hillside. Kids run through the streets and sewage leaks from the open pipes. Deep puddles litter the road, their pools a mixture of garbage, mud, food scarps, and just about any kind of wrapper you could imagine. People mull about, the women dressed in spotless modern clothes and done up with makeup, a sharp contrast to the backdrop of the slum.

A street in the slum

Lost for a bit we poke around until finally locating the meeting site. This afternoon we've been scheduled for an appearance at the community bank, "Genesis." I duck through the doorway, make my introductions, and then settle in as an observer to my third bank meeting of the day. I'm immediately struck by the contrasts from the morning in the country. In the mountains all the woman wear traditional clothes, carry their money freely in their hands, converse openly and pat each of their sisters on the back with a que dios le bendiga my god bless you when entering and leaving. Dedicated to traditional crafts.. weaving, painting, each of the woman and their children spoke the local Mayan dialect, and switched freely in and out of it with Spanish. In contrast, here in the urban slum I found myself confronted with a strange version modernity.. women dressed in American clothes, high heels, carrying cell phones and fixing the wrinkles of their immaculately clean clothes. The meeting comes to a close as each women signs the "Acta," all 40 of them demonstrating their comfort with the written word (as compared to the majority of signatures in the morning realized via thumbprint). They converse solely in Spanish, and while friendly with each other the mood is much more about getting to the point~ making the payments and getting out of the meeting on time. Off to work, or to their families, with little time to spare.

I step out into the street and take in the scene. A boy who cannot be more than 6 years old carries a bundle of clothes twice the size of him upon his back. He stumbles through the muddy streets as a pack of dogs bark rabidly at a passing motorcycle. The day is grey and mist falls on the tin rooftops, accumulating drops of rains that fall onto the noses of curious children peeking up into the grey haze above. Reggaetone blares from a nearby store front. A plane swoops overhead.

As I take it all in I begin to see the other Guatemala. Decended from the mountaintops, these are the people who once lived off the land of this beautiful country. Who farmed, wove brightly colored fabrics and grew coffee and sugar cane for their families to live off of. These are the migrant souls who, with no work left to do, settled in the outskirts of the city to find work in nearby factories, or perhaps by going door-to-door selling their goods. Little by little they begin to abandon their traditions. Swap handmade fabrics for Chinese imports. Freshly harvested tomatoes for canned pasta sauce. Looking across the vast urban slum I feel the deep sadness of this life.. the descent down the muddy, barren hillside into the grey urban wasteland. The long hours of work, the daily struggle against sickness, and hunger.

As we inch our way out of the slum, however, however, I also see hope. I watch as the women laugh with each other, carrying their own payments book and receipts for the transactions they have just realized. They carry their heads high, proudly making their way home through the muddy streets after the meeting. Kids runs around them, stray dogs bark and neighbors wave from their doorways. We turn the corner and they wave as we exit the slum, smiling and thanking us for our visit.

Maybe we can't change the past, I think, but if anyone is going to change the future of this place, its these women. For this, we continue fighting...

We head to the office to learn how to use Kiva.

Until next time!


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