While I didn’t quite get it together enough in the midst of scrambling to get ready to go to write a pre-departure blog, here’s a go at some initial impressions and aspirations for my fellowship. I’ve been in Guatemala a little over 48 hours, and one of the things I’ve been most struck with is how friendly people are here. As with any with any adventure into a new place, there’s a lot of uncertainty. And as I’ve asked for directions, inquired about how to say this or that, and questioned various aspects of how things are done around here, I’ve received nothing but kind, enthusiastic responses.
In preparing for my departure, things were quite hectic. While the 4 days of training Kiva provided were extremely informative and made me all the more impressed with the organization and excited to be working for them, they also taught me just enough to know that I have a very long road ahead of me to understanding what microfinance means and how it really works. We were given tons on information and much, much more to look at in some undetermined future free time. Without realizing it, I’d given myself way less time to prepare than I would have liked. Nevertheless, the plane ticket had already been bought, so I scrambled to shop, pack, say goodbye to family and friends, and even try to learn a bit about the country I was headed to and the organizations I’ll be working for.
I have a pretty fantastic set-up for my fellowship. Based on a simple matter of scheduling, I’ll have the privilege of working with two different microfinance institutions in Guatemala, Friendship Bridge and FAPE. The Friendship Bridge office I’ll be based out of is in a small-ish, touristy town on the shores of Lake Atitlán, called Panajachel. I believe I’ll be traveling around quite a bit to work with their various branch offices and will be interviewing mostly indigenous, often not-Spanish-speaking, clients. I’m really excited about checking out different parts of the country, and especially about seeing microfinance in action first-hand. I know it’s going to be an incredible experience to be able to interact with people and hear their stories, which might not ever be possible otherwise. After 6 weeks with Friendship Bridge, I’ll head to Guatemala City to work with FAPE. Again, this set-up is ideal because Friendship Bridge has worked with Kiva for awhile and has already had a few Kiva Fellows. They’ve been a very successful Kiva partner, so I have a lot to learn from them. FAPE is relatively new in working with Kiva, and I’ll be their first Kiva Fellow, so it’ll be great to have a bit of experience under my belt as I go to work with them and can hopefully be a great asset in helping them utilize Kiva and institutionalize the relationship. Furthermore, it’ll be great to see another organization in action and interact with different clients.
Overall, I’m really excited to get started, but also a little nervous. I really don’t know what to expect, and I’m quite confident that this experience will be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I met briefly with some people at Friendship Bridge on Friday, and one thing that we really emphasized what that the Kiva business profiles and journals are never about pity. This is about a business transaction, and it’s so important for all parties involved to recognize the dignity in the relationship. I couldn’t agree more, and I’m thrilled to get to play a small role in all of this and to be able to witness amazing women fighting for a better life for them and their families./>