By Megan Bond, KF15, Ecuador
“Money is freedom and confidence and choice. And choice is dignity.”
- Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater
Eight years ago, Manuel told me, their house was very different from the one I was standing in. The walls were made of compressed earth and the roof was constructed out of dried straw. Manuel, his wife Cristiana, and their six children struggled on a daily basis to make ends meet. Looking for a change, they sought their first loan from FODEMI. Eight years and eleven loans later, I stood in their new house/factory. The floors and walls were solidly constructed out of cement and the roof was metal. In the spacious rooms, family members and two hired employees worked at multiple looms weaving thread into cloth. Cristiana sat piecing their cloth into sweaters to be sold in the nearby market town of Otavalo. As he showed me around, Manuel explained that his latest loan was used to buy material to weave into cloth. He described how the costs of material as well as the cost of living had been rising. “Life costs more now,” he told me. However, unlike the past, Manuel and his family have a steady income using loans to enhance their ability to invest in their business and employ others. They have been able to provide more nutritious food and an education for their children. They have even helped repay the loans of struggling members on their past group loans. Many of the working poor around the world make their living on a day-to-day basis like Manuel and his family in the past. A bad day at the market can translate to a dinnerless night and an uncertain tomorrow. The capital that a series of microloans infused into the lives of Manuel and his family helps bring under control the insecurity of life, despite changing prices and the overall increase in the “cost of life.” They have been able to obtain a level of defense from the assault of poverty and have helped others along their way.
Other borrowers across the expanse of the Andes of northern Ecuador (where poverty is a persistent and pervasive problem for much of the population) have achieved their own outstanding goals with the assistance of their microloans. In this region, commercial banks do not loan to people who do not own substantial assets. Working with these banks was out of the question for Luis. He, however, still had a goal to create his own carpentry business and send his six children to college. Luis began building his business little by little. Four of Luis’ six children are currently studying at the university level. The other two are preparing for college in high school. Luis is proud, he wants his children to become professionals, and he wants to keep moving forward in life. He is content to change bit by bit through his own hard work.
Anita, only 28, has a similar story of increased well-being from her creation of a microenterprise. She also began with very little and incrementally upgraded her equipment, obtained more loans, and achieved greater levels of success. In the past two years, her work has gone from intermittent and seasonal to full-time. She has seen a higher income and changes in the lives of her three young children. She can provide them with an education, clothing, and nutrition. Anita happily reported to me, as I sat with her in her weaving workshop, that the family now can eat three meals a day.
The anecdotes about the life-changing potential of microcredit from Manuel, Luis, and Anita reaffirm the possibilities that economic opportunity can bring to an individual borrower and their family. Poverty, however, encompasses much more than a financial deficit. Poverty is also about the lack of choice. For the many successes I have witnessed, I have also seen a few difficult struggles. One was a single mother of two who is a weaver and raises pigs for the market. She has to exert great effort to keep up with her many responsibilities. In order to keep up with her many obligations, she had to pull her 13-year-old son out of school to help her. Right now, she “can’t afford” to send him to school. It is unclear in this case whether microcredit is adding or lessening the burdens of this family but it is clear that their poverty is blocking their paths to a better, more secure future.
Regardless the outcomes, the current struggles, or the great successes experienced by the borrowers’ I have spent time with, one storyline emerged clearly. They want you to know about it all. A few days ago, I met Betty. She is 27-years-old and works at her sewing machine for a living. She implored me to deliver her message to anyone I could. She thanks us all for the support and our concern but reminded me to tell you “do not forget about us.” There are millions upon millions of hardworking people living in poverty like Betty. It reminds me of Mao’s famous quotation “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.” In this case, we’re not talking about death but about poverty. In this case, Betty in comparison with the statistics of poverty that can seriously overwhelm us and seem insurmountable. Kiva introduces us to these individuals and their lives and equips us with the ability to see the real lives beyond the statistics. And now that you’ve met Betty, I will hope that you will not forget her message.
Megan Bond is a Kiva Fellow working with the new partner FODEMI in northern Ecuador. She is currently celebrating posting FODEMI’s 50th Kiva loan! For more information on FODEMI, visit FODEMI’s partner page or English website. If you would like to support FODEMI and its borrowers, please join its newly created lending team. If you feel so inclined, check out our currently fundraising loans!
Past posts by Megan Bond: