COMMUNITY VOICE: <br/>Small Steps

Small Steps

Macro Changes Through Microcredit

Microcredit may not be a panacea to women's problems worldwide, but it has impacted thousands of lives, proving that every little bit truly does help. One international relations student shares this wisdom and more as she relates her experiences as an intern with the microcredit program Women's Association for the Development of Sacatepequez in Guatemala.

Globalization has ushered in the availability of the Internet, cell phones, and other technological advances that help us connect to people around the world. As a result, we can build more lasting relationships with our friends and colleagues and create a social network anywhere in the world.

In the summer of 2005 I had the opportunity to intern with a Guatemalan NGO called Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (Asociación para el Desarrollo de Sacatepéquez – AFEDES). As student of International Relations from San Francisco State University, I was hoping to learn about the dynamics of microfinance. I was especially eager to work with AFEDES, because they were a great example of a program that used an integrated approach to impact the lives of women in the region.

Micro credit programs offer small loans to the very poor for investment in income-generating activities. Throughout the developing world, women are the main recipients of micro credit loans. Women often outnumber men in the poorest segments of society. Most women are involved in the informal sector, and lack access to credit. In addition, women tend to run the daily household budget and are largely responsible for their children. Thus, they are important agents of social change.

I was excited to see AFEDES being led by women of my generation, women whose life experiences were very different from my own. In many Western countries, education is taken for granted. But these women did not have the same access to education that I had. Many of them had faced obstacles that made it difficult for them to attend school. I talked to several women, for instance, who had to convince their fathers to let them go to school instead of working in the fields.

I got to know these women, and learned about their history, their struggles and their desire to empower themselves. AFEDES showed me how microfinance is an important facilitation tool, where financial services have the capacity to interact with many aspects of clients’ lives, not just to develop an income-generating project.

Throughout my internship, I learned that offering women access to micro credit and savings alone is not the panacea to poverty reduction. This system needs to be accompanied by other actions that will stimulate women to think, analyze and learn skills that will guide them to manage their money in a more effective way, and as a result, will empower them as human beings.

Many practitioners of microfinance believe that the benefits derived from microfinance, basic education and primary health are interconnected, and programs have found that the impact of each can increase when they are delivered together. AFEDES is one of those practitioners, which is why they have also initiated education loans to children, and are planning the integration of a new health program to their organization.

Although I believe in the success of microfinance, I also believe it is not the only solution to help eliminate poverty. By working with AFEDES, I saw all the good micro finance organizations can do--and I gained new perspectives about the challenges microfinance organizations face.

As a young woman of my generation, I feel proud and thankful that I had the opportunity to get to know women of my generation with different cultural backgrounds. I learnt that we shared the common interest of encouraging and inspiring women to become the best possible human being they can be. By sharing our stories and experiences, we can support each other and create a network for our voices to be heard. I hope that by sharing my experience with AFEDES it will shed light on how indigenous women have successfully used microfinance to enhance their livelihoods and become stronger, skillful and confident women.

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