Bus rides and long walks
Want to know what is it like to work with a loan officer? Come on… join the ride for a day!
Click to view slideshow. Should be an easy day, I planned to go with one of the loan officers, Nidia, to a workshop for two groups of women about planting greens and vegetables in their gardens. She is one of the graduates from the self-sufficient agricultural highschool (Escuela Agrícola San Francisco) run also by Fundación Paraguaya where kids live in campus, go to class and do field work related to their coursework.
7am Branch manager is meeting with all loan officers and administrative staff.
7:15am there’s a line of people outside waiting for the office to open.
7:35am Meeting is over and loan officers start attending customers
9:15am After a short visit within the city I’m back in the office and ready to go to Mallorquin, which is a very small population about 60km west from Cd. del Este.
10:00am The bus is nowhere to be seen, we walk from the bus stop to the bus station which is not far.
10:30am We’re finally on our way to Mallorquín. The relation between distance and travel time in a Paraguayan ‘colectivo’ varies depending where you are… within the city buses seem to stop every corner and in between to pick up passengers. There are designated stops but people wave at buses anywhere and more often than not they stop; time seems to run while the bus is crawling its way out of the city.
12:30 Time to walk; the sun is shining on a clear blue sky and its around 35C (95F). We walk through a cobblestone avenue, two women approach Nidia and briefly talk in Guaraní, the 2nd official language of Paraguay. After a short pause we keep on walking and reach the meeting point, it’s the town’s radio station. There are no street signs and probably no street names either but the antenna is visible from far away. Finally we arrive at a house, it’s a newly formed group. The conversation is mostly in Guaraní, Nidia explains, the women talk among them and ask questions. They still have one or two women missing and we will have to come back later.
2:00pm After 15 minutes walk we arrive to meet a second group, and they’re ready. Only one lady is missing but is on her way. Same drill, Nidia talks to them half Guaraní, half Spanish, there’s group discussion and they’re ready to sign the documents. While Nidia starts fills in the socioeconomic survey, line by line for about 15 women I help with getting signatures and initials for the committee’s roster, contract, and other documents… initials here, initials there. Some women look relaxed, others a little apprehensive, as for many this is their first credit. All documents are ready.
3:40pm Last thing before leaving, the Kiva group picture… done. Nidia’s off with one of the women on motorcycle to meet the next group to give a training on planting a vegetable garden. I walk until the lady on motorcycle comes back to give me a ride.
4:25pm Nidia spent her time working with the group to solve internal issues instead of the greens’ garden training and the meeting it is almost over. In brief here’s the problem: the treasurer wants out, she is tired of dealing with group members that want petty cash money to complete their installments. Before they knew it, petty cash was gone and she had to act as a debt collector trying to gather enough money every month to pay the full installment. Now she leaves again for the second training session of the day.
4:45pm While the motorcycle’s back I talk with the group to introduce Kiva; they don’t have a Kiva profile now but will most likely have one in their next renewal. We talk about team work and suggest the treasurer to keep payment records to know who pays, how much, and when. Come next loan cycle, those records will help decide who can increase loan amounts. Everybody agrees and the meeting is finished.
6:00pm Another motorcycle ride and I’m back at the first house where we started the visits, now the group is complete. The second training didn’t happen because we were running behind schedule and the ladies had to go back to their chores. I arrive as they are finishing electing the group’s representatives. Now it’s time for the same drill as before: Nidia starts filling the socioeconomic survey while I help get signatures for the documents.
7pm and we finish the day by taking the pictures for the Kiva profile… and finally we head back to the bus stop.
8:30pm We’re finally back at the Ciudad del Este bus station. It’s time to go home and get a good rest to be ready for the next day; it starts again with a staff meeting at 7am sharp!
About the socioeconomic survey: this is a new survey rolled out by Fundación Paraguaya (FP) to assess the poverty level of all women getting loans through groups; with yearly follow ups FP will be able to assess impact on poverty and quality of life.