Getting Started in Peru
I have been in Peru for two weeks now, but I have been struggling to blog about my experience so far. I’ve been waiting for a remarkable moving microfinance success story to share, or some powerful insight into the people of Peru or an individual that I have met that I can write about. Unfortunately after two weeks, neither of these have come to me as clearly (or as quickly) as I would have liked, and I have had to remind myself that that’s O.K. and the experience is still worth sharing. I am now in a small town called Huancayo and slowly but surely things are picking up speed. Over the past four days, I have met about 10 individual clients and seen the formation of a Solidarity Group (I will explain more in detail later). I know this is going to be a great experience – but as I have had to remind myself, sometimes things in the underdeveloped world simply don’t always move as quickly as you might like and sometimes you just cant control it!
Thursday was the first time that I went out and met with clients. It was very exciting to finally get started. I went to an area known as Justicia, Paz y Vida, located on the outskirts Huancayo. While I don’t know an exact population there, I am fairly confident it can be no more than 100, 150 at the most. As we arrived to Justicia Paz y Vida, I was immediately shocked by what I saw. Having come from Lima, earlier in the week, it was a stark contrast to say the least. No buildings, no hotels, no restaurants, well no roads even. We walked further and further away from the main road and it did not take long to feel the difference. There are no street names, no addresses. You find people only by asking the people who you come across. “Conoces la Senora Maria Contreras Sanchez? Tiene una restaurant por aqui?” (Do you know Mrs. Maria Contreras Sanchez? Apparently she has a restaurant around here). If the person knows her, you’re one step closer. If the person you ask doesn’t know here, you’re right back where you started.
We arrived to the home of a lady named Cecila. Her business is selling beer and soda. I have been so excited to start meeting with clients and suddenly, once I am there, I feel quite nervous. I let Roxana, the Kiva coordinator who I am working with, take the lead to begin. I almost feel like I’m in a dream world. All the questions that I had intended to ask suddenly float out of my head. I find myself at a loss of words – this doesn’t happen often – and since I don’t have the words to say, I step back and listen to what is being said around me.
We head onto our next client, a lady named Rosa. Her business also is selling beer and soda. I think to myself, is it practical to have two of the same businesses, fairly close to each other, in an area this underpopulated? Im not here to judge though, so again, I give Roxana the lead and listen. Roxana asks similar questions as before: What is your business? How is business going? How have you used your loan? What motivates you to keep working so hard? A second similarity arises between these woman. In response to the final question, both have answered, “Para Mis Hijos” (For my children).
We head out to find our next client. As we walk, I start seeing a theme. We pass at least two more beer and soda shops. We see at least three internet shops. And I see at least 5 other stands that sell beer and soda and (insert other product here – be it tools, cigarettes, candy, chips). In a town this small, which certainly doesn’t attract tourists and the only clients a store might have are the towns inhabitants themselves, it just doesn’t seem practical to me to have so many of the same businesses. Surely it must deter customers. As Roxana and I walk, we discuss the women’s responses to her questions. Both women have told us that business is doing well and growing. Both women have told us that they are grateful for the loans they have received and both of them, in one way or another, told us that they are proud of the progress they have been able to make with their businesses. We spend a few more hours walking, trying to find other clients, but we strike out the rest of the afternoon. Everyone has either gone to the market to sell their goods, has traveled to the next town to sell their goods, or simply cannot be found that day.
As we prepare to call it quits for the day, I cannot help but compare what I have seen to what I know. In a time of economic uncertainty in my own country, where corporations are desperately demanding relief and lamenting over the “dried up consumer market,” its ironic to see towns where the only clients an entrepreneur has is his or her “vecino” (neighbor) and yet both of the individuals who we have met are clearly very pleased with how their businesses are doing. Even though each of them might only make one or two sales a day, and sometimes none at all, they still report back to Roxana and I that business is booming. They celebrate that this year they have made a profit, although be it minimal and for the first time in their lives they have something called, “savings.” They have never experienced this before. It leaves me wondering; are things back home really that bad and should the entrepreneurs I have met today take a lesson from us in what defines a successful business? Or on the other hand, is the economic reality back home not quite as bad as we allow ourselves to believe and should my country be taking a lesson from the entrepreneurs I have met on gratitude instead? My instinct is the second.
Despite a slow and sometimes frustrating first couple of weeks, the day’s experience reminds me of what I came here to explore./>