Greetings from Ecuador! My name is Elizabeth Li and I am here as a Kiva Fellow working with MFI Mifex. Hard to believe I’ve been here for 2months already with just over 2weeks to go. Due to access difficulties I have not been able to blog until recently. Reading all the other blogs here I’m reminded of one thread that ties us fellows together despite being in distinctly different cultures across the world: living abroad in the developing world is a true challenge!
Mifex operates out of two offices located in the marginalized urban sectors of Guayaquil. Millions of people live here in cane houses on dirt roads with no access to running water or many of the conveniences we take for granted today. As I accompany loan officers on their visits in the field I am reminded daily of how luxurious my life back home is each time I am confronted with the sights, smells, and the blistering heat of this area. This is a shout out to the loan officers at Mifex. Every morning they set out early with a list of old and potentially new clients to visit. However, it’s not as simple as a car ride over — they stand by the side of the main road often for up to 30minutes waiting for the bus that will take them into the sector where their clients live. Standing there with the dust and dirt blowing in your face, breathing the diesel-laden air that makes your lungs want to give out, all the while trying to not let the heat and humidity get to you is hard work. The days I have gone out on visits with them we sit in the bus, talking and having good conversation, but it’s hard not to notice and gawk at the conditions on the streets: the ubiquitous flea-infested stray dogs, uncontained trash, young children who have to peddle instead of going to school. Often I wonder how these meetings with clients actually take place; it’s usually a verbal agreement made to meet on such and such corner across from the church after 9am. The lack of cell phone signal or a street sign to help us out certainly complicates matters, but add in the Latin sense of time and we’re talking about more waiting by the side of the road desperately wishing for shelter from the sun! Often we don’t know who we’re looking for, especially if it’s a new client, so it’s a good thing they can easily pick out “la chinta” and the uniformed very professional looking person. The other day we were standing across from the church waiting, and starting to wonder after 30minutes if this church was the same one the client was referring to. We were then surprised when a crickety old red pick-up truck pulled up alongside us and told us to jump in. Now, having seen and experienced how people drive I honestly was loathe to get in the back of this truck, but I convinced myself it was part of the experience of being here. So, in we went and I tried to contain myself as we bounced along the dirt road that seemed to have more potholes than smooth stretches. It amazes me when you have a certain picture in your mind of how large an area is and when reality blows that image away. Rows and rows after rows of cane-houses, some barely standing upright, some with hardly a roof. First I was shocked by how people live, now I was struck by just how many people live in these dire circumstances.
After completing the initial loan evaluation the loan officer did not believe the client met the criteria required for a loan. We climbed back into the pickup for the ride which was graciously offered to us. I knew I just wanted to get back to the office to cool off and get out from under the sun because I was hot, sweaty, tired, and disappointed that we could not be of assistance to this person. I certainly hope I find the persistence to keep up with this! But more so I have a great admiration for the loan officers who stretch themselves to the limit day after day to reach out to those who are really in need./>