I’m writing this from my HOSPTIAL BED in Cuenca. As many of you know, I have been sick with one thing or another since September. I even had to delay my trip to Ecuador a bit, so I could recover from the latest bout of flu and a back problem that resulted from all the strain of coughing. I was fine when I got here, but I quickly developed a cough that just wouldn’t go away. I thought it was my usual adjustment to the climate and the pollution, but finally Ana Cecilia whisked me off to the doctor. A chest xray revealed that I had pneumonia! The doctor immediately put me in the hospital for 5 days of IV antibiotics and respiratory treatment. That was Thursday. He said today (Saturday) that I am doing really well, and he expects that I’ll be released on Monday. ¡Ojala!
I am doing fine, and frankly rather than being upset to be in the hospital i am relieved to finally find out what was wrong with me all those months. The doctor assures me I’ll be all “cleaned out” by the time I leave the clinic.
The pneumonia has really cramped my style! These were my last two weeks before I fly back on 3/15/10 and I had them chock full of plans. But, I hope to at least see everyone before I leave. Many of them are visiting me at the hospital.
There are now 38 socias [members] of the Banco Comunitario de San Cristóbal; we started with 13. All socias meet on the 8th of the month to pay their loans and apply for new ones. I was there for their regular 8 February 2010 meeting, and again on Feb 20 for a special meeting to talk over proposals for this coming year. I brought down about $2000 in gifts from folks in Vermont and Bethany church. The socias decided to put $1000 in the loan fund, since all the existing money is in circulation and there are more women who want loans than money to lend.
At the meeting, they introduced all the new members of the bank and gave an impressive report of their finances. The original 2007 seed capital of $5000 has grown to $12,000 and they have about $4,700 more in “social loans” for which the bank gets the interest. So they have a total of almost $17,000 in circulation. Note: Social loans are a Mohamed Yunus idea where rather than giving charitable contributions, you make a loan. The lender gets the capital back, so the lender can help someone else, but the interest stays with the bank to pay the bank’s administrative costs. The discussed the few problems they had with “collections” during the hard times. But as a bank of “solidarity”, they worked with the women, until they got back on their feet, restructured the loan and everyone is in good standing.
I had originally planned on helping them start a new branch in another community, but they wisely nixed this idea since they have successfully integrated women from other communities into the bank. So the socias decided to match the other $1000 with their own funds and use it 1) to train all the women on computacion, 2) buy a new computer and 3) acquire the programs (and training) to put all their accounts in the computer. The municipality is giving them free space in the community building, so when I come back next year, they will be in their own space with their own computer.
They also nixed the idea of using the money to hire employees. They are happy with the current completely volunteer job of administering the loans. Because of this free labor, the bank’s expenses were $70, mostly for paper and copies.
Last year, the socias started a savings program to add money to their lending pool, but it was a bust. Because of the financial crises no one has had money to save; it all goes for necessities. The husbands of many of the women are working abroad either in the US, Spain or Italy. These husbands used to send money home to help support the family, and of course that has all dried up, since most of them are now unemployed. The remittances from abroad used to be the second highest item of Ecuador’s GNP, after petroleum! Now these women has to send money to their husbands so they can survive. Many migrants have come back to Ecuador or plan to. I for one, am happy about this development since the migration due to lack of jobs in Ecuador created a huge social crises, and their families – especially the kids - really suffered in their parent’s absence. Even if the migrants come back and do subsistence farming, at least they are working and can be there for their families.
On Saturday, 27 February 2010 i was invited to participate in the parade which commemorated the 150th year of the “parocialization” of San Cristóbal. That essentially means when the town was incorporated. Kids from three elementary schools in the parocia marched, and I marched with the with the socias of the bank. There were two other groups of women “Las Rosales” who are artisans who make the polleras [the beautifully embroidered skirts most indigenous women wear], and “Las Artesanas” who are another group who weave the panama hats and other artifacts from paja toquilla [the thin strawlike strips made from palm fronds]. For the parade, they dressed me up a pollera and lovely white camisa [the traditional blouse that goes with the pollera]. I think they got a bigger kick out of it than I did! Especially since on me the pollera was more like a mini skirt, since at 5’4” I tower over most of them.
This will be my last post from Ecuador, so I hope to see you and share so many more personal encounters and stories. i'll also send along some pictures when i get home. i brought my camera, but forgot the cable to download to my computer. i HATE aging!
I love being here, and I love sharing the experience with all of you…. Carolyn