Eighteen hours ago, I was one of 10 students from Northern Illinois University preparing to embark on a trip to Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, to learn more about and study in depth the elements that comprise the principles of microfinance. Eighteen hours later, my peers and I have witnessed firsthand the power and the genuine passion that fuels microfinance.
Words do not begin to describe the feelings and emotions that I felt within myself and amongst my peers and the Opportunity clients and staff. We had the opportunity to visit the CAPAZ (which means “when you are able to do something) Trust Group. Trust Groups consist of multiple clients who guarantee each other’s loans. Loan repayments are made during the group’s weekly meeting. Incredibly, since the start of CAPAZ, no member has ever been delinquent on her loan repayments. We observed their weekly Trust Group meeting in the home of the group’s treasurer. The current 24-member, all-female Trust Group is preparing to pay off its last weekly payment of a $16,000 loan from their ninth loan cycle. CAPAZ will grow to 26 members for its tenth loan cycle in the coming weeks.
CAPAZ consists of a variety of artisans who fabricate ceramic décor such as nativity scenes or piggy banks, design clothing and shoes, or create sculptures and other forms of artwork. The group also includes bakers and women who run food or beverage stands. Whatever their entrepreneurial skills, they all had one thing in common: a passion to succeed and the desire to change their own lives and the lives of their families. These determined women empower one another through their Trust Group, working together to overcome the devastating and weakening effects of poverty. One member of CAPAZ, Judith, expressed that their loans have enabled them to become economically empowered and to devote more time and energy in their family lives. Judith even did a “victory dance,” in which she portrayed her success to my peers and me in front of the Trust Group.
There is a common saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I must admit that for several years now, I have seen pictures of impoverished communities and villages, and discouraging and weary looks on the faces of the poor in magazines and newspapers, and on the television and Internet. But prior to today, I had never seen the hope and encouragement on the faces of the poor who have been blessed with a microfinance loan. These women of all ages have an abundance of passion, a desire to learn and achieve, the motivation to excel and succeed, and a most genuine appreciation of life and the opportunities they have been blessed with. These attributes were so powerful and prominent that I found them to be truly infectious. I could not keep from being excited for these clients and proud of their incredible achievements and conquering of uncountable obstacles. I felt honored and blessed to be in their presence and to witness the entrepreneurial spirit that is raging an unbeatable cure for the alleviation of poverty. I was discussing a Chinese proverb with other peers attending this trip. It is painted on the wall of our classroom for our microfinance course in the Northern Illinois University College of Business. The proverb states, “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Teach me and I will understand.” I believe that today, my peers and I have truly begun to understand the power and passion that fuels microfinance. The very same people who are fighting poverty within their own lives did not just tell or show us, but more impressively, taught us about the genuine influences and successes of microfinance. There may exist pictures that are worth a thousand words, but this understanding far surpasses those thousand words.