Microfinance for them
What is the use of microcredit: Case of the Mishkiyaquillo community
Nausica Fiorelli, our volunteer, was able to follow a community that has benefited from ADA's help through LMDF funding.
I get to Tarapoto after 40 hours’ bus drive from Lima.
The other option was 1-hour flight. Why didn’t I choose the flight? Bus journeys always hide some surprises: this time, for example, I had the chance to make a little stop at the beach in Trujillo and enjoy a superb ceviche and a crab soup for less than 3 euro.
After the long trip that brought me along the cost, through the Andes and finally in the Rainforest, I reach Tarapoto: the capital of the Amazonian region of San Martin, northern Peru.
A bunch of mosquitos is waiting for me at the bus terminal together with lots of 3-wheels moto taxis ready to drive anywhere; however, don’t expect the driver to follow any specific road rule!
The landscape around is astonishing: palm trees, huge rivers and scarlet macaws flying and chirping around.
A solidarity group in the native community of Mishkiyaquillo
Luis, the director of Tarapoto Prisma brunch, proposes me to go the day after with him and Lucy, the credit agent, to visit a solidarity group in a rural area. The following morning I’m waiting in front of my hotel at 7.30. They arrive by motorcycle! I didn’t get that before…It seems it will be an interesting day! I climb on Lucy’s bike, she has no helmet for me: I feel a bit unsafe however, given the little power of the bike, there’s no chance we will go very fast!
After 20 minutes of dirt road and stones, we get to the little native community called Mishkiyaquillo. The group members are waiting for Lucy and Luis outside the meeting room which is actually a log cabin that they use for everything: meetings, celebrations, watching tv together: Peru qualified for 2018 world cup after 36 years!
Today is the closing day: the members must repay the credit they received 8 months before and they can request a new microcredit.
While Luis and Lucy are busy with the administrative tasks, I take the chance to interview few people. I realize soon they have their proper jargon, a lot of words come from Quechua - the Inca language and sometimes the communication vacillates.
Miriana is 22 years old and she has two kids of 3 and 5. She says “luckily with the first microcredit of 1,500 soles (around 380 Euro) we were able to send both of my kids to the kinder garden. We have two lands, one is half an hour walking distance, I take care of this one because I need to go back home to pick up the kids and prepare the lunch for them. My husband has to walk one hour and a half to get to the other piece of land that we have”.
“Actually” she says “my parents in law are the owners of land, not us, but this is how it works here most of the time, the all family is involved in the same activities”. She adds “I also do artisanal works like pottery and knitting and I sell the products to the community. It helps and also, today we are going to borrow 500 soles in order to improve our house: we have a rough floor and the kids always get completely dirty when they play on the ground”.
The youngest of the group is Zoila. She is nineteen and she is Esteban’s niece, the leader of the group. Together with her husband, they cultivate cocoa and Inca peanuts, “Sacha Inchi”. I have to ask her to repeat this word 3 times and finally, hopeless, she prefers showing it to me. “Sacha Inchi has been part of the Inca diet for 3000 years, it is used to make oil or cocoa”. She says.
Zoila has a little girl who is 2-years old, she goes every day with her to the field. She tells me “I have been in this group for the past 8 months, everything works fine, the first time I borrowed 500 soles (about 130 euro). I used it for seeding and for my health: I was not feeling very well”. When I ask her what kind of problems she had, she gives me an unexpected answer: “I had the evil eye inside so I went to see a Curandero (native healer, shaman), and he healed me. Now I feel much better”.
Lucy, the credit agent, explains to me that in the rural area people rely on shamans a lot and it is very common to get treatments from them.
Zoila tells me that this time she will borrow 600 soles (about 150 euro) because she wants to buy the shears to prune the cocoa plants: “we need to pay 10 soles per day if we rent it, so we thought we could buy one for around 400 soles and then rent it out to recover the cost”.
Esteban is the leader of the group, everybody knows him in the community as an hard worker and very punctual with the payments. He tells me that he doesn’t like to withdraw a big amount of money, he just borrows little sums to be sure he can repay on time. “I cultivate cocoa and Sacha Inchi but I also breed chickens and pigs”, he explains, “thanks to a microcredit of 2,000 soles (around 500 euro), I could buy and feed 200 chickens and 4 pigs, now I have only 50 chickens left because I managed to sell the rest”. He continues: “people do not understand that the most expensive part is not buying the animals, but feeding them. When I asked for the microcredit I had already done the math”.
As most of the people of the area, till the late 90s, Esteban was cultivating coca leaves. It was not legal but it looked like it was as the narcotraffickers had full power in the country. Afterwards, thanks to a United Nations program aimed at replacing coca crops with cocoa crops, many farmers as Esteban switched to cocoa.
A charming lady named Ezenovia is sitting outside under the sun, I go talk to her. She speaks very quickly and sometimes we do not understand each other but I understand what is the main thing she wants me to know “I am a widow, unfortunately my husband passed away few months ago but he taught me everything he knew: about the job and how to manage the money. He had been sick for many years and I always looked after him, he was one of the members of this solidarity group and now that he is not here anymore, I replace him”. She adds, “I am not afraid, I know I can manage and two of my five sons are working with me”. Also, thanks to the death insurance that comes with the solidarity group, we received 7,000 soles (around 1,800 euro) and we used it to increase and diversify the plantation.
Ezenovia is very proud and she wants to show us her lands. She goes up and down in the hill, with a roasting sun, carrying stuff like if it was nothing. We are struggling, it’s hot, there is barely no shadow, I am completely sweaty, short of breath and I look at this woman, five kids, almost 30 years older than me, and not a drop of sweat on her face.
She shows us around, the view from her land is astonishing, amazing. As usual I get bitten by mosquitoes everywhere but it is worth it a delicious coconut juice that she gets directly from the palm tree, a bunch of super tasty bananas and some rose apples: an exotic fruit incredibly sweet.
Lucy, credit agent
Time’s up and we head back to Tarapoto. On our way home, I take the chance to ask Lucy some questions. She seems a very patient and reachable lady and the group trusts her, I could see it immediately. She tells me “I really like this job but not everybody can do it: you must like being outside, going to the countryside, moving around with the bike all the time and being with people”.
“What’s the hardest part of your job?” I ask.
“You can’t expect people adapting to you, you must be the one who adapts to them. There are very different realities and different personalities, I always try to behave in the most appropriate way depending on whom I am talking to.” However”, she continues, “people from the countryside might seem closed and shy at first but once they get to know you and they start trusting you, they become very communicative and affectionate. For instance, taking the example of the group that we have just met, they always greet me with hugs and kisses: they really make me feel part of the family. This taught me to be more open and natural as well. Sometimes we collect money and in the next meeting we have a big lunch together. These ladies here, they really know how to cook!”.
“And what’s that you like more?”
“Prisma puts a particular effort in trying to involve women in the solidarity groups. We aim to help them be more independent and develop their own business. As a woman, I value this aspect a lot”.
“So, you are travelling for one year?” He asks me. “Since we have opened this brunch in Tarapoto, I haven’t had any holidays. We are growing and there is a lot to do.” I ask him if there is something that he learned by doing this job and that he would like to share with me. He tells me: “I learnt that when I interview someone who wants to be a credit agent, I need to focus on his personal skills more than on the technical ones. For this job, it is fundamental to have empathy and patience and I have noticed that women usually fit better. For instance,”, he says, “think about the group that you visited today: you saw that all the women were there with their kids. Very often the kids cry or make noise and run everywhere. Mums are used to carry out any task with that noise in the background while I saw men losing concentration and getting annoyed”.