By Cynthia McMurry, KF5 Peru
When FINCA staff interview clients to write their Kiva profiles, the last question each client is asked is “What are your dreams for the future?” As I looked at the profile of FINCA client after FINCA client, I was struck that almost everyone had some variation of the same three dreams:
1) “For my children to graduate with professional degrees” or “For my children to get a good education.”
2) “To open my own store” (for ambulatory vendors), “To open another store,” “To expand my store,” or “To offer a wider variety of merchandise in my store.”
3) “To build my own home,” “To own my own home,” or “To improve my home.”
Something bothered me about seeing the same dreams repeated over and over, but for a week or so I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was that bothered me. In part, I think it challenged a mindset instilled in me from early on, reflecting a PC, middle-class American upbringing laden with positive reinforcement, self-esteem boosters and the notion that everyone is different in a good way. I can see the motivational posters on the walls of my second-grade classroom now: “Reach for the stars!” “I can do anything if I put my mind to it!” “The sky is the limit!” and so on. If you’d asked me then about my dreams, I would have told you that I wanted to be a professional ice cream taster and have my own calf for my backyard (my family lives in the middle of Minneapolis). My dreams today are the same size, though they’ve gotten less fattening and more socially oriented over the years (I don’t want to say what they are for fear of jinxing myself; I never did get that calf).
I think I expected clients to have similarly grandiose responses. To me, offering a wider variety of merchandise is a goal, not a dream. Winning the lottery is a dream, being a world-renowned artist is a dream, traveling to faraway places is a dream. Dreams are limitless and fantastic: if you’re really lucky you get close, but otherwise a dream is something to set your sights on and work towards as you go through life. Goals are concrete and attainable: if you plan ahead and work hard, you should be able to reach and even surpass your goals. I wanted clients to see that their dreams were in fact goals. What happens once you do start selling a wider variety of merchandise? Once your house has a second floor? Once you have two stores? Where do you go from there? It also bothered me that clients’ dreams didn’t involve working less or retiring. Most of the women I talk to work 50 or 60 hours per week and have large families to support; their kids usually work with them while not in school. But no one dreamed of not working. Many older clients told me they dreamed of continuing to work for as long as possible.
A couple of days ago, I came across a woman whose dream was “For my children to grow up to be better than me.” That made me cry, and I realized that this woman’s bluntly-put “dream” is in fact the common theme shared by everyone I’ve talked to. Any given combination of dreams #1, 2, and 3 is just a way of saying “I want a better future for my children.” I think this is probably the common dream shared by most mothers of the world, and I feel silly for not realizing this sooner. It doesn’t really matter if they’re dreams or goals; either way they represent small steps forward, and maybe it’s easier to go step by step than to look to a place miles away that you are trying to reach, since you might get discouraged once you realized how far away you currently are.
Being at FINCA for Thanksgiving has given the holiday a new meaning for me. I’ve always known that I have more material goods than most people in the world and that I’ve been blessed with a good education and a loving family, but I never thought about how much I’ve been empowered by those around me throughout my life. I was given a childhood of leisure time and had the luxury of dreaming about cows and ice cream; I didn’t see any doors closed to me. I never fully realized that my family has already achieved what most families only dream of.