As if volleyball and soccer were not challenging enough, imagine playing these sports in long skirts, dress shoes and traditional hats that barely stay on your head in the slightest wind. I have been to and played in sports tournaments my entire life, but until last week I had never experienced a tournament like this!

As a Kiva Fellow working with the Microfinance Institution (MFI), Manuela Ramos, I have the privilege of attending not only community bank meetings, where groups of women come together to take out small loans, but also community events that are meant to empower women, spread the word about Peru’s women’s rights movement, in which Manuela Ramos plays a large role, and show the women a great time! Every year, Manuela Ramos puts on as many as eight events in the different zones where they work; sometimes these events afford the women entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell their goods, sometimes they are educational and teach the women how to effectively run their small businesses, and sometimes they involve the playing of sports. Above all, these events encourage camaraderie and self-esteem amongst the women.

The morning started early, with a 4 am wake up call followed by a three-hour, multi bus journey to Lampa, Peru where ten loan officers and I fumbled and laughed our way through the set up of the volley ball court and soccer nets. The fact that I’m about five inches taller than the next tallest woman made me very popular when it came to propping up tents and hanging signs! The women entrepreneurs began to arrive around 8 am and by 9:30 the ceremony began. Dressed in their team shirts and proudly holding their banners, which displayed their community bank names, the women lined up in rows. With a borrowed microphone, the loan officers of Manuela Ramos recognized individuals who had demonstrated excellence amongst their fellow bank members. After singing the Peruvian national anthem, the women and the loan officers ran around the paved court and the games began!

As the community banks participated in the sports, the other women watched, cheered, and took advantage of the local hospital offering of free HIV tests and $.50 women exams, a service that Manuela Ramos set up for the community. After approximately four hours of games, the day concluded around 2 pm, with a large lunch of chicken and potatoes, an Andean favorite, and a closing ceremony where the loan officers played the Manuela Ramos theme song, which is reminiscent of a 1992 Celine Dion hit. The women seemed to truly enjoy themselves, and the event undoubtedly fostered camaraderie among the women in the community banks and made women in the area, who stopped to watch, interested in being a part of Manuela Ramos and all the fun!

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Emily Sweeney is a Kiva Fellow, living in Puno, Peru.  She has been working with the Microfinance Institution, Manuela Ramos, for three months.

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