What is your dream for your future?  As a Kiva Fellow living in Puno, Peru, writing journals for Kiva and Manuela Ramos entrepreneurs, this is a question I have asked approximately 150 women.  Over the last three and a half months, one of my main responsibilities as a fellow has been to meet the entrepreneurs of Manuela Ramos who have been funded through Kiva and to write journals about their lives, their businesses and the loans that help them succeed in these businesses.  In order to gather the information needed to write these journals, I travel to bank meetings or to the entrepreneur’s homes and ask them a series of questions: How long have you been with Manuela Ramos?  Do you think that the loans from Manuela Ramos have helped your business? What successes or problems have you recently faced? Because many of the women entrepreneurs conduct similar businesses, their answers to these questions are often the same.  However, the question that provokes the same response more than any other is “What is your dream for the future”.

Before many entrepreneurs can answer what their goals or dreams are for their future, I often have to translate the question using simpler terms.  Many women in the region of Puno, Peru, speak Aymara as their native language and although most are very comfortable conversing in Spanish, the word for goal, “meta”, and dream, “sueño”, are often not understood.  I believe this lack of knowledge is representative of the fact that goals and dreams are not topics that are often discussed.  Once I translate the question to, “What do you want for your future and for the future of your family?”, nine times out of ten, I receive the same two responses.  The first response is “salir adelante” (to progress and move forward), and the second response is “que mis hijos sean professionals”, (that my children will become professionals), meaning that their children will study in either a private institution or University and find work in their chosen field.  Sometimes the responses to this question are more specific, such as a woman stating she would like to own an artesian store in Puno or that she hopes the profits from her business will eventually provide her with enough funds to purchase a home, but I usually receive the same two, somewhat broad answers.

After my first month of conducting interviews where I would do my best to encourage the entrepreneurs to elaborate on these responses, but usually was not successful in this attempt, I began to feel a bit frustrated.  This prompted me to think about how I would respond to this question if I were in these women’s shoes.  I thought about the variety of responses I might provide: I want to go to business school and work for an organization whose mission in tied to international development, have a family that is safe and healthy, eventually own my own home in the Bay Area, become better at the guitar, complete a triathlon, and the list goes on.  The more I thought about my responses, the more I realized that in the core of these answers are two underlying themes.  The first is that I hope to always progress and move forward, both personally and professionally.  The second is that I want a healthy family and hope to eventually provide my children with a good education and the means to succeed. Embedded in all my goals and dreams for the future are the same desires of the women I have met who live in the countryside of rural Peru.

So why am I able to define my dreams with specific actions that I will take in order to achieve them?  Opportunity.  Going to University and graduate school to study a field I am interested in, advancing in a successful career in the profession of my choice, and developing personal hobbies are all luxuries that are readily accessible to me because of the economic situation I enjoy simply because I was born into it.  My parents and the social infrastructure of the society in which I live have provided me with the opportunity to clearly formulate a plan to achieve my goals and the means to go after these dreams. In the rural regions of Puno, Peru, these types of opportunities are almost non-existent, as is the education that teaches women to develop defined goals for their future.  The immediate necessities of life: clothing and feeding their families cause the majority of these women to pursue businesses that will provide them and their families with profits that are small, but just large enough to meet basic needs.  Although I believe most humans across the globe share the same intrinsic aspirations to want to progress and help their children progress, much of the world’s people, particularly in developing countries, lack accessibility to the necessary education and economic resources to define this progress in their own terms.

So is microfiance helping to develop the educational and economical framework that is needed?  Yes, it is definitely playing a part.  Although one $200 loan from Maneula Ramos and Kiva will not transform the business and life of every single entrepreneur, one thousand $200 loans can help provide a solid foundation of a society that has the economic means to slowly develop.  Because of microloans and the education and self-esteem building that comes along with these loans, perhaps five of these one thousand women will develop ingenious business ideas and implement them, therefore providing new businesses and new hope to the society around them.  Perhaps fifty of these one thousand women will save enough funds to help send their children to University, eventually altering the course of the future for the next generation.  Although many women who receive microloans will not drastically change, most of these women will be able to start or continue with their small business, generating enough income for their families to survive.  This may be a far cry from how most people from developed nations would define their goals and dreams, but for most borrowers who secure microloans and live in a poor part of our world, this is progress.

Emily Sweeney is part of KF7 and is finishing her three and a half month placement with Manuela Ramos in Puno, Peru at the end of May.

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