By Geeta Uhl, KF14, Peru
I originally went out into the campo (countryside) to complete one of my borrower verifications for Kiva. One of the borrowers that I had to verify was no longer a member of FINCA Peru, so one of the rural loan officers, Norma, agreed to take me to his home if I accompanied her for the day.
6:00am: We started the day meeting at the bus stop in Ayacucho and squeezed into the last remaining spaces (not really seats) in a combi-van to Compania, an area known for its brick-making. Norma is one of the 2 rural loan officers in the Ayacucho office of FINCA Peru and works with a whopping 23 banks (and each bank has around 10-30 members to keep track of). She mentioned that the rural banks generally have lower default rates than the urban ones. She recently had the lowest default rate at FINCA Peru.
7:00am: We arrived a bit early, so we hiked through the avocado and corn fields to find one of her borrowers who had not been to meetings or made her loan payments in a month. We found her at her house, and learned that she had been sick and had not been able to work. Her husband had also had trouble with his brick business due to excessive rain. (the ovens are open-air and cannot be fired to dry the bricks if it is raining).
7:30am: Norma began the first bank meeting with a group prayer (as all the meetings at FINCA Peru begin) and then launched into a training session on family violence. First she spurred a group discussion on what constitutes family violence, and then broke the borrowers up into groups to act out scenarios of the 4 different types of family violence- physical, psychological, sexual and economic. Each group was quite enthusiastic about the activity (especially for 7:30 am on a Monday morning) and seemed to really enjoy the exercise. The main takeaway that Norma left with them was the importance of communication and “breaking the silence”.
After the training, repayment collection began. Some of the members were defaulting on their loans, so Norma emphasized the importance of paying on time. Since the loan officers’ pay is linked to the performance of their banks, it makes it even more crucial that their members pay back their loans.
9:00am: Breakfast time! Some of the bank members usually bring some kind of food to the meeting to sell to other members. That day we had “Yu Yu” a delicious spinach and potato dish, and like all meals in the Andes, is not complete without a side of corn.
9:15am: Bank meeting #2 began. The meetings in the campo are usually held outdoors where a few benches or chairs are placed near a member’s home or store. This meeting consisted of just repayments (Norma tends to alternate the training days).
10:30am: We walked through the countryside to the main road. Once we reached the nearest main road, we waited another 45 minutes or so (though it seemed like an eternity in the strong Andean sun) for a truck to pass by to hitch a 30-minute ride up the road to the main highway. Once at the main highway we walked about another 30 minutes uphill to the third bank meeting.
12:00pm: We arrived at the third bank meeting, held at a borrowers home/restaurant. Waiting for the meeting to begin, Norma generally does paperwork and chats with the borrower to see how business is going.
1:00pm: The third bank meeting began on time and Norma records repayments. Each borrower has the opportunity to contribute to their savings during each repayment meeting (usually every 2 weeks). Each bank also has a directive board consisting of a President, Secretary and Treasurer, who assist the loan officers in recording amounts and counting money. It can be a long process reconciling amounts and going through new internal loan requests from the group bank account (internal loans are from the communal bank itself, external loans are from FINCA Peru).
2:30pm: The third bank meeting finally ended and we headed back to Ayacucho in a shared taxi. Norma went home for a quick lunch and shower (it can get muddy in the campo) and then proceeded to start the second part of her day in the main FINCA office in Ayacucho, doing the remaining paperwork until 6:30pm. I was truly exhausted and don’t know how she does this 5 (sometimes 6) days a week!