Yesterday all the loan officers and agency coordinators from all over Honduras gathered in the small conference room in Prisma’s main office summarize, discuss and clarify the way Kiva would be implemented in the coming year. This was the final day and our final hurrah. I was so honored that they considered my assistance and their partnership with Kiva worth the administrative cost of bringing everyone together for a day- effectively halting all normal activity. The loan officers from San Lorenzo and Choluteca were up at 3 in the morning to catch the bus to the capital and surely didn’t arrive back in their homes until nearly midnight.
I entered the office before anyone to go over the copies one more time, to wipe down the table, to center myself. The worries. “What if it turns out to be a big waste?”, “What if it becomes obvious that still, no one really understands Kiva?”, “I am hoping for a big discussion, but what if my questions fall flat and they respond with deafening silence” By the time I get the projector hooked up and water laid out on the table I’m starting to sweat. And by the time everyone trickles in, and begins reviewing their carefully prepared folders including the day’s agenda, a pencil for everyone, places for notes, and summaries, I’m starting to shake. And by the time Prisma’s director, operations manager and credit manager adjust their glasses in the back I’ve nearly forgotten all my Spanish.
We start and to my surprise the somewhat distant faces open up into big smiles and everyone takes part. People emphatically describe the kinds of journals they want to write and want to make sure that they have the right idea. Orbelina, Prisma’s Director, emphasizes her confidence in her employees, encouraging them to be creative. She reminds them how important Kiva is to their goals as an organization. After nearly 4 hours of pounding out the process, reading examples of profiles and journals and discussing the operational difficulties facing every office we were all relieved to enjoy a big lunch.
In typical Honduran style, the Thank Yous began. Each person took the time to express their gratitude and friendship to me. We spent about 20 minutes reminiscing about the occasional disastrous moto ride. Side trips to visit the grandparents of the loan officers who lived “just beyond that little hill”. Adventurous lunches in the local markets. Funny language mix ups. Memorable clients.
I realized that though I know that Honduras is an environmentally rich country, filled with incredible species of birds, rainforest and arid highlands. I hardly made my way out to these places. Instead, my experience has been colored with the rich culture and individual connection I’ve had with so many people. The family I live with is a true blessing. I’ve witnessed a marital fight. 3 birthday parties. A huge baptism. The daily ins and outs of raising grandchildren, making ends meet. I have been so welcomed into their home and comfortably pass the time with both Doña Elia and Don Carlos. Carlos listens to the radio. A big clunker he carries around the house all day. He watches TV and recounts the plot to me almost as if it were non-fiction. “Then the shark attacked the scuba divers and they thought that it was safe to swim but it wasn’t. He ate all but one. She made it to the island and became a savage. She didn’t even believe in God”. Elia is in a constant state of preparing food for the endless stream of neighbors, God children, sisters, grandchildren, children and strangers that pass through her dining room daily. She turned 60 last night and joking put only 6 candles on the cake. “I’m still a child at heart,” she said. The salsa dancing began a few minutes later.
Prisma’s clients have contrasted this incredible affluence. They are honorable and interesting people. Each person has their own incredibly varied background, but their dreams for the future are almost always the same. They want a well-constructed house, healthy nutritious food, and the ability someday to stop worrying. I love the way that Kiva funded clients pat my arm on the way out of their homes saying “Nos vemos”, or loosely, “see you soon”. I feel that I really could come back any time and visit with them, or see them on the street and stop for a quick chat.
The country is a mix. Many feel incredible shame and anger at the corrupt system everyone agrees is the problem and which no one knows how to change. They have a curious love-hate relationship with the US. Everyone wants to go there, anything in English is way cooler, and clothes or lotions or food or machinery from the US is assumed to be higher quality. Still, people seem to be searching for the reasons they can be proud to be Honduran. Many have found it, some still yearn to leave. I’ve been asked for help getting a visa so many times I have lost count. Still, each person loves to brag about the parts of their country they love most. Nothing makes them happier than to hear how much I like the food, how beautiful their beaches are, how incredibly open their homes are, how I love the dancing and the visiting and the coffee and the weather and the clean air. “I’m happy you are comfortable”, everyone says.
Honduras is a country that often suffers. Mitch nearly destroyed it in 1998, and they’re constantly battered by rains, draught, disease. They’ve been undermined by economic exploitation by other counties for the past 400 years. Now they have a president that recently raised the minimum wage, in an appeal to the large population living below or near the poverty line. Unfortunately, the majority of small business simply couldn’t pay and the larger ones often refused resulting in a massive lay-off that combined with the drastically reduced remittances from the US has crushed the economy. Worried faces. Small businesses fighting yet another battle. Another complication Prisma has to navigate. But they have a wealth of potential. Honduras has incredible natural resources, a fighting spirit and a country filled with incredible kindness.
I’m not sure exactly how microfinance fits into the picture here, but it could not be clearer that Prisma is passing hope to its clients, who pass it to their neighbors, who enact it in their churches and local governments and schools, who continue to struggle to make this a better place. It has been an honor./>