I first heard about Adelante unexpectedly during my Alternative Spring Break in the Central Valley of California, which was focused on improving the health care of migrant farm workers. Tony and Kim Stone, Stanford alumni, were kind enough to allow our group of students to stay at their house while we were in Sacramento to meet health policy leaders. It was through this visit that I learned about Adelante, the microfinance organization that Tony and Kim Stone founded to help the poor women of Honduras.
Having already planned a trip to Roatan, Honduras that summer to intern at the Roatan Volunteer Pediatric Clinic, I found it to be such a coincidence that that was the very same country where Adelante was started. Thus, once I arrived in Honduras, I decided to make the most of my educational stay by attending an Adelante assembly meeting to learn more about the organization.
I found my experience with the Adelante clients to be completely inspiring. For the assembly, fifteen Adelante women, the credit officer, and I gathered outside on chairs, sitting beneath the shade of the trees. The meeting started with the women saying in unison: “Unidad, disciplina, trabajo, y valor” (unity, discipline, hard work, and courage) which was repeated three times. The credit officer then hung her large presentation papers over a clothesline and started presenting proper ways to conduct a business so as to generate a profit. The meeting ended with each woman going over how many lempiras they had earned within the past few weeks. I was impressed by the women’s hardworking and motivated nature, and the fact that these meetings, held in such a simple outdoor setting, were slowly transforming these women’s lives for the better. After the meeting, I joined the credit officer as she went door to door to visit some of the other Adelante clients. We traveled to Los Fuertes and French Harbour, different barrios in Roatan, reminding the women who were behind on paying back their scheduled cuotas the importance of staying on track, while encouraging the women who were thriving in their businesses to continue working hard.
I think what makes Adelante so successful is the fact that these women are placed into groups—so that each woman is accountable for another. When one member of the group is falling behind, all must collaborate to solve the problem together. By seeing how empowering women to help themselves worked to help achieve stability for the entire family, I decided to bring back Adelante brochures to pass out to women who visited the Roatan Volunteer Pediatric Clinic, so that they too could be aware of such opportunities. I also realized how important it was to understand the employment status of the mothers in Roatan, and how this could have affected the health and care of the children. Thus, I decided to do a short survey on the employment status of the women who visited the clinic. Of the thirty-one women I interviewed during my internship, only five turned out to be employed. However, of those who were unemployed, all were interested in having a job. The scarcity of jobs among these women may have indeed led to poor health outcomes in the children, since only five of twenty-four women said that family income was high enough to pay for the hospital visits. Luckily, by introducing these women to Adelante, explaining to them the successful businesses other women had established through the guidance of this foundation, I was able to witness women light up with the knowledge that there was an opportunity to start their own businesses and henceforth improve their quality of life.
After speaking with Tony Stone about my experiences, I was referred to a friend of his, Jose Herrero, who was willing to host me for a weekend so that I could visit the main Adelante office in La Ceiba. I ended up staying at a house in the forest near a beautiful river called the Cangrejal. That Monday, I visited the Adelante office and was introduced to their staff members. I learned that there are over five thousand women in Honduras who are Adelante clients; of these, over three hundred have now volunteered to become educators of new clients. It was inspiring to see how successful a program can be when just a few dedicated people come together to work toward a sustainable solution to a common problem.
What truly intrigues me about Adelante is the fact that, in addition to opportunity, it offers education on business topics and healthy living. More and more do I recognize that, in order to address problems of poverty and poor healthcare in developing countries, one needs to set up a sustainable system. This is why I believe that giving mothers the chance to improve their quality of life through entrepreneurship and educational opportunities can truly lead to better health outcomes for their entire family. Although I realize that my basic research project was not nearly developed enough to come to any major conclusions, I find myself understanding just how important community-based need assessments are toward understanding the social and environmental determinants of poor health outcomes. This has now inspired me to pursue community-based research projects once I enter medical school, so that I can discover the best ways to help those who need it the most.
By Quynh Nguyen