During a recent trip to the Adelante Foundation office in La Esperanza, I spent a day in the nearby town of Jesus de Otoro, in the department of Intibuca. A 45 minute bus ride from La Esperanza, Otoro is nestled in a valley making the climate much hotter. Large segments of the fertile valley are devoted to rice cultivation, but the people of Otoro also produce beans, corn and coffee. The rice fields are primarily owned by large land holders, so a common outlet for earning wages is through the rice cultivation sector.
A Tour from a Client turned Credit Officer
I am invited to visit Otoro by Lilyana, a credit officer who manages the Adelante Foundation credit pools in the area. Before becoming a credit officer only four months ago, Lilyana was an Adelante Foundation client. Lilyana thought the transition might prove difficult given that she would be the credit officer assigned to her old assembly group. Thankfully, the transition has gone smoothly and Lilyana receives the support of her compatriots.
Touring the town, Lilyana points out the municipal courthouse, the town hall, central park and the Catholic Church. Otoro is well serviced with small supermarkets called ¨bodegas¨, banks, a municipal market, primary and secondary schools, private bilingual schools, and an ample supply of small shops selling goods from appliances to used clothes. Walking around town, I am shown numerous businesses belonging to clients of the Adelante Foundation, including what seems like half the storefronts in the municipal market. Despite the municipality’s apparent advantages, there are few job opportunities other than farming. Most of the farm work is carried out by men, so women especially have fewer options for employment. Small businesses represent an important economic activity for the women of Otoro, and the microloans offered by the Adelante Foundation enable these enterprising women to increase their income through small business ownership.
The Clients of Jesus de Otoro
Near the center of town, I met the elderly owner of a well-stocked pulperia (convenience store), Ercilia Funes Perdomo. Ercilia has been operating her store for years, and in the past, took out loans from other institutions. She confesses that the Adelante Foundation offers the best product, and affirms she will never go back.
¨Other institutions demand more, they make you sign too many papers, they take off fees for administration costs and social security, and they waste a lot of time,¨she states.
Over the course of the day, I hear similar accounts from other clients who agree that the Adelante Foundation offers microloans at reasonable interest rates, without extra fees, and with no collateral required, using instead a method developed by the Grameen Bank over thirty years ago, called solidarity group lending.
One of the most adamant supporters of the Adelante Foundation is Lilyana’s own mother, Eva Salazar. Eva founded the first assembly group in Otoro when the Adelante Foundation had just begun offering microloans in the municipality. Eva was also the first client in Otoro to receive an individual loan in order to expand her product inventory significantly. Presently, Eva sells an array of manufactured goods, such as toys, school supplies, shoes, gardening accessories, jewelry, and so much more, just look at picture of her store!
With her most recent individual loan of L 25 000 or $1,200.00, Eva invested in creating a separate space for her growing business. Prior, her business occupied what is now the living room in her home. Eva built an additional room off the side of the living room to develop a proper storefront. The roof, tile flooring and cement walls totaled nearly L 20 000 or $1000.00! Without an individual loan, she would have never been able to undertake this construction project. Currently, she is paying off a group loan of L 3 000 or $150.00, but she hopes to withdraw another individual loan for the holiday season to enhance the inventory of her store. Similar to North America, the holiday season means greater demand and more profits. Eva echoes much of what Ercilia says, and she adds, referring to her fellow borrowers, ¨you must appreciate the Adelante Foundation and take care to pay your loans, there are no other institutions like the Foundation, so people must take care of it and pay back their loans.¨
Next Time in Otoro
I look forward to returning to Jesus de Otoro in the future, and I have two great reasons for another visit. The clients I had the pleasure of visiting are based around the center of town, and akin to any other municipality, the people who live in the ‘aldeas’ or communities on the periphery are likely to share a different perspective. Secondly, most of the clients I met are part of the enormous Santa Cruz assembly group, totaling 53 women! An assembly group of that size is normally discouraged, but Lilyana informs me that the women refuse to downside and that the group manages well. Stay tuned for when I get a chance to attend such a lively assembly meeting, and of course, take a picture!