Rural lending takes a whole new meaning

Fundacion Campo's HQ in San Miguel, El Salvador

On Tuesday I went to one of Fundacion Campo‘s branch offices in hopes of having the chance to go meet a couple of clients. This branch is located about 1.5 hrs from Fundacion Campo’s main office. Once there, we met the loan officers, Daniel and Nelson. This branch has been in operation for the last 4 months, and have approximately 150 clients. They have aggresive growth targets, so Daniel and Nelson are very busy men. So busy that they actually are living at the branch office. They get back to the office so late after visiting their clients that it is just easier for them to stay there.

So off we went to visit the first client. I was told we would have to walk about 20 minutes. I said, ‘No problem, I need the excersice!”  I had no clue what I was talking about. We drove about 20 minutes up the mountain, and parked on the side of the main road. Nelson was driving his bike, as he had another client to visit later on in a community far away. Daniel came with me and a member of the management team in the car. Loan officers travel by motorcycle, all over the region, all day, every day. Not to mention this region can be incredibly hot at times, and incredibly rainy during this time of the year. Daniel and Nelson get to work every day, regardless of the weather.

We parked, and then the journey stated. We walked into what looked to me like just like overgrown grass. I saw a little house in the back and thought – “Oh, we made it.” Wrong. The overgrown grass turned into a forrest, and we walked down a norrow path that seemed to have been made from just the traffic of people walking back and forth. Then, came a hill, and the rocks, and the slippery slope. I didn’t have the right shoes for the job, but I still went for it. Daniel probably thought I was Rambo and didn’t bother to check if I was making my way ok. So Nelson and my boss told him to at least give me a hand. I told Daniel he owed me some pupusas (a staple of Salvador’s cousine) for leaving me behind, and not telling me the truth about where we were going.

And now, we get to the river. I am in shock as I did not know there was a river involved. As soon as I realized what was happening I took out my camera and shot the clip below. The boys thought they’d surprise me with the adventure and I loved it! I moved from one rock to the next with some help from Daniel. We made it to the other side where we met a woman who was doing her laundry in the river. Another hill and some climbing later, we made it to the “canton” where the client lives. “Canton” is the name given to the neighborhoods out in the country side. In urban areas they are called “colonias.” In a canton there are no street names, nor do the houses have a number assigned. Loan officers figure out where their clients live by the references that the communal credit committee gives them (if a new client) when they submit the loan application on behalf of the borrower.

Crossing the river from Andrea Ramirez on Vimeo.

Once there, we met with Juana. Juana is one of Daniel’s newest clients, and she was applying for a loan to be able to buy more products for sale – which she sells by foot, going from one canton to the other. Juana is a single mother, and a true business woman. When she saw that her canton nor the ones around the area had a place for people to shop for groceries, she thought she had a market opportunity. She travels to a major town to buy the cheese and sour cream she sells. She wakes up at 4 in the morning, leaves her son with her sister, and takes on the same river-crossing, slippery slope journey I described above. It’s dark at that time of the day. If it rains, the river grows. There are no bridges to cross. But Juana does this every day, and gets to her supplier by 5 am to buy 30 lbs of cheese. She then goes home, and portions the 30 lbs into 1lb bags, which she then sells going around a couple of communities by foot. Some times she takes her son with her. She starts selling at 8 am and gets back home by 2 pm. So far her business is going great, she sells all of her product and has a pretty good margin of $0.9 per pound (based on the price she pays and what she sells the cheese for). Juana does not complain about the difficulties involved with doing her job. She is glad she has the opportunity to have her own venture and provide for her son..And she has plans for the future. She is getting a loan to also try to introduce other basic products such as beans, rice and cooking oil. If all goes well, she would like to have a little store out of her home, where people can come to shop – rather than her selling them by going to the cantones by foot. Juana also told me that the most important thing is to save. She saves diligently every week, and knows those funds are untouchable.

I cannot express how much I learned from Juana, Daniel, and Nelson that day. I thought I knew what the job of a loan officer was, and what it involved. I really had no clue. I thought I knew what rural lending looked like – again, my imagination fell short. I’ve been inspired by their work ethic, determination, and positive attitude. Juana’s story will be one of the first borrower profiles you will see on the Kiva’s site under Fundacion Campo.

I invite you to join the new lending team I’ve created for Fundacion Campo, and consider making a small loan to one of our clients. Fundacion Campo is an awesome organization doing incredible work, with incredibly hard working clients.

Make a loan. Help change lives.

Thanks for reading!

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Posted on September 10, 2011, in El Salvador, Fundacion Campo, Kiva, Microfinance, rural lending, travel, Volunteering. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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