Friday, August 22, 2008

Burgers for Bolivia

It’s the end of the summer and that means that the Pattie Wagon shuts down. Every Wednesday, from May through August, my daughter Terry parks her concession wagon in the parking lot of the hardware store and opens for business from eleven a.m. until seven p.m.

The owner of the hardware store lets Terry borrow electricity and use his dumpster, and the townspeople stop to buy burgers and meatball sandwiches because they know the proceeds go to fund microcredits for poor women in Bolivia through SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations). Terry also funnels Pattie Wagon money to OFDC (Opportunity Fund for Developing Countries) which supplies mosquito nets, malaria medicine and school supplies to children in Kenya and Nepal.

Terry says one of the bonuses of working at the Pattie Wagon is that people who come to eat share stories of other grass-roots, people-to-people, helping going on in the world. Most everyone has a sister-in-law or a cousin’s friend who has seen a need and decided to do something about it. Everybody smiles a lot as they talk about it.

Terry served in Bolivia as a missionary in 1987 and returned to Montero, Bolivia, last January to set up SWAN as a legal entity. She said that it was amazing how doors were opened so that process could happen without impinging on the money earmarked for microcredits.

To date, SWAN has been able to extend microcredits to thirty Bolivian women. Before they can apply for a business loan, the women have to take a twelve-hour business management class. In searching for some agency that could offer this class without soaking up microcredit capital, Terry approached the LDS Church Welfare Department and found that they had just such a class available and would not only send someone to teach it, but would also provide notebooks and supplies.

SWAN has a director on the ground in Montero who administers the loans, makes sure the money is used for the purpose for which it was intended, and coaches the ladies about good fiscal practices. Meanwhile, Terry and her children, and other family members occasionally, are busy flipping burgers, getting together a fund for another round of microcredits.

This coming January, Terry will again head to Montero. She’s taking her husband, Matt, who will do dental work in rural clinics by day and will build a classroom by night so women who are bootstrapping up with the help of SWAN (CISNE in Spanish) can have a consistent place to have their classes and support-group meetings.

This summer, the Pattie Wagon, plus regular donations from people who have adopted this charity, has generated enough income to fund another thirty microcredits.

Next time I’ll tell the story of Elizabeth and the business she began with her microcredit.

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