Monday, September 29, 2008

A Milestone for SWAN

This month is a milestone for SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations) a small humanitarian outreach organization with which our family is allied.

This last January (2008), my daughter Terry traveled to Bolivia, and with the Bolivian SWAN representative, Sonia, set up the first self-employment classes and extended the first microcredits. I blogged earlier this summer about how SWAN earns microcredit money from flipping burgers.

But, back to the milestone. This month, one of the first loans made last January is being paid off. It was given to a lady by the name of Gregoria, a mother of eight. When Gregoria heard about SWAN’s microloan program, she already had a very small business selling clothing. She came to the first overview meeting, took the 12-hour self employment course, and applied for a loan to augment her clothing inventory.

Gregoria’s business plan is to travel by bus from the small town of Montero to the city of Santa Cruz where she purchases clothing. She brings it back and sells it door-to-door to business people. She sells it on credit, allowing her customers to pay in installments. She has established a reputation as one who can buy good quality, fashionable clothing at fair prices and has not only repeat customers, but people who giver her special orders.

This month Gregoria will have paid off her loan off in seven months, about half the time she was allowed. She has done this during a period of civil unrest so bad that Americans have been advised to leave the country.

When Gregoria made application last January, Terry made a surface judgment that she wouldn’t qualify because she wasn’t poor enough. She dressed well and looked sharp. But after investigating, Terry found that she came from extremely humble circumstances. I have a picture of the shack that is her house and permission to use it, but I’m not going to post it. This lady is such a winner! I don’t want the world to see the conditions in which she’s forced to live. From the picture I posted above, you can see that what she has control over--her personal appearance--is clean and well-groomed. When she has come to the point where she can move her family to a better house, I'll post before/after pictures in celebration of what she's accomplished.

In addition to paying off her loan early, Gregoria attended the self-employment class again when it was offered to the second batch of microloan applicants, because she wanted to refresh her business skills. However, she’s been successful because she put into practice what she learned from the classes the first time through: pay yourself a small wage and put the rest back into the business.

As a side note, Gregoria has been caring for her aged mother, and her mother died last week just as the one of the pro-government factions was marching through Montero. All civilians were ordered to stay in their houses, but Gregoria had to brave the streets to bury her mother. This is one gutsy lady.

The great thing is that this new loan Gregoria is taking out will come from the funds that she paid back rather than from the fund for new microloans. That’s recycling at its very best.

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