Thursday, January 15, 2009

Terry Gifford Reports from Bolivia

It was just a year ago that Terry Gifford traveled to Bolivia to set up the Bolivian counterpart to SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations), a 501 (c) 3 organization that, among other things, makes microloans to women to set up small businesses.

If you’d like to read about some of the women who have received microloans, you can read about Gregoria and Elizabeth, and you can also read about how SWAN raises money to augment donations with a hamburger/hotdog stand.

Terry is back in Bolivia this month and writes about this current trip:

"We visited about 20 of the women that have received a microcredit from Cisne (SWAN in Spanish). Many are having success. I am finding that those that have familial support have great success. The ones that struggle the most are the women that have many children, and no husband. There are many cases that the man just leaves, sometimes to find work elsewhere, sometimes to find another woman. We have many women with more than five children and have to leave them daily to try to earn money. Since there is no family to help, the children are left alone.

"This was the case today when we went to visit Olga. She has six children, her husband is who knows where, and she has no skills. She lives far removed from the hustle of the city and has to travel to the place where she can sell her tamales. We found her children home alone. I think the oldest is ten; the youngest is 3.

"We arrived at 2 o’clock, well past the lunch hour, and the mom was still not there. The children were very wary of me, and wouldn’t come out of the house. The 8-year-old boy ventured out and showed me the shallow well that is their only source of water. As he was drawing water, I noticed him favoring his left hand. He had an awful burn on his thumb that was weeping and swollen. It cut to my heart. I made small talk with him and showed him how to put his hand in the water that we pulled up to ease the throbbing.

"I left with a huge lump in my throat. It bothered me all day. I knew they didn’t have food. We returned that evening with groceries, just the basics: rice, pasta, beans, eggs, oil, sugar and flour. The children were still wary of the gringa, but we made merry with their mama enough to gain their trust. The mother of these precious children has no option but to leave every day. She is embarrassed that she hasn’t paid her loan in several months. She is one of the first loan recipients and we didn't have the support groups in place that we do now.

"We are having a meeting on Wednesday with all of the women to celebrate Cisne, give encouragement, and establish the support network in that first group. The women will be better served.

"I wanted to report on Benita, the woman Aunt Elaine sponsors. My heart is very tender towards her. She is very quiet, but very faithful in the church. Her husband works as a motorcycle taxi and earns very little since he doesn’t own his own motorcycle and works for someone else. They have seven children.

"Benita is very ill and has been for some time. The doctors here say it is her liver and I believe it. Her skin is sallow and her eyes are yellow. She is too sickly to run her business, but has a teenager who takes the food cart to the plaza of their small village to sell food. I don’t know what they do when school is in session. Right now, the kids are in their summer vacation. The loan has been a blessing for the family. It has provided the means that the children don’t go hungry. Her two young girls are adorable and have lots of spunk."

Next time, I'll blog about Gregoria's new venture.

Terry is a member of the Sedro Woolley Ward of Mt. Vernon, WA Stake.

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