Monday, November 26, 2012

Meet Lana Balyk: Program Coordinator - Granada Region

Hi everyone!

It's been a while since our last blog post, and I apologize for that. Tons of amazing things have been happening over the past few months, and we're excited to share it all with you. We issued our 200th loan this September, filed our first 990 report with the IRS, hosted a successful fundraiser 5K, expanded to another new region of Nicaragua, and did tons more. 

We'll have more details on all of this later thanks to a team of volunteers and interns that we're currently developing. I've interviewed over 30 candidates, and  one of the folks that will be joining us this winter is Lana Balyk. Lana is a wonderful candidate, and we're really looking forward to the impact that she's going to have on our programs in the Granada region.

Here's a little introduction from her. I hope you enjoy.

Alex

Hello, 

My name is Lana Balyk, and I will be joining People Helping People Global for five months this winter as Program Coordinator. I am going to be based in Granada, where I will be helping coordinate PHPG’s micro-lending program. I am looking forward to working with a micro-lending organization, and the hands on experience that will come with it.


I live in Calgary, Alberta, where I did my B.A in History at University of Calgary. I recently completed my M.A in Human Security and Peace building at Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC. This program focuses broadly on international development, as well as conflict resolution. I have long been interested in micro-finance, and the self-sufficiency and sustainability that it encourages. As I went through my studies I knew that I wanted to work in that field to determine if micro-finance is an avenue I would continue to explore for my long term career goals.


As part of my program, I had a semester in Uganda, where I also was able to do a research project in a refugee camp. Last year I did a six month internship in Ecuador, doing research on livelihoods of Colombian refugees with an organization named Cemproc. I also did volunteer work with the Colombian Refugee Project while I was Ecuador to gain more practical experience. I have also studied and done research and volunteer work in other parts of Latin America, as well as East Africa.


I am excited to have a role in PHPG’s work in Granada this winter, and to get to know how a grassroots micro-lending organization operates. I am excited as well for the opportunity to live in Nicaragua, and get to know and explore another area.


I arrive in one week, so updates will be following shortly!

Lana Balyk


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Empowering Women with PHPG in Piedras Coloradas


Hey Y'all!

The "Red Rocks" at Piedras 
Coloradas
My name is Morgan Tucker and I am a Microlending Intern with PHPG this summer in Nicaragua.  I wanted to update all of the donors, regular readers and anyone checking out this blog about PHPG's work in the department of Matagalpa in Nicaragua.  As many of you know, PHPG began working in the department of Granada and does most of their work there.  However, last fall they expanded to the northern, more mountainous department of Matagalpa to a community called Piedras Coloradas ("Red Rocks").  I was fortunate, as there was only one spot for an intern to go, to be able to visit Piedras Coloradas about three weeks ago for PHPG's monthly meeting.

All of these women were in the back
of our truck and had to get out  and
cross the river  on foot so our truck
could make it across.  The male
workers were filling in the river with
enough rocks to make it passable.
Piedras Coloradas is named "Red Rocks" because of the large rocks on the side of the nearby mountain that turn red in the sunlight.  It is a very poor, isolated community.  PHPG lends to people that live on less than $2 a day, but the borrowers in Piedras Coloradas actually live on less then $1 a day.  There is no cell phone service of any kind and it is very difficult to get to.  It lies down a dirt road full of rocks which includes crossing two or three streams without bridges.  A bus only arrives and departs twice a day and you can forget about taxis. PHPG workers go in a truck with another development organization, ADIC ("Association for Integral Community Development"), that also works in the community monthly.  ADIC mainly works with community health through education and other projects.  For example, they built latrines in Piedras Coloradas where there were none before and where virtually no one has any type of bathroom in their home.

A group working on their poster
Women from Piedras Coloradas and another community, Samulali, met with both of our organizations in a school house.  First, ADIC did a workshop entitled "Identity and Conditions of Women" as part of a campaign for the International Day of Women's Health and Mother's Day.  The workshop was led by two ADIC workers: Silda and Rosalia.  The objective of the workshop was to promote a process of reflection among women by leading them through expressing what happens to them, what they live through, and what they want in order to bring about changes and transformations in themselves.  Another objective was to promote confidence and community among the women from both communities and women of different ages.  After an icebreaker, the women were put into groups and given a list of questions that addressed the objectives.  Then they all made posters answering these questions and presented them to everyone in the workshop.

A full room for ADIC's workshop
I learned quite a bit about the status of women in Nicaragua by listening to what these women had to say throughout the workshop and combining it with my observations of the country.  Women in Nicaragua face the same challenges as women everywhere else in the world.  Issues that are particularly salient in Nicaragua include the high rates of sexual violence, incest between older men and girls, men abandoning their spouses and children, domestic violence, and young pregnancy.  Although there are many of the same legal protections on paper for women here as in developed countries, women generally have nowhere to turn when they find themselves in any of the above situations.  The few police forces that exist are not very mobile (as in they don't really have vehicles) and will usually tell those involved in disputes to work it out themselves.  Many cases that go before courts are usually not ruled in the favor of women's rights.  Furthermore, because many women do not have enough income to be independent of their spouse and do not have other resources, such as shelters, they have no way to improve their condition.  Many women in the workshop admitted to facing domestic violence and needing their husband's permission to even come to the workshop.  Additionally, many women admitted to not being able to read despite the government's assertion that there is no illiteracy in this country.

Other aspects of women's health were an important subject of the workshop.  Rosalia stressed the importance of sexually active women getting paps once a year and the places where it could be done affordably.  She mentioned that there are many lies out their that deter women from getting paps, such as that it will sterilize you.  The workshop also address women's role as mothers in the health of their family.  It is common in Nicaragua for children to be fed a lot of soda because the children think it tastes good and all of the sugar fills their empty stomachs.  Rosalia pointed out that women need to take more advantage of all of the natural fruits and vegetables around them in the forest as a source of food and drink.  

PHPG's meeting

After the workshop, those who have loans with PHPG remained for our meeting.  There are currently 23 borrowers, which are only from Piedras Coloradas, and 16 of them make biannual payments while 7 make monthly ones (they had the choice between the two payment cycles).  All of the loans are individual, versus in group, and all of the current borrowers are on their first loan with PHPG.  We were there to collect the monthly payments and to talk with the borrowers about any difficulties they were having.  We were also there to continue the process of disbursing 50 loans to new borrowers.   That day we were reviewing loan requests with the borrowers and having them sign them.  PHPG is planning on disbursing these new loans in August.

Loan Officer, Gilbert, reviewing a loan 
request with a new borrower, Marcia,
 before she signs it
Before I came to Piedras Coloradas and heard about this system, I wondered, how can this be microfinance?  One of the principals of microfinance is that borrowers make small, frequent payments, which puts less pressure on them, and has produced higher repayment rates than commercial banks.  Then I found out that every single borrower in this community works in agriculture, mostly coffee.  Because Nicaragua has a warm climate all year round, crops can be grown all year round.  Nicaragua also has two seasons that are 6 months long each: winter which is the rainy season (May - October) and summer which is the dry season (November - April).  These seasons coincide with growing seasons: the "normal" season during winter and la postera (post as in after the normal season) where "extra" things are grown.  Because of this, borrowers make all of their profits twice a year, after each season, and it is thus more practical for them to make their loan payments twice a year.  I was impressed on how PHPG had adapted their process to local conditions.

Every single borrow in Piedras Coloradas is a woman.  This is not because it is PHPG policy, but because women tend to seek microloans to invest in their businesses.  First of all, Nicaraguan women have a special entrepreneurial spirit that can be seen from all of the women working in the informal sector in the street and open air markets.  Secondly, the spouses of women in Nicaragua are often employed in other businesses while women work in the home.  Therefore, women often start their own businesses, usually out of the home, in order to bring in more income to improve their families' lives.  It is more feasible for women to work out of their homes because, again, they have other responsibilities with managing the home and children and they don't have to invest in a different location for their business.  Because women are in charge of managing scarce resources for the family, they are also more likely to invest a loan wisely in their business.  As Gilbert said to me the other day, "If you send a women to the market with $5, she will come back with lunch for everyone.  If you send me, I won't come back with anything."  Giving women the opportunity to earn income for their work gives them more power and independence in getting out of the many situations harmful to women's health mentioned earlier.

Me riding in the back of the truck after 
a great day in Piedras Coloradas
I learned a few things about the practice of development that day.  First, I learned how important it is for development organizations to work together in order to be successful.  When development organizations work together they can pool resources, and avoid duplicative services, which makes them more effective.  The workshop seemed successful because of its quality, especially the quality of leadership of Silda and Rosalia, and high attendance.  I think there was such high attendance because they made it possible for the women to get there.  ADIC picked up everyone in the back of their truck that lived too far to walk, and not only allowed them to bring their children, but acknowledged that it was their right as mothers.  Without transportation, and the ability to care for their children, these women would not have been able to come to ADIC's or PHPG's meeting.  ADIC also fed everyone lunch which encouraged people to come and socialize in a more informal setting.

In addition, because ADIC and PHPG have a regular presence in the community they have effects that would not otherwise be realized.  ADIC was already announcing that they would be back in a month to have a workshop on baking breads and desserts, and of course, PHPG will be going back with them for our monthly meeting.  Some women were very confident in speaking in front of a large group while others would not even speak when called upon.  Building women's confidence in themselves is an important psychological aspect of empowering women and can happen in this group overtime, because our organizations visit regularly, as the women become more comfortable with each other.

I also learned that it takes people of all different backgrounds to make development work.  Here you had  ADIC which was an organization funded by a variety of foreign (mostly European) and domestic sources and administrated by Nicaraguans, and PHPG, which is an American organization that also has Nicaraguan employees.  Some people would call this Nicaraguan dependence on unsustainable foreign aid while I see it more as world citizenship.  However, the most important factor was that the people in the community were actually participating.

Thank you to all of the donors who have made this kind of change possible and all of those who are interested in PHPG.  I encourage you to follow this blog as well as mine and the other summer interns listed on the right side of this page for more news about PHPG.  

Peace!
Morgan 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Board Member Visits Projects in Granada

About a week ago, one of our board members, Michelle Piche, and her husband, Jeff, came down to see our projects in action. Michelle wanted to share her experience so that you all could get an idea of what you could expect to see if you came down to visit. We had such a great time with Michelle and Jeff, and we're thankful for their continued support of our projects.

Alex

Jeff and I went to Nicaragua this April to learn a bit about what exactly PHPG did for those in Granada. What an eye opener! For one thing, just being in the country was amazing. It was quite warm (a balmy 95+ each day), and the country was stunning. Isabel and Alex took us to see one of the communities that they work with, a barrio just outside of the city of Granada. The way of living was a bit of a culture shock. They have power that is inconsistent, and it’s incredible the crude way in which they have their power lines. Many of the connections had bare or exposed wires. Water was pumped from a local area and then sent to water faucets in different areas of the barrios. Then the people could collect the water in buckets and brought it to their homes.

Michelle, Jeff, & Isabel pose with Teadora, a PHPG
loan recipient, and her family
While visiting the recipients of PHPG loans, the Nicaraguans were very eager to show us what they were doing with these loans. Some had opened pulperias, bought wood to chop and sell as fire wood, bought used clothes to sell as a second hand store, or purchased produce that they can then sell at market. Each family we met was eager to greet us and show us their homes and businesses. There was definitely a sense of pride. One of the recipients shared in detail how his three children were in school (an opportunity that not all can take advantage of) and his wife was taking courses at University. His son was also learning how to use the computer that they were able to purchase.

We visited another community that also receives loans. This was on a stunningly beautiful inlet near the islands. There are many fishermen there and some loans were used to buy items for fishing, some had stores, and one recipient was growing pepper plants to then sell at market.

The most amazing part of our visit was, of course, Isabel and Alex. They are greeted by many people in the city of Granada as well as in the communities. They are greeted with smiles, handshakes and, at times, gifts to show their appreciation (when I say gifts, it is usually in the form of food).

Needless to say, we both would go back in a heartbeat! It was an amazing visit.

Michelle and Jeff Piche

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hola!

Hello! My name is Tom Schroeder, and I’ll be joining People Helping People Global this summer as an intern. I came to Nicaragua at the beginning of March to study at the Universidad Americana-Managua (UAM), and I could not be happier to extend my stay throughout the summer.

 From the people, to the landscapes, this country is phenomenal! I’ve spent the majority of my college career at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska where I study Political Science and Spanish with a minor in International Affairs. This last year though I stepped outside the normal classroom setting and decided to get a truly experiential education.

 I spent three weeks of this past summer in India and came back to the United States with a fresh gleam of idealism in my eyes and set to work trying to save the world one child at a time as a teaching assistant with Americorps-VISTA. However, that idealism faded as I set off to Hong Kong to spend a semester abroad at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I made fantastic friends, great business connections and had plenty of hazy nights courtesy of Hong Kong’s “Work Hard, Play Hard” philosophy, but I lost track of the person that I was. I left the country feeling jaded with my mind dominated by thoughts of stock options and internships with financial powerhouses.

Now, after travelling independently and studying in Nicaragua I have gotten back to the person I truly am, someone that just wants to help others smile as much as I do. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunities to chag├╝itea with the locals, traverse this beautiful country and build houses at “La Chureca."

Apart from working with PHPG this summer, I will also be working in Managua at Research Triangle Institute International exploring more institutional based development. I hope that from these experience with PHPG and RTI I don’t just walk away with a greater knowledge of developing countries, but also a feeling that I made a difference.

Cheers,
Tom

Friday, April 6, 2012

Intern #5...!


Hello! 
I’m Alex Bergonia and I will also be working as an intern for PHPG this summer in Granada! I am currently finishing up the last few weeks of my junior year at Claremont McKenna College where I am studying government and economics with a concentration in international development. I am originally from Kenilworth, Illinois and went to high school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. Since high school, I have had the opportunity to embark on numerous adventures abroad, and have come to know many diverse cultures around the world. I have traveled around Europe extensively and have also been to China. I have spent six-weeks living and working in the Salta region of Argentina and have visited Brazil, Mexico, and several Caribbean Islands; however, I have never visited Central America.

While I have been interested in international development since I began college, my desire to work in microfinance was cemented over the past year. I spent a total of six months abroad – four in Cape Town, South Africa where I was also able to visit Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. While there, I conducted an independent study that sought to uncover the reasons why the post-apartheid government’s system of affirmative action, Black Economic Empowerment, has failed to empower the majority of disadvantaged South Africans. I discovered that BEE was based on corruption, favoritism and political patronage, and had only succeeded in empowering crony capitalists and creating a wealthy black elite. There is enormous entrepreneurial potential prevalent in South Africa’s townships and cities. The absence of successful government systems of wealth redistribution necessitates the involvement of outside actors to fill the void. This is where microfinance comes in. My studies and experience in South Africa cemented by belief that a small amount of capital invested in individual business ventures is the most effective way to combat poverty. After my experience in South Africa, I knew that I wanted to learn more about the grassroots implementation of microfinance, and how foreign aid and charity can be sustainably invested and maximized abroad.
I am so excited to have the opportunity to study microfinance this summer with such a young and vibrant organization. I can’t wait to meet my new co-workers and the people of Granada, improve my Spanish and come to know a new part of the world.

I’m counting down the days and can’t wait for this summer!!
See you soon!

Alex

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Intern #4!!

Hey guys!

I am so excited to be working for People Helping People Global this summer. Aside from a brief trip to Mexico to fulfill the quintessential college spring break experience, I have never traveled anywhere in Central America.  The chance to work and live in Nicaragua for two months will be a new and adventurous opportunity for me!

A little about me… I am currently a junior at Claremont McKenna College studying International Relations with a focus in third world economic development.  Coming originally from the east coast, I am absolutely loving the California lifestyle – it’s active, endlessly sunny, and teeming with cheery, happy people.  My interest in working for PHPG is directly related to my academic concentration and my future career aspirations, both of which are manifested in past travel and work experience.  I am fascinated by the so-called ‘culture of poverty’ that exists throughout the world and the seemingly unanswerable questions that often inhibit progress.  As a result, traveling  and experiencing new and diverse cultures has become one of my passions in life – and one of the ways in which I have attempted to gain insight into the mystery of perpetual poverty.

In addition to living and working in Fiji for a short period after 9th grade, I recently returned from spending a semester abroad in Madagascar where I gained first-hand experience living with local Malagasy people, some of whom live day-to-day off of less than the equivalent of $2 dollars per day.  It was a crazy experience, to say the least, and one that taught me a lot about Malagasy culture, about personal relationships, and about life in general. In terms of development, my experiences have taught me that every situation in which poverty is a pertinent problem in any given community is caused by factors that are not consistent throughout the world: people are poor, become poor, and arise from poverty for different reasons. I have chosen to pursue this internship because I believe that grassroots microlending targeted at specific communities is the most efficient way of tackling the issue of poverty in the particular case of Nicaragua – and I would really like to be a part of that effort.

Thanks so much and I can’t wait for this summer – counting down the days!

All the best,
Emma

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

And the third intern is...


Hello all!
My name is Corie White and I will be interning with People Helping People Global this summer for 3 months. I’ll be arriving just after my graduation from the University of Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner!) this May, and leaving in mid-August to begin my legal education at the University Of Oklahoma College Of Law, where I will pursue a joint degree of  Juris Doctor and Masters of International and Area Studies.

My undergraduate degree is in International and Area Studies with a minor in Spanish. My focuses have been Latin America, international development, and trafficking, specifically human and organs trafficking. As a junior, I spent 6 months living, studying, and teaching English in Vina del Mar, Chile. While there, I traveled extensively throughout Chile and Peru, with my highlight being hiking the Inca Trail. I have also traveled throughout much of Central America and the Caribbean.

I have a craving for travel and adventure that can rarely be satisfied, so I am thrilled to be heading to Nicaragua this summer- particularly since I will be buckling down for law school in the fall. I am a huge fan of Mohammed Yunus and the micro-loan model and am excited to see it in action first hand.

I am looking forward to the summer of a lifetime!

Best,
Corie 

Monday, March 26, 2012

New Summer Intern


Greetings from Austin, Texas!

My name is Becca Moore. I will be interning with PHPG this summer (from mid-may to early August) in Granada. Less than 2 months until I'm in Nicaragua!

I am in my second year of graduate school at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. I will be graduating with a masters in Global Policy Studies with a concentration in International Development in December. I'm really excited to get out of the classroom and put my education to the test.

As an undergraduate, I studied environmental engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. My junior year, I studied abroad in Monterrey, Mexico. While I was there, I traveled extensively throughout Mexico- I actually traveled more in Mexico than I have in the U.S. (I hope my Spanish returns quickly!)

After graduating, I was itching to travel again, so I went to Thailand to teach English. I absolutely loved Thailand. I taught English at a high school in Lampang (a city in the north). I taught about 24 classes a week and had over 800 students! It was a bit overwhelming, but an amazing experience. While I was in Asia, I was able to visit China, Laos, Cambodia, and Nepal.

In Nepal, I volunteered for a month at an NGO called Environment and Public Health Organization, working on designing decentralized wastewater treatment plants on the Bagmati River in Kathmandu. It was there that I knew that I wanted to work in the International Development field. Volunteering in Nepal led me to grad school in Austin and eventually this internship with PHPG. I'm really excited to be working with PHPG this summer!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A New Intern Joins the Team


Hello PHPG enthusiasts!

As one of People Helping People Global’s newest interns, I will be living in Nicaragua from mid-May through August 2012. And I couldn’t be more excited! The more I learn about PHPG, the more I feel as though my values align with those of the organization, and the more passionate I become about helping this amazing cause.

As an undergraduate student at Skidmore College, I am dedicated to the study of Anthropology and Latin American Studies, both in the classroom and in my extracurricular activities. While building an academic foundation in fields that will aid me in my pursuit of international community development, I have found external outlets to apply all that I have learned from my professors, and to gain field experience. In an effort to improve the lives of my neighbors, I am currently administering needs-assessment surveys to the residents of local mobile home communities so that the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council can improve and broaden their services. I am also volunteering at a medium security correctional facility as a workshop leader to open up dialogue among inmates on issues such as employment, stress management, conflict resolution, and family reintegration. These opportunities have awarded me the chance to work with unrepresented and undervalued populations living right next door, and soon (although not soon enough), I’ll learn how to do the same in Nicaragua.

While my micro-lending internship with PHPG in Nicaragua will be a new and exciting experience, I am no stranger to the non-profit sector. From my collaboration with many different NGOs while living in Mexico, Peru, Ghana, and the United States, I have learned a good bit about how different organizations function. And People Helping People Global already strikes me as one of the most organized, well-intentioned, and efficient NGOs that I have encountered thus far. Their dedication to promoting sustainability, empowerment, and cultural pride is refreshing and inspiring. I can’t wait to meet everyone and to be a part of this incredible mission.

Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, and I look forward to helping others to make a difference in their lives through People Helping People Global.

Take care,
Phoebe