Monday, May 6, 2013

Sum of my experience with PHPG in Granada by Lana Balyk

It is hard to believe that I already find myself back in Canada, since it seems like just last month I wrote my last blog entry while preparing to depart for Nicaragua. Five months have passed since then, during which time PHPG has continued to move forward with strengthening its micro-loan programs, and also has seen the arrival of new and talented interns and employees.

The first part of my time in Granada was mainly spent getting to know the program, which was transitioning in a new direction with new ideas and new staff, as well as getting to know the city of Granada itself. The Granada based employees are great staff, and PHPG lucked out finding such great workers who really believe in their organization. If I did not already have an idea about the difficulty of getting set up in a new city and getting work underway during a holiday period in Nicaragua (most of the month of December), I would have learned that very quickly! However that is a very special time to experience Granada, which still holds to the tradition of everyone lighting off their own fireworks intermittently throughout the month, and of course all together at once for hours on Christmas and New Years in a midnight symphony of exciting and slightly dangerous mayhem! I always enjoy a warm Christmas, and the temperature is great in Granada at this time of year.

Juan Carlos, Lana, & Kyle conducting a PHPG informational meeting
Into the New Year another intern arrived, Kyle, and we set out gathering information and making observations about PHPG’s clients and current loan program, as well as planning and delivering a workshop to educate clients on our loan procedures, and prepare them for when Alex and Isabel would arrive in February to organize more loans. During this time the heat continued to climb, and working outdoors in our communities gave me a new appreciation of how people are able to spend all day working outdoors in tropical countries. If Canada had that kind of heat, I think the ongoing highway construction and maintenance that goes on every summer would come to a halt!

Once Alex and Isabel arrived then all of us coordinated, shared ideas, made adjustments and moved forward with preparing PHPG’s clients for the next installments of loans. It was especially great to see our Granada employees have a strong role with the planning as well, as I really feel that they know their communities and their cultural contexts best. The interviews were one of the most interesting parts of my time in Granada, and it was so interesting to see the different businesses our clients have, and what they wanted to do with them. Some of the clients we normally visit are ambulatory vendors who do not necessarily sell their wares or products from their home or have them on hand to view, so the interviews were a great chance to see some different businesses in action, such as people producing leather shoes from scratch, or creating silver jewelry. Once the first loans were dispersed, it was interesting to see what clients used them for, how they modified their businesses, or how one even built a clothing shop in front of her home to display her wares. Unfortunately I returned to Canada before the next round of loans was handed out, so I was unable to take part in that work, but I am glad to hear that it went just as well.

The PHPG team reviewing & signing disbursement documentation
I am very glad that I was still in Nicaragua to be part of the interview and initial loan disbursement process, since that was one of the highlights of my job in Granada. The communities that PHPG work with are very lacking in resources, including regular electricity or in-home running water. However most of the clients I spoke with seem happy with their lives, and feel positive about their children’s prospects. It was really great to see how some people worked really hard to grow their businesses, and how proud they are of their efforts.

My experience in Nicaragua with PHPG was very valuable to me in that it allowed me to learn more about micro-finance in general, as well as gain practical experience about the workings of a small micro-finance NGO. In addition I was able to meet some wonderful people, gain some different perspectives and contribute to an organization that continues to grow and develop.