By Kim Groves
Each week, the women borrowers and staff who make up the En Via program, come together to mark and administer the progress and growth of the lending network. This weekly town meeting is an important time. The women come to make payment on their loans, to receive loans, and to find out about new programs and updates.
It is essentially a time for everyone involved to catch up with the happenings of the past week. For the groups of borrowers, it can be an opportunity to discuss the progress of their individual loans and to share and suggest strategies. For En Via staff it is a space in which to explain loan processes, check in with the women, and maintain the transparent and inclusive nature of the program.
At this past week’s meeting we were delighted to welcome a significant number of new members into the program, presenting them with their diplomas from the completed business course, as well as their very first interest free loans. I noticed that the women were just as proud to receive recognition for completing the course as they were to invest in their own projects and businesses.
I sat with one woman of this new intake and helped her fill in the form needed to receive the loan. She could not read or write, but she knew exactly the amounts of the different products that she was going to invest in to sell at her market food stall, down to the last peso and kilogram of potato. As I noted it all down for her, her borrowing group were nodding in approval and support at her shoulder.
The beauty of the program is the way that it relies so much on the existing and developing relationships within the town. I never can quite remember who is whose cousin, and who is whose sister-in-law, but the entire program is a complicated web of social connections. This is what makes us strong. As a microfinance organisation we run an economic program, but more than that we are a social entity. The social trust that has grown within the communities is incredibly important to us. It is a trust that has led us to meet new women, and to be invited to work in new communities.
Older women, and young, new members, and founding members, they make up a group that is dynamic and forward moving. Each woman has a different background, as well as different goals and motivations, and as we work alongside them we see how they support each other’s successes.
If a child is sick, we see other women step in to deliver loan payments on behalf of the occupied mother. If a woman can’t make a meeting or weekly payment we see members of their group presenting a minimum payment to cover them. Some women help others to get started in businesses, others lend a hand to open shops or mind stock, and all know that they have support from many sides.
Something I value in my work with En Via is the sense of solidarity that I feel among these incredible women. It is a solidarity and strength of community that I believe everyone can feel part of when they visit our program and meet the borrowers on our tours. And even though you are not physically present at the weekly meetings, you, our friends and supporters, are actually part of it. You are a valued part of our community, and I hope that this solidarity is something that we can all take with us wherever we go, to foster and grow in our own homes and towns all over the world.