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We arrived to our site on Friday, June 14th. The next day, we had a meeting with one of our partners in the community. He told us that he could spread the word of our arrival and schedule a meeting with everyone who would be interested in participating in our projects by Tuesday. In my head, I was questioning how so much could be organized in such little time, but I trusted the process. Tuesday, we had a crowd of people ready to talk with us about our projects; it was an amazing sight to see. We each went around and gave descriptions of our projects. When the spotlight came to me, I announced the little bit that I knew about the Microfinance project and took my seat. Now, the next part is what opened my eyes. When it was time to pass around sign up sheets for the projects, the Microfinance project had made such a difference in the past that even though I announced very little, there were 150 people who signed up to apply for a microfinance loan – more than ever before. I could not believe the turnout, but I knew at that moment that this was going to be an amazing summer.

Two days later, I had a meeting with all of the interested people for the project. This meeting was for passing out the applications and explaining the different parts, requirements, and answering any questions. At this time, we had only been in the country for 9 days, and my French was nowhere near ready to tackle that task. I had prepared my vocabulary words, practiced my explanations, and memorized the application front and back. One would say that I was ready, right? Not at all. There was something about getting in front of 150 people and trying to explain how to fill out a budget sheet in a language that you barely know that made me a bit nervous. However, as I was struggling, our community partner had my back the entire time. If I didn’t know the exact word to use, I could turn to him and he knew exactly what I wanted to say. That relationship has continued throughout this entire project. From interviewing the applicants to passing out the money, our community partner was there every step of the way. Working on this project was very special to me, and I appreciated receiving the ability to lead it, but as the leader, I knew that our partner knew more about the community than I ever would. I will never forget reviewing the applicants together. When prices, quantities, or profits didn’t make sense to me in the application, he would look at tell me, “this here, that’s great; it is a new project and I think it will work out” or “that budget might work in America, but here, this is not a great idea.” That insight from someone in the community made the microfinance project run 10 times more smoothly.

In the end, we awarded 80 loans to applicants – 48 returning and 32 new applicants. This was our largest awarding since the creation of the project and it was no small feat. Everyone played a major role in making sure that the right projects were selected and that we could award such a large amount this year. Now, on the back end of the microfinance project, I have decided to follow our past and current recipients to see how the project affected their lives either positively or negatively. This process has been insightful in preparing for the project next summer (hopefully to the benefit of one of you reading this post). I received feedback from many participants, and I am currently working on improving this project even more with the help of, you guessed it, our community partner 🙂 and Dr. Piot.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for the next blog to see how the summer and projects are wrapping up and to see how the improvements are coming along!