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The Meetings

October 24, 2008

So far I’ve been to four different communal bank meetings.  The gatherings have taken me to the neighborhoods of El Porvenir, La Rinconada, La Pormena, El Bosque… Each area is removed from the center up the hill toward the Sierra or along the coastal desert stretching away from the city.  Some neighborhoods are nicer than others, but some areas are quite depressed and the crumbling buildings and garbage strewn through the streets show it.

 

Trabajo y Amor Meeting

Most meetings take place in the evenings and afternoons when the women have finished selling in the market or serving the midday meal at their restaurant.  I feel pretty safe because I’ve been traveling with the loan officer almost everywhere except that last combi ride home at night. 

 

The meetings are all distinct, but they have their similarities too:

1)      There are always children present.  These women have full time jobs and full time families and there isn’t always someone there to watch the little ones.  There’s always a handful of toddlers pushing toys around the floor at the meetings.  In the last group visit we did there was a teeny baby only 12 days old.

2)      Attendance is never 100%.  Some groups have up to almost thirty members, but for various reasons people can’t come – the others give the excuses that have been passed along by the absent members: she had to work, she’s visiting family.  Yesterday, a member delivered the sobering message that one woman had fallen fatally ill and would no longer attend.  The repayment of her loan is now uncertain.

3)      Reflection sessions are part of each meeting.  The loan officer leads an activity at the beginning of gathering; the purpose is to educate the women on certain subjects – women’s health, human rights, self-confidence and independence.  In today’s meetings the women discussed education of boy children to cultivate respect for women and girls.

4)      Numbers!  It is in this section of each meeting that I realize I have so much to ask and to learn.  The communal banks have external accounts, internal accounts, and savings accounts – and on top of that there are payments to all these accounts.  Oh and furthermore! – there’s a pot of money that accumulates from nominal fees incurred for tardiness and absence. All of these accounts fluctuate from month to month and for now it’s still all Greek to me.

 

Las Rosas II Meeting

 

In general, the meetings remind me of an after-school club for some serious subject/hobby like… I dunno is the chess club super serious?  Maybe more like student government or math competutionclub… Well, anyway, there’s a lot of friendly chatting and banter and a lot of “pay attention, ladies” and “please stop talking, ladies” from the loan officer.  But when one of the lady brings up an issue everyone pitches in with an opinion and boy they are passionate!

 

 

The first meeting I went to was probably the most contentious (thus far).  The women in the group were all very disheartened and unmotivated because one woman of the group had fallen behind in payments for three months in a row.

 

The woman had taken out a loan to sell clothing but ended up losing everything.  She traveled to Ecuador to purchase her goods at a cheaper price, but trying to cross the border back into Peru everything was confiscated by the customs office and she was left with nothing.  Because she had no goods to sell, she made nomoney to cover her loan payments and now she is working making shoe boxes just to cover her daily needs.

 

But as the loan officer, Dalylah told me, she still must do everything possible to satisfy her loan obligation.  Dalylah has unfortunately turned into something of a bill collector dealing with this loan.  She visits their home everytime she is in the neighborhood and grills the woman (if she’s there) or if not any member of her family about the payment.  The woman’s mother and aunt have been telling Dalylah that they are trying to secure another line of credit from a loanshark in town to pay, but Dalylah says she has yet to receive anything.  It’s also possible for the woman to give some sort of guarantee like a television set or a computer printer, but she says she has none of those things.

 

The women of her communal bank have now paid their previous loans entirely, but cannot take out new loans because of the one member who is behind.  Since the loans are lump sum disbursals to the entire bank, if one portion is delinquent the entire group has defaulted.  Now with the Christmas season upon them, the women want extra capital to prepare for festivities and to stock up their inventories for a good sales season.  But with one woman “atrasado” (behind) they cannot move forward with new loan requests.

 

For three months they have been in this situation and attendance for the group is falling.  Of thirty members only 9 came to yesterday’s meeting.  Some women beg Dalylah to let them pay her debt though their communal savings account, but then others refuse and threaten to withdraw their hard earned portion of the account.  Other women accuse the one behind in payments of dragging the process out and leading the group and the loan officers on and on with her excuses – they don’t really believe she is soliciting credit from the usurer and that she never intends to pay.

 

For now, the group is on probation until someone satisfies the debt.  Unfortunately, perhaps in a smaller group or in a group of family members, the señoras would cover the woman’s debt.  But here the trust among the group has dissipated and no one wants to take the financial burden for the delinquent woman.

 

I ask Dalylah what will happen with this group and she says that she thinks they will need to come together to pay the debt collectively.  Or, if they refuse, then they will have to wait until the loan is written off and Manuela Ramos will have to take legal action against the woman for breaking her contract.  If that’s the case, I’m still not sure if the women will ever be able to take out another loan collectively as a communal bank.

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One comment

  1. Sad…why’d the Ecuadorian customs officers have to hate on that woman? Women-haters… 😉



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