Using micro-credit to fight poverty and hunger
Hernandez takes a break from her business of making and
selling tortillas. Her
wood-burning stove is a traditional type used by many
women in rural Honduras.
Marianne A. KINZER
In the spring of 2003 I traveled to the Central American
nation of Honduras with my family.
I was excited about the prospect of seeing a country
yet unknown to me. My husband had traveled and reported
widely from Central America and wanted to introduce us
to its riches, and to some of his friends there.
The wealth of Honduras includes its warm climate,
still-beautiful tropical vegetation and a long coastline
on the Caribbean.
the airport at San Pedro Sula, the commercial center of
Honduras, we took a two-hour car ride to the coastal city
of La Ceiba. We drove through poor villages with humble
shacks, some of which were put together from found boards
or even cardboard, hardly strong enough to survive the
coming rainy season. Many buildings had just holes as
windows, or only a curtain in the opening to keep out
insects and the dust swirling up from busy streets.
we reached La Ceiba, we drove up a dirt road to reach
our destination, a wonderful eco-lodge built into the
eco-lodge is the realization of a fantasy of local environmentalists,
who saw it as a way to protect one of the last pieces
of unspoiled rainforest in Honduras.
It has been built to fit modern ecological standards,
with secluded cabins nestled in the forest.
In the main building, guests can eat in a spacious
dining room or sit at the bar. Relaxing on the porch,
you overlook a well-tended tropical garden with a clean
pool. Above this lodge towers the 8,000-foot-high mountain
called Pico Bonito
night in our cabin in the rainforest, we heard nothing
but the water rushing down in wild streams from the mountains
and the screams of exotic birds. Each day we took hikes
and bathed in pools under waterfalls.
Finding relief from all negative aspects
of civilization in unspoiled nature, we almost forgot
that Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western
hemisphere. We came down from our secluded mountain. In a poor village we saw half naked children
with sad faces and swollen bellies.
They reminded us that unemployment, lack of education
and malnutrition are widespread problems in Honduras.
It is no coincidence that the environmentalists
who thought of making the jungle at the foot of Pico Bonito
accessible to exclusive tourism, thereby protecting it
from destruction, are close friends with the devoted women
and men who fight against poverty and hunger in Honduras.
One evening we met them in the bar Expatriates in La Ceiba,
where everybody involved with development organizations
in this part of the world, as well as almost everyone
else who comes to town, sooner or later turns up to share
a beer with kindred spirits.
Tony Stone and his wife Kim are leading
the organization Adelante in Honduras. Adelante is involved
in a fascinating project known as micro-credit, which
was first developed in Bangladesh and has spread around
the developing world. This organization does not believe
in charity, but helps people to build their own small
businesses. Adelante has been remarkably successful in
giving out micro-credits to chosen individuals, mostly
women. Adelante's slogan is: Unity, Discipline, Hard Work
Adelante's field workers survey villages
to find the neediest women in a community, who are also
trustworthy enough to fit the program. Typically these
are very poor women with several children to care for.
They are given a very small loan, usually less
than one hundred dollars, to start a tiny business that
can help them find their way out of poverty.
typical borrower might use her loan to buy a sewing machine
and start working as a tailor, or a stove that would allow
her to start a bakery.
not only provides start-up capital, but even more importantly,
practical instruction in how to run a business.
The borrowers in each village form a solidarity
group and meet together on a regular basis. Adelante staff
members educate and train the women on business principles,
and help them to invest wisely.
woman must invest the full sum of her loan into her business,
and then must repay it. Amazingly, as many as 99% of borrowers
repay every cent of their loan.
Adelante's policy is to encourage hard work, discipline
and community while providing education, and it works.
Poor people are given a chance to help themselves
and develop self-respect.
day I drove around La Ceiba with staff member Kim Walsh,
the dynamic American wife of Adelante's executive director,
Tony Stone, who is of Honduran background. We saw children on the side of the road
begging for money.
When I reached for my purse, she stopped me from
opening the window. "No," she said,"don't encourage their begging.
If you do that, their parents will keep sending them on
the streets. They
will learn the wrong lesson, namely that begging will
help against poverty and hunger. The people we lend to work really hard.
I don't like to give people the impression that
they can get money without working."
is a good example how great effort, hard work and will
power, together with a very small injection of capital,
can make a real difference in the "war against poverty."
of three to four houses are common throughout Honduras.
information about Adelante, check www.adelantefoundation.org
E- mail to Marianne A. Kinzer: firstname.lastname@example.org