I got back from Florida at 2 AM this morning. I’ll be back in León tonight. My trip went well despite the circumstances, but I am very happy to get “home” to León and back into the swing of things. One of the first things on my agenda is planning the next session of Mejora tu Vida!
Mejora tu Vida!, meaning “Improve Your Life!” is a series of classes on health promotion and financial education that my site-mate Isabel and I are facilitating at a local LGBT NGO. Isabel has known the President of the NGO her entire tenure in León and has had a lot of success collaborating with him. Last year, Isabel along with my other site-mate, Jen, had an eight-session English/Health class. Building on that success, we have started an eight-session Health Promotion/Financial Education class. Isabel does the Health parts, and I do the Financial parts.
So far the sessions have been going pretty well. Every week I show a cartoon that explains, through funny stories, a financial theme, such as the importance of saving, financial goals, or keeping track of your spending. The participants have a little workbook where they can practice the skills. In addition, we have started what is known as a community bank. Every two weeks the participants have to contribute 40 Córdobas to the bank. Then, members can take out loans, so long as the other members approve. The loans carry interest, and at the end of the cycle (in our case, four months) the members receive their savings back plus the interest earned on loans. It is a great tool to improve access to credit and to foster a culture of saving among the participants. The best part is, the members elect the interest rate, so we strike a balance between affordable borrowing and sustainable returns.
To build up the pot and foster participation, Isabel, the President of the NGO, and I are all also members of the bank (although none of us serve as Directors). So far we have had a bunch of members take out loans for a variety of reasons:
- Planning an educational excursion to Volcan Mombacho
- Spending cash for Valentines Day
- Medical expenses
In my opinion, the next step for this group, if we wrap up the rest of the sessions successfully, is moving from financial security to actually putting their money to use: income generation! Not only could they use their savings to generate more income, such as through investing or establishing their own small business, but they could also use the capital from the community bank to support income generating activities, either collectively or individually. Right now the community bank is functioning more as a mutual insurance fund than anything else. However, I am glad that they are taking out loans and paying them back with interest. Right now our only delinquent loan is Mr. Valentines Day. He is 20 Córdobas behind. Not a big deal, although the interest will compound on him. The great thing about having a community bank is that he can’t skip out on the loan. His peers are the other stakeholders. They will urge him to repay the loan and hopefully counsel him on strategies to keep track of his spending, using the skills we use in my sessions.
If these classes turn out well I may try to replicate them with other groups in León. I’m currently in the process of searching for groups of people with disabilities. I wouldn’t mind working with HIV+ individuals, commercial sex workers, or really any other group that is already somewhat established and could benefit from more financial security.