Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not your Normal Business School Internship - Roosters instead of Alarm Clocks

Like most college students, I have spent a great deal of time trying to answer everyone’s favorite question: “What do you want to do with your life?” After a few years of college and exposure to numerous academic and extracurricular activities, I decided to dedicate my life toward creating a social impact through business. With this in mind, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to microfinance in one of my classes at the University of Michigan. I was inspired by this crazy idea that business models can empower individuals with the financial means necessary to pursue their line of business and, in turn, work to permanently remove them and their families from poverty. Additionally, microfinance institutions have the potential to become sustainable over time by financing their own initiatives instead of constantly depending on outside funding. Eager to learn about microfinance, I did everything I could to immerse myself in the topic, including: reading books, taking classes, talking to experts and signing up for an internship with Unión MicroFinanza (UMF)!

I am now finishing up with the second week of my three week internship. Since this is my first time traveling outside of the United States (Canada does not count :-), I had no idea what to expect and decided to arrive with no expectations in hand in order to truly experience La Unión and Honduras. Abby (my fellow intern) and I are living with a wonderful host family just up the hill from the UMF office. The family has truly opened their home and helped us appreciate all the intricacies of the country, including: cooking local favorites, singing and dancing to the radio whenever possible, attending church services, building community with family and friends and learning the language and culture in general. We are truly blessed to have such a supportive host family and thankful for UMF’s efforts to develop strong relationships with community members (our placement would not have been possible otherwise).

With this in mind, I would love to walk through a day in the life of a UMF intern …

If you are not used to roosters hanging outside your window, then you are bound to be woken up by a very energetic “Cock-a-doodle-do!” No need for alarm clocks here. With the reassuring sounds of farm animals in the background, we start our day with the family for breakfast and walk down to hill to arrive at the UMF office between 7 and 9am (depending on the day’s activities). We could start our day in a number of ways, including: hoeing in the corn fields, drying coffee beans, visiting a neighboring aldea (village) or simply working on intern projects in the office. Like clockwork, the boys at UMF are ready for lunch at noon. We all walk down to a local restaurant (Comidor Anehy) for baliadas (a local favorite) and great company. Afterwards, we all head back to continue working on the very projects that allow UMF to empower local farmers. Abby and I head back to our host family for a dinner and night-time activities which generally include: cooking, talking, dancing, playing, visiting with friends and laughing until we are exhausted and ready for bed.

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to learn a lot during the first half of my internship here at UMF. One take-away struck me while we were visiting a public school in El Filo – achieving financial stability allows individuals to take advantage of various opportunities that they would not have had access to otherwise. Within the public school, we witnessed children that were so eager to learn but who were not able to achieve their full potential because their families did not have the financial means necessary to support the education they deserve (the government also plays a large role in the educational system – but that’s a whole separate issue). Microfinance and UMF works to address this and many more issues by empowering individuals to take control of their lives, including: education, consumption expenses, long-term investments, political affiliation, etc. Microfinance is by no means the solution to global poverty but rather, supports positive transformation in the lives of those less fortunate. I am so glad I had the opportunity to see what microfinance looks like on the ground and the impact that it has and will have in the years to come. Please look to support UMF and other microfinance organizations around the world.

Thanks for reading!

Kathryn Yaros