Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On the Other Side

The Muskegon Farmer’s Market is always near the top of my summer must-do list. I love the bustle of shoppers, the outdoor stands, and the many farmers selling their produce or crafts. This is where Union MicroFinanza (UMF) found me.

My name is Natalie Clark, and I’m a rising sophomore at American University studying international relations. Home in Muskegon for the summer, I planned to just be scooping ice-cream at my summer job, doubtful that I’d find somewhere applicable to my major to work with this summer. When I first spoke with Andrew Boyd and Jeremy Miller, my former AP Government teacher, I was intrigued by the ideas behind Unión Microfinanza. I was, and am, impressed by the passion and dedication that has built this organization, the strategies to improve the community as a whole through microfinance, and their direct involvement in La Unión, Honduras.

A few phone calls and a quick interview later, I had joined the team and was back at the farmer’s market, this time on the other side of the stand. Pouring the coffee was the easy part. I soon learned the coffee terminology and basics of production and gradually honed my “elevator speech” for Microloan Coffee. Through listening to the interactions of the UMF team with the customers, I learned of their dreams and ambitions for Unión Microfinanza and the Honduran people.

I became familiar with the faces of our farmer’s market customers, from those excited about our direct microfinance approach, to those who have visited Honduras and know the region, to the people who simply love the flavor of a great cup of coffee and are back each week for a fresh bag.

The camaraderie between the sellers renewed my appreciation for the fantastic atmosphere of a Saturday at the farmer’s market. There were doughnuts from the Dutch Bakery gratis, exchanges of coffee for honey, shared tents in sun and rain, and, of course, cups of coffee all around.

With the summer coming to a close, I’m preparing to head back to school and will bring with me the things that I have learned and the great experiences I’ve had working with “the coffee guys,” as my mom refers to UMF. I’ve seen up close the workings of an international non-profit: the challenges of working with a country and culture miles apart, the ever-important role of grants, and the necessary idealism that creates and inspires the hard work necessary to make a microloan organization become a reality.

I’ve edited grants, sold coffee, discussed ideas, organized materials, and shared the UMF mission with the farmer’s market community. I even tried and enjoyed my first cup of coffee, granted it took honey, cream, and sugar. It’s been an amazing experience working with this team on the other side of the farmer’s market stands. Next on my to-do list: a plane ticket to Honduras.

By Natalie Clark