Sunday 6 am marked the end of the first "Encuentro Nacional de Empresas de Crédito Comunal y Voluntarios de Cuerpo de Paz" in San Cristobal Norte (my site).
|Don Ananias, me, Steve Dorsey, Maria Marta Padilla, Gabriela (JA)|
After about four months of planning (a poor excuse for the long gap in blog posts) the 65 person conference finally took place. Volunteers travelled from all over Costa Rica with one member of their Empresa de Crédito Comunal (the microloan organization formed using the FINCA-Costa Rica model) to San Cristobal Norte, in order to learn from SACRIN (the Empresa de Credito in my town, and my Peace Corps counterpart), meet other Empresas de Crédito, share ideas and discuss problems and solutions.
Now that it is officially over, I admit that there are things that could be improved- more time for sharing among Empresas, better structured sessions, and other little details that could have prevented, i.e. last minute searches for plates, tape and vegetarian options. However, as I begin to read through the evaluations, I smile each time a participant has written exactly one of the objectives of the Encuentro as something they gained from the weekend.
The majority of the participants arrived on Thursday evening, and unfortunately, in true San Cristobal fashion, it was cold and rainy, and we didn’t all fit inside SACRINs offices. As quick as possible we sent them off with host families (who were for the most part socios, or members of SACRIN- another opportunity for information sharing etc.)
|Participants Friday morning|
Friday morning started early with last minute phone calls from the founder of FINCA, Maria Marta Padilla, organizing the salon and making sure all materials were on hand. I was very fortunate to have tons of help and support from a special someone- otherwise I don’t know how I would have organized the sixty five chairs and tables in our oddly shaped salon communal (or main meeting room for the town).
At 8:15 am the event kicked off with welcome speeches from Steve Dorsey- Director of Peace Corps Costa Rica, Maria Marta Padilla, a woman from Junior Achievment (another program that Peace Corps volunteers work with), Don Ananias Cordero (President of Sacrin and my counterpart) and myself.
The Encuentro Nacional was scheduled with many different sessions, lead manily by Luis Roberto Jimenez- director of FINCA Costa Rica, Maria Marta Padilla and volunteers. Energy level was kept high (or at least attempted to be kept high) with cafecitos, lunch and dinner, provided by three wonderful women of the commuity (this event also brings an income for community members-another benefit!)
The Friday lunch was held up on a community members soccer field (he used to play for a local team, and is now the president of our development association). It was a long lunch, and volunteers and counterparts played soccer while Andres (a member of SACRIN, who started his entertainment company with a loan from SACRIN) sang. The FINCA San Jose office made the trip up to San Cristobal Norte for lunch, along with visitors from Honduras and Guatamala, from other microfinance organizations. Also five women from a womens group in a neighboring community came- I am working with them now to gain community interest in forming an Empresa de Crédito Comunal in their community (my next project now that the Encuentro is over).
|Friday lunch on the soccer field|
The afternoon sessions were long (something that could be improved for the future) but Friday evening we held a bonfire in the street and roasted marshmellows. Don Ananias was very doubtful at first as he bit into the roasted marshmellow, but was quickly convinced.
Saturday started at 8 am as well, with a great session of discussion among Empresas de Crédito. Each Empresa de Crédito completed a FODA (or SWOT- Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats analysis) the night before, and were sharing their FODAs in groups. I think this session could have been extended to discuss in different groups, but it was great to hear the Empresas sharing which areas they were being successful in and in which areas they needed to improve.
I admit I wish I could have been more involved in the sessions, but often found myself running around making sure coffee was ready, food was on its way, the next session was prepared etc.
|FODA or SWOT analysis of the Empresas de Credito|
In the afternoon the groups split into two and those that were interested in forming an Emrpesa de Crédito went to gain a general overview of the 22 step process while others stayed to hear about the regional networks or sectors of Empresas. In the afternoon an accounting session was also scheduled, it was incredibly valuable for Empresas and volunteers alike, but could have been better planned for a morning session.
The conference ended with future plans for the Empresas and volunteers, evaluations, a certificate ceremony and a slide show. After which a group of volunteers came back to my new house (haven’t even made a blog post about the house!- but it is wonderful and a great size for visitors!!!)
I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, having the volunteers in my site, and making sure everything ran smoothly. Tomorrow starts the tough part of organizing the financial aspect of the event (FINCA got a grant from CRUSA in order to make this possible, participants just had to pay for their own transportation to and from San Jose).
The final step in the Encuentro is making this network sustainable, and inspiring Empresas de Crédito and volunteers to continue in the process of strengthening their organizations. A committee of Volunteers will be formed in about two weeks, to continue the open communication and support between FINCA, Peace Corps and Empresas de Crédito.
My goal is to continue having events where Empresas de Crédito get the option to share successes and challenges and to continue strengthening the alliance between Peace Corps, FINCA and Empresas de Crédito.