Thursday, May 26, 2011

One Year: Beto and more...

*An October 2010 visit from Marjorie Anctil, Director of Peace Corps World Wise Schools Program lead to the creation of this slideshow, "New Opportunities for Women" highlighting my work with women in San Cristobal Norte, Costa Rica. (Spanish and English versions available!)
Home to 5 birds, 1 dog and me!

At first it is hard to believe that I have been in site for over a year, but as I look around my “cabin” (black-lab mix dog next to me, book case filled with books and the walls holding paintings and pictures on clothespins), I believe it.

Beto! My amazing dog

My old Tarbaca host family, in my new yard 

In April, I successfully organized an Encuentro Nacional, or National Conference for 30 Empresas de Credito Comunal. The bulk of the follow-up to this event will come in June when myself along with four other Peace Corps Volunteers,(representing five different areas of the country), and a representative from both FINCA and Peace Corps offices, will have the first PCV-FINCA Committee meeting . The general goals for the committee right now are:  building on the network established at the April conference; providing support to Peace Corps Volunteers working with Empresas de Credito Comunal, information sharing through FINCAs monthly newsletters and Peace Corps online sharing community, (including creating a tri-annual bulletin of “Best Practices” in the fundamental areas of Empresas de Credito), providing follow up on the action plans from the conference and supporting FINCA in future trainings. With the first meeting we will clearly outline the action plan for the year, and prioritize the goals.
FODA analysis at the Encuentro Nacional

I am excited to get to know my fellow volunteers better in the committee, and learn about what issues they are tackling with the Empresas de Credito Comunal, and how we can improve the network and support. Furthermore, I am looking forward to learning more about FINCA and how the organization’s resources can be best allocated to support the 112 Empresas de Credito in the country.

However, now that the conference is over I have chosen to dedicate more of my time to supporting the Empresa de Credito, SACRIN, in my community. There are two new projects I am taking on- the first is computer classes for the board of directors- focusing on using Microsoft Excel for SACRIN and their own businesses and Microsoft Word.

Possible September purchase: Converse!
The second is strengthening their youth savings program, INED. Every Wednesday Emilce, from SACRINs Credit Committee, and I are at the local school, collecting the students weekly savings and returning their receipts from past weeks. Three weeks ago I put together a brief PowerPoint presentation,  focusing on the importance of saving and talking through examples of what they could buy in September/August if they started saving today (Converse shoes! A cell phone!).

The week after the presentation, 8 (out of 35 who weren’t already members) students opened up new accounts, and we doubled the savings from existing members.   The success continued into this week, where 2 more students joined. Next week, together with SACRIN we are drafting a plan for INED, including a short savings course, trips to visit successful entrepreneurs in the community (and members of SACRIN), talks from past members of INED, and community days (i.e. trash pick-up, environmental hikes, visiting the local hot springs).

Sixth graders (from the World Wide Schools Program- letter exchange with class in Palo Alto, California)

I love getting to know the students, hearing their dreams of purchasing new notebooks for school, a dress for their First Communion, or Converse shoes. I cannot believe the number of elementary school kids already with cell phones, and the number of text messages I have received since starting to work on Wednesdays...

If you get the chance to watch the slideshow from the link above you will see a lot of my projects have a focus on the women in the community- All of which are still going on- Exercise classes, women’s soccer team, yoga/dance/whatever with the senior citizens, small business coaching, promoting the library and English.
San Cristobal Norte Women's Soccer Team
A fellow volunteer came to stay a couple weeks ago and re-inspired me to make English classes interesting- we are no longer allowed to speak Spanish (myself included) and this is lending towards a growing party fund. Each student is being required to make weekly presentations on English books from our library (combining projects!) or news articles from the internet.  We are planning trips to local tourist sites to speak with other foreigners, a pizza making night at my house, listening to English music, movies and more. Their excitement to learn is inspiring, and as we sit around the table I enjoy hearing their ideas, dreams, and opinions.

Lastly, three weeks ago I participated in a 25 km bike race in Turrialba with one of my English class students. Alvaro and his wife picked me up at 5:30 am for the 9:00 am race. As we drove the two hours to Turrialba, the sky turned darker and darker. When we arrived it was pouring rain and the entire route was marked with mud, however it was the best morning adventure ever! I carried and pushed my bike through sugar cane fields, and slipped down mountains, ending the race covered in mud, no rather SOAKED in mud.

River Crossing (I couldn't risk bringing my camera...)
Next week is Mid Service Training, where I will get the chance to enjoy time with fellow volunteers, learn from their successful projects and share a bit of my own successes. Here’s to a great second year in the Peace Corps!

Eric and me in Manuel Antonio, celebrating one year

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