Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Getting to know our field partners: ADEPHCA

I want to use this blog post to give Kiva lenders an update on a recent visit I made to Bluefields, Nicaragua with the purpose of getting to know the staff, borrowers, and operations of the Asociación de Desarrollo y Promoción Humana de la Costa Atlántica (or ADEPHCA for short).

ADEPHCA has been working with Kiva since October 2007. At that time, the plan was that ADEPHCA would work with a local Nicaraguan NGO called Blue Energy to help promote loans that allowed people outside of the formal electric grid to purchase a sustainable hybrid wind/solar energy system. Although the original idea was that Kiva lenders would fund these loans, progress towards this partnership has been slower than expected. Instead, Kiva has been working with ADEPHCA to finance their portfolio of micro-enterprise loans for small business owners in and around the city of Bluefields.

Bluefields itself is a bit of an enigma. It is a port city located on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, but because it is not connected by roads to any major cities, there is not a strong fishing or shipping industry. To further confuse things, the Atlantic region of Nicaragua was never fully colonized by the Spanish so the local residents speak a mix of Creole or “Island” English, Spanish and Miskito (the language of the native Indians).

When I arrived in Bluefields, on a humid and rainy afternoon, I was greeted by Guillermo Perez—one of the loan officers that works with ADEPHCA. In contrast to some of Kiva’s other partners, ADEPHCA is very much the definition of a grass-roots organization. Most of the staff have lived their entire lives in Bluefields, and all of them have deep ties to the community. Even by Nicaraguan standards, Bluefields is a poor city as evidenced by the plethora of pawn shops and paucity of banks or even large stores found in the capital of Managua.

On that first day we met with Sidney Francis, Wilfredo Machado, Guillermo and some of the other key staff at ADEPHCA. Since I was the first person from Kiva to visit the organization in person, it was interesting to hear a little bit more about ADEPHCA’s history. The organization was founded in 1987 with a focus on community assistance, social services, and environmental justice. ADEPHCA is also part of the Organizaciones Negras de Latinoamerica—an organization focused on fighting discrimination in Latin America. In 1998, with the support of JICA Japan and the US Peace Corps, ADEPHCA launched their microfinance activities. Today, they are still a small organization, with just 14 employees overall and about five that work directly on microfinance projects.

On the second day, when we went out to visit Kiva clients, Guillermo seemed to know the bus drivers, street vendors, shop owners and even all the back alleys in Bluefields. Along with Dora, the other loan officer from ADEPHCA, we set out to visit seven of the 75 clients that had received funding from Kiva lenders.

In the course of visiting clients, they all commented on how important their loans are in terms of helping them grow their businesses. Most were small shop owners and some, like Rosa Benitez, have been long-time clients of ADEPHCA. Rosa has a small general store that she runs out of her home, which provides the profits to help put her three small children through school.

Rosa, whose sister is also an ADEPHCA client, plans to purchase a freezer with her next loan, which will allow her to improve the variety of merchandise that she has in her store and increase her sales.

Later that same day, we met Salvadora Reyes. For 20 years, Salvadora ran her own small grocery store, but a few years ago decided to take night classes at the local art school. During her time taking classes, she learned that she had a real talent for jewelry making and bonded with her professor. Unfortunately, the professor became ill and was forced to sell his workshop. This however, provided a new opportunity for Salvadora to transition into a new line of work that she loved. Although she didn’t have enough money to buy the workshop upfront, she saved “como la hormiga” (literally like an ant, but probably best translated as “like a squirrel”) in order to pay back the professor over time. Salvadora is extremely happy to be able to access a loan from ADEPHCA and because of the zero percent financing that Kiva lenders provide, the interest rate she pays has been cut in half!

I also had the chance to meet some non-Kiva clients, like William Sanchez, who owns both a small restaurant and also a clothing shop that together employs six people. A self-described “hard-working Christian”, William never would have been able to access a loan from a traditional bank, but now has graduated from microfinance loans to commercial credit and has plans to open more businesses in the community. William believes in the work that ADEPHCA is doing and truly hopes that his success can be replicated by other micro-entrepreneurs in Bluefields!

Links to more journal updates from ADEPHCA:
Elieser Jose Jaime Flores
Auxiliadora Benitez Garcia
Giconda Alina Chavez Mejia
Teresa Isabel Chavez