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The Blue & Gray Press | December 11, 2017

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La Ceiba impacts lives abroad through microfinance

La Ceiba impacts lives abroad through microfinance

By OLGA CHELTSOVA

La Ceiba, a student-run organization operating since 2008 at the University of Mary Washington, has worked to help local people in El Progreso, Honduras to establish their own small-scale businesses, such as convenience stores. La Ceiba’s work at UMW helps students gain more understanding of what poverty is and why it is important to know its causes.

An event founded by Dr. Shawn Humphrey, who also founded La Ceiba, is the Two-Dollar Challenge, which is held every spring at UMW. The event allows the participants to experience what it is like to live in poverty. The students have to buy all their necessities for the entire week using only $2; this includes all their food. The students can only drink out of specific water fountains, optionally use only the public restrooms and must sleep under tarps on Ball Circle.

Honduras is located in Central America, and is the second poorest country in its region. Poverty in Honduras is an issue mainly in rural areas. La Ceiba started its microfinance work in isolated regions.

So why microfinance? The people in need of micro loans are not pressured to pay them back when they receive a loan from La Ceiba. There is no interest rate and a high relationship value is practiced with each and every client. So if a farmer is not able to pay the full amount back, called entering arrears, La Ceiba takes a different approach, understanding the situation without forcing the payment from the client. Instead of pressure, it encourages them to see what can be improved about the business they have started.

La Ceiba is a client-centered institution that works with each individual and carefully teaches people in El Progreso about their economic abilities and well-being of the community. La Cieba gives out loans to start a small-scale business, but this is a risky task since there is no guarantee that the client’s micro-business (for example, a small grocery market) will be successful and bring enough profit to the villager in order to pay back the loan.

The organization website, La Cieba Microfinance Institutions, states, “We see ourselves as the vanguard of client-centered microfinance. We want to demonstrate what is possible when you put the interest of the client before the interest of the organization. With such an intense focus on client welfare, you will want to see how far we go.”

La Ceiba has a few ways to raise awareness on our UMW campus. One of them is the sale of handmade and fair-trade jewelry that the local women’s craft, as well as from recyclable materials such as chip bags. Students who buy these bracelets and earrings are investing not just in the needy people in Honduras, but also in the empowerment of the whole community.

Many students are aware of La Ceiba’s work on campus, as well as abroad. Sophomore English major sustainability minor Daksha Khatri, had not heard of La Ceiba previously, but after reading about the organization, believed its impact reaches both Honduras and UMW students.

“[This organization] is certainly important for the people of Honduras, but at the same time, I believe it is important for the UMW students as well because it is a unique and creative program which is allowing the students to actually help the local people in Honduras,” Khatri said. “It is important to note that these students are working for another country’s citizens which helps blur the boundary lines between countries and eventually works for a better cause… to bring everyone together and move as one unit.”

Members of La Ceiba are enthusiastic students who are eager to learn and put their skills to practice. One of these bright participants was 2015 graduate Jeff Paddock. After graduation, he got his plane ticket to Honduras and began the real work with microfinance in El Progreso.  Paddock follows the motto of La Ceiba, “clients come first,” and works with individuals in order to give to clients, instead of taking from them.

It is true that members of La Ceiba, such as Paddock, value the true well-being of the clients and do not put a huge amount of pressure on to the people to pay off the loans, who are already struggling to make their living in El Progreso.

El Progreso means ‘progress’ in Spanish, and that is the main goal of the institution: implement progress and prosperity, impacting the entire community.