Adios!

It’s hard for me to believe, but today is my last day as a Kiva Fellow in Puno Peru.  Although some days in the field, searching to find Manuela Ramos entrepreneurs, have been long, and some weekends, without family or many friends, have been lonely, these past three and a half months have still flown by.  I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to meet women who come from very different back grounds than my own, to have worked with strong, dedicated people at Manuela Ramos and Kiva and to have learned, first hand, the amazing impact of microfinance.

Tomorrow, I head to Cusco to meet my mom and to start a full month of traveling!  We will visit Manchu Picchu, Puno, Lima and then Quito, Ecuador, before I fly to Guatemala, where Anthony and I will have over two weeks to enjoy Guatemala and Nicaragua.  I look forward to returning to San Francisco, where I will commence my job hunt, and to spending time with family and friends.

Below are a few photos of some trips I took towards the end of my fellowship: 

In the beginning of May I traveled to La Paz, Bolivia, to take the GMAT (required test to apply for business school).  I did better than I was hoping to do and celebrated with a small side trip to the jungle town of Coroico.  Other than the 80 something bites I received from the sand flies that just couldn’t get enough of me, I had a great time!

 Coroico, Bolivia

The videos below are of Maneula Ramos employees (loan officers, office workers, women rights workers and directors) as they celebrate Manuela Ramos’s 31st anniversary by playing volleyball, soccer, and other games (think wheel barrel racing and tug-a-war!) in a field outside of Puno.  I was so happy to see these women, who often work 60-70 hours a week, be given the opportunity to relax and have some fun (and I was happy to participate J)!

The photos below are of Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa, and the world’s second deepest canyon, La Canyon de Colca. At the end of May, I made this side trip in order to enjoy a larger city and some truly amazing hiking!

Yvonne and I in Arequipa

 The Colca Canyon

See you all soon!

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What is your Dream?

What is your dream for your future?  As a Kiva Fellow living in Puno, Peru, writing journals for Kiva and Manuela Ramos entrepreneurs, this is a question I have asked approximately 150 women.  Over the last three and a half months, one of my main responsibilities as a fellow has been to meet the entrepreneurs of Manuela Ramos who have been funded through Kiva and to write journals about their lives, their businesses and the loans that help them succeed in these businesses.  In order to gather the information needed to write these journals, I travel to bank meetings or to the entrepreneur’s homes and ask them a series of questions: How long have you been with Manuela Ramos?  Do you think that the loans from Manuela Ramos have helped your business? What successes or problems have you recently faced? Because many of the women entrepreneurs conduct similar businesses, their answers to these questions are often the same.  However, the question that provokes the same response more than any other is “What is your dream for the future”.

Before many entrepreneurs can answer what their goals or dreams are for their future, I often have to translate the question using simpler terms.  Many women in the region of Puno, Peru, speak Aymara as their native language and although most are very comfortable conversing in Spanish, the word for goal, “meta”, and dream, “sueño”, are often not understood.  I believe this lack of knowledge is representative of the fact that goals and dreams are not topics that are often discussed.  Once I translate the question to, “What do you want for your future and for the future of your family?”, nine times out of ten, I receive the same two responses.  The first response is “salir adelante” (to progress and move forward), and the second response is “que mis hijos sean professionals”, (that my children will become professionals), meaning that their children will study in either a private institution or University and find work in their chosen field.  Sometimes the responses to this question are more specific, such as a woman stating she would like to own an artesian store in Puno or that she hopes the profits from her business will eventually provide her with enough funds to purchase a home, but I usually receive the same two, somewhat broad answers.

After my first month of conducting interviews where I would do my best to encourage the entrepreneurs to elaborate on these responses, but usually was not successful in this attempt, I began to feel a bit frustrated.  This prompted me to think about how I would respond to this question if I were in these women’s shoes.  I thought about the variety of responses I might provide: I want to go to business school and work for an organization whose mission in tied to international development, have a family that is safe and healthy, eventually own my own home in the Bay Area, become better at the guitar, complete a triathlon, and the list goes on.  The more I thought about my responses, the more I realized that in the core of these answers are two underlying themes.  The first is that I hope to always progress and move forward, both personally and professionally.  The second is that I want a healthy family and hope to eventually provide my children with a good education and the means to succeed. Embedded in all my goals and dreams for the future are the same desires of the women I have met who live in the countryside of rural Peru.

So why am I able to define my dreams with specific actions that I will take in order to achieve them?  Opportunity.  Going to University and graduate school to study a field I am interested in, advancing in a successful career in the profession of my choice, and developing personal hobbies are all luxuries that are readily accessible to me because of the economic situation I enjoy simply because I was born into it.  My parents and the social infrastructure of the society in which I live have provided me with the opportunity to clearly formulate a plan to achieve my goals and the means to go after these dreams. In the rural regions of Puno, Peru, these types of opportunities are almost non-existent, as is the education that teaches women to develop defined goals for their future.  The immediate necessities of life: clothing and feeding their families cause the majority of these women to pursue businesses that will provide them and their families with profits that are small, but just large enough to meet basic needs.  Although I believe most humans across the globe share the same intrinsic aspirations to want to progress and help their children progress, much of the world’s people, particularly in developing countries, lack accessibility to the necessary education and economic resources to define this progress in their own terms.

So is microfiance helping to develop the educational and economical framework that is needed?  Yes, it is definitely playing a part.  Although one $200 loan from Maneula Ramos and Kiva will not transform the business and life of every single entrepreneur, one thousand $200 loans can help provide a solid foundation of a society that has the economic means to slowly develop.  Because of microloans and the education and self-esteem building that comes along with these loans, perhaps five of these one thousand women will develop ingenious business ideas and implement them, therefore providing new businesses and new hope to the society around them.  Perhaps fifty of these one thousand women will save enough funds to help send their children to University, eventually altering the course of the future for the next generation.  Although many women who receive microloans will not drastically change, most of these women will be able to start or continue with their small business, generating enough income for their families to survive.  This may be a far cry from how most people from developed nations would define their goals and dreams, but for most borrowers who secure microloans and live in a poor part of our world, this is progress.

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Kiva Journals from Puno

Over the last three and a half months, I have been meeting with Manuela Ramos entrepreneurs in the region of Puno, Peru, taking short videos of them and writing brief descriptions on how they used their loans.  These journals are published on Kiva’s website and are sent to the lenders who have funded these women’s loans.  Below are a few journal postings of women that I’ve found particularly inspiring:

 

Francisca Gordillo Hermosa

As a Kiva Fellow living in Puno, Peru, I had the opportunity to meet with Francisca Gordillo Hermosa and discuss her most recent loan from the MFI, Manuela Ramos, through Kiva.  Francisca works making artesian goods and has been taking out loans with Manuela Ramos, through her community bank, “Dulce Amanecer” (sweet sunrise) for two years.  With her most recent loan of $175, she purchased material, such as wool, needles and other sewing supplies, to make gloves, sweaters, hats, embroideries and other goods, which she sells at a small kiosk in the port of Puno, along the shores of Lake Titicaca.  Francisca followed in her mother and father’s footsteps and has been working in this business since she was 17 years old. 

Francisca is animated as she explains the current situation of the artesian workers at the port of Puno.  The port houses almost 160 artesian workers, who work side by side, selling their creations.  The competition is steep and there are few tourists during the months of November through April, when Puno’s climate is very wet.  In the past, the women paid the city to use this space, but as the women are fighting to acquire a space of land that is more centrally located in Puno and more secure, the women have stopped paying rent.  Francisca explains that the kiosks have to close at sundown, as the tourists stop passing by, and that the local is unsafe because the small kiosks lack infrastructure and security at night.  She is hopeful that the city will soon find space for the women and tells me that the mayor of Puno is working with them to help in their plight.

Francisca says that her loans from Manuela Ramos help her to increase her capital and help give her security in the months when sales are low.  During these slow months, she works tirelessly sewing products, which she hopes to sell as more tourists begin to arrive in her town.  She says creativity has helped her through the years and is constantly trying to supply whatever is demanded.  For example, when sales are low she works creating thread from wool and sells the thread to artesian workers who are preparing for tourists to arrive.

Although her dream for her business is to one day own a small store where she can securely sell her goods and to travel to other cities to sell the goods, her real dream is that she and her husband will be able to continue to support their three daughters.  One of her daughters is studying in the University of Puno to be a teacher, another is preparing to enter the University and wants to study economics, and the other is still in high school.  Pride covers Francisca’s face and she assures me that her children will become professionals and live an easier life than she has. 

 

Marleny Candia Sanizo 

Marleny Candia Sanizo

Marleny Candia Sanizo has been taking out loans with the Community Bank, Inmaculada Concepcion, and the MFI, Manuela Ramos for three years and she has seen her small grocery/convenience store grow.  Her loans have provided her with the necessary initial capital to expand her business by offering more variety of products and by selling goods in bulk to nearby schools and hospitals.  With her most recent loan of $975, which she is on track to repay in full, she purchased products for her store, such as noodles, rice, soft drinks and snacks.  She buys the food from a supplier who comes from the nearby town of Puno, Peru, to her town, Juli, along the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Marleny is certain that the loans from Kiva and Manuela Ramos have helped her be successful with her store.  She appreciates the payment schedule, which allows her and fellow members of her Community Bank to pay back only the interest in the first couple months, providing them with the initial capital they need and allowing them ample time to produce a profit.  Two years ago, with the savings she was able to accumulate, Marleny opened a second grocery/snack store in the main plaza in town and employs others to run this store.

She dreams that one day she will expand her business further and open up a chain of grocery stores in her hometown of Juli and that she will be able to send her two children to University so they can become professionals.  She would like to thank all her Kiva lenders and let you know that with your help the position of women in Peru is changing.  She smiles and lets out a little laugh as she tells me that she used to depend on her husband, but that these roles are reversing and she loves that she can provide an example of a strong woman for her 9 year old daughter. 

 

Rosa Luz Arenas Palomino

As a Kiva Fellow living in Puno, Peru, I had the opportunity to meet Rosa Luz Arenas Palomino, discuss her most recent loan from the MFI, Manuela Ramos, through Kiva, and speak in length about her hopes and dreams for her business and her country.  Dora is a member of the community bank, “Wiñay”, and has been taking out loans from Manuela Ramos for three years.  With her most recent loan of $1,000 Rosa invested in educational courses and material in order to advance in her career of selling online tour packages and self-improvement supplies.

In the past, Rosa worked selling cosmetics.  However, Rosa tells me that there were not a lot of profits to be made in this business, because Puno is a poor area where most people don’t have the disposable income to spend on unnecessary items.  About one and a half years ago, Rosa began working for an agency that sells travel packages online and sells self-improvement material, such as videos and books.  The job is commission based and in order to sell the trips and material, one must be familiar with them and therefore travel and purchase the videos and books oneself.  Also, the agency offers educational courses on sales and tourism that Rosa feels are vital to attend in order to succeed.  Last year, with the profits she made, Rosa was able to take her husband and two daughters, who currently attend the University of Arequipa, on a five star, one-week trip to Ecuador.  She says she received a great discount because of her job and that she never would have been able to afford such a wonderful trip had it not been for her success with this agency.

As Rosa and I discuss her job, she explains to me that her work is very important to her, not only for the commission she makes, but also for the feeling it gives her.  She says she believes that the videos, books and other self-improvement items, which are sold through the agencies website, are wonderful and can equip their users with the confidence and skills they need to achieve their dreams. She says that it is a lack of education, not necessarily money that keeps Peru’s population poor.  She feels happy and fortunate that she and her husband are able to pay for their children to receive a good education and hopes to continue to work in a field that she feels is making a difference.

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The Value of the Community Bank

Some of you may be aware of the definition of the Community, or Village, Bank and the role it plays in many Microfinance Institutions (MFIs).  For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, I’d like to offer a brief history of the Community Bank and it’s function in Manuela Ramos, an MFI and women’s movement in Peru.  Although community banks operate differently in distinct countries and MFIs, the origin of the community bank and it’s general functions are usually the same regardless of the place of operation. 

 

The idea of the Community Bank originated with the development of the first MFI, the Grameen Bank, in the early 1980s.  Muhammad Yunus, and economists from Bangladesh, saw a great need for small loans to become available for the working poor in his country.  Like any bank that provides loans, this bank needed a guarantee from the borrowers that the loans would be repaid.  This guarantee could not come in the form of collateral, such as a house or automobile, because the borrowers, for the most part, had no collateral to offer.  Therefore, in order to ensure the bankers that the loans would be repaid, Muhammad Yunus developed the concept of the Village, or Community, Bank, where groups of people from the same village would come together and take out a group loan to be used for individual businesses.  In this way, the group members support each other in the development of their individual businesses and guarantee that each member will repay his or her loan. Over the last 30 years as MFIs have started in much of the developing world, the practice of Community Banking has spread and been adapted to fit the needs of the specific MFIs.

 

Manuela Ramos, the MFI with which I have been volunteering as a Kiva Fellow for the last three months, originated in 1978 as an organization to fight for women’s rights throughout Peru. Twelve years ago, Manuela Ramos started a microfinance program, CrediMujer, and has since expanded this program to seven of their offices.  The foundation of this program and much of its success rests in the implementation of the idea of the Community Bank.  A community bank of Manuela Ramos can begin with as little as five women who decide they would like to create a group and begin taking out loans together.  In order to start the community bank, the women must assign a president, secretary and treasure and each put 25 soles (approximately $8 USD) into the banks internal savings account.  As the women invite more members to their group, their internal savings account grows, as does the amount each individual is allowed to borrow.  Since a woman can join the community bank only with an invitation from an existing member and the approval of the entire community bank, the women assume the responsibility that each community bank member will repay their loan.

 

There are many advantages embedded in operating with community banks, the most obvious being the security this system offers Manuela Ramos.  Although Manuela Ramos requires that each woman provide 25 soles and a copy of a photo ID of the woman or her husband in order to become a community bank member, Manuela Ramos does not require any other form of collateral.  The liability of default is passed along to the community bank members and if one woman defaults on her loan, the entire community bank cannot take out additional loans until the defaulted woman has repaid.  Because the members of the community bank come from the same town and are, for the most part, friends, most women do not default on their loans.  If a woman does default, it is usually for personal or family reasons that were unforeseen and the other members of the community bank are willing to help. In the case that the community bank members pay back another woman’s loan, the bank members use their individual savings, which are kept in the bank’s internal savings account, to cover the repayment.  However, the woman who has defaulted is then in debt to her entire community bank, and the other community bank members usually require the defaulted woman to provide them with a form of collateral, which is generally a television set or livestock, that can easily be kept at a community bank member’s home.  The loan officers keep track of women who have defaulted on their loans and, if these women do not eventually repay their fellow community bank members, these women are considered credit risks and are not permitted to take out loans with Manuela Ramos, or any other bank in Peru.  Therefore, the incentive to repay the loans is high, and Manuela Ramos’s CrediMujer program currently operates with a 98.5% loan repayment rate.

 

Another positive aspect of the community banking system of Manuela Ramos is that the banks bring women together and the women learn from each other, benefit from the training and information sessions offered by Manuela Ramos’s loan officers, and save a portion of their earnings in the community bank’s internal savings account.  When a community bank is started with Maneula Ramos, the loan officers give an initial training session with the bank members, where the loan officers teach the entrepreneurs some business tips. As a group, the loan officers and the entrepreneurs discuss successes and failures in their past businesses, appropriate times of the year to buy and sell specific products, and the loan officers hand out calendars that provide details about the markets of the surrounding towns.  As the community bank grows, the loan officers educate new members and give presentations about business, savings, and women’s rights at about half of the community bank meetings, which happen once a month.  In addition to education surrounding business and women’s rights, the entrepreneurs are taught about the importance of savings and are required to save a portion of their earnings in the community banks internal savings account.  If an entrepreneur decides to leave the bank, she may take out her savings at any time.

 

Many microfinance experts argue that the education that is provided to entrepreneurs with their loans is a vital component to the success of these entrepreneurs businesses and therefore to the success of the MFI.  However, others might argue that the education sessions are too specific and that, in providing finite details about how to operate a certain business in a specific region, ingenuity in business development is not encouraged.  While there may be some truth to the latter argument, my experience in working with Manuela Ramos entrepreneurs has made me believe that the education provided with the loans is more of a benefit than a detriment in helping these women start and sometimes expand their businesses.  My belief stems from the conversations that I’ve had with the entrepreneurs surrounding this topic and the fact that fresh business ideas thrive in environments where business and education opportunities are prevalent, which is unfortunately not the case in the Andes of Peru. 

 

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Volley Ball, Skirts and Celebration!

As if volleyball and soccer were not challenging enough, imagine playing these sports in long skirts, dress shoes and traditional hats that barely stay on your head in the slightest wind.  I have been to and played in sports tournaments my entire life, but until last week I had never experienced a tournament like this!

As a Kiva Fellow working with the Microfinance Institution (MFI), Manuela Ramos, I have the privilege of attending not only community bank meetings, where groups of women come together to take out small loans, but also community events that are meant to empower women, spread the word about Peru’s women’s rights movement, in which Manuela Ramos plays a large role, and show the women a great time!  Every year, Manuela Ramos puts on as many as eight events in the different zones where they work; sometimes these events afford the women entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell their goods, sometimes they are educational and teach the women how to effectively run their small businesses, and sometimes they involve the playing of sports.  Above all, these events encourage camaraderie and self-esteem amongst the women. 

The morning started early, with a 4 am wake up call followed by a three-hour, multi bus journey to Lampa, Peru where ten loan officers and I fumbled and laughed our way through the set up of the volley ball court and soccer nets.  The fact that I’m about five inches taller than the next tallest woman made me very popular when it came to propping up tents and hanging signs!  The women entrepreneurs began to arrive around 8 am and by 9:30 the ceremony began.  Dressed in their team shirts and proudly holding their banners, which displayed their community bank names, the women lined up in rows.  With a borrowed microphone, the loan officers of Manuela Ramos recognized individuals who had demonstrated excellence amongst their fellow bank members.  After singing the Peruvian national anthem, the women and the loan officers ran around the paved court and the games began!

As the community banks participated in the sports, the other women watched, cheered, and took advantage of the local hospital offering of free HIV tests and $.50 women exams, a service that Manuela Ramos set up for the community.  After approximately four hours of games, the day concluded around 2 pm, with a large lunch of chicken and potatoes, an Andean favorite, and a closing ceremony where the loan officers played the Manuela Ramos theme song, which is reminiscent of a 1992 Celine Dion hit.  The women seemed to truly enjoy themselves, and the event undoubtedly fostered camaraderie among the women in the community banks and made women in the area, who stopped to watch, interested in being a part of Manuela Ramos and all the fun!

 

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My Quest for Fun!

Although Puno is a town of a little over 100,000 people, it often feels quite a bit smaller.  I’ve made some connections with many of the loan officers I work with, but, for the most part, they are older, have families and very demanding jobs, which don’t allow for much leisure time, nor time to entertain the foreigner!  Lacking much of a social network (my nice way for saying social life!), I’ve been on the constant lookout, if not search, for extra curricular activities.

 

Soccer……….

 

It began with soccer.  I saw some local kids playing at a small basketball court and thought that perhaps there were adult soccer leagues.  Of course, my type A, very United States molded mind immediately assumed that for people to play a sport together there must be some sort of organized schedule.  After asking around at my hotel and office I soon learned that the few women who play soccer on a regular basis are either on high school teams or simply play in their leisure time with friends.  I considered trying to pose as a sixteen year old Peruvian, but decided that I was about ten years too old and ten shades too light.  A little defeated, I resorted to dropping subtle hints that I would be more than willing to participate in a pick up game.  To date there have been no takers.

 

Church………….

 

El Catedral de Puno

Continuing on my quest to find something other than work and studying for the GMAT to occupy my weekends, I decided to attend the local Cathedral for Sunday morning mass, thinking I could make it a weekly activity.  Although I certainly wouldn’t call myself Catholic, I figured it would be a good cultural experience, free Spanish practice and something to do!  Towards the end of the mass I was feeling pretty proud of myself for understanding almost everything that was said (the words, that is, not the theories behind the sermon).  When the priest instructed the congregation to salute our neighbors, I turned around to face the man behind me and promptly went in for what I thought was the customary kiss on the cheek.  As the man backed away from my puckering lips and nearly fell over the pew, I realized that everyone else in the Cathedral was shaking hands!  Whoops!  I left the cathedral with my tail between my legs and decided that maybe I would make church 

more of a monthly activity.

 

The gym…………..

 My View from the Treadmill

When I first arrived in Puno, high on my list of priorities was figuring out how I was going to get in my runs.  Running as a sport isn’t exactly a generally acceptable practice in most Latin American countries, which I learned from my experiences attempting the activity while studying abroad in Chile four years ago.  After asking around, I learned that I would not be looked at like a complete lunatic if I walked the half-mile to the port and ran along the walkway that borders the Lake.  I had also heard from women in the office that there was a gym with all of two treadmills and some exercise bikes.  After a few freezing runs at the port where I saw my life flash before my eyes as stray dogs let me know that I was in their territory, I decided to check out the gym!  As you can see from the photo above, the view from the treadmill isn’t exactly enjoyable, nor entertaining, so when I learned that the gym offered aerobics classes I was instantly intrigued.  After humiliating myself in a step class, where I felt like everyone there had been practicing and perfecting the routine for at least a year, I decided to give that class entitled, “Fight Do” a try, and I couldn’t have been more pleased.  Equipped with ear blasting 80’s hits and timeless dance moves, including the running man, the class not only got my heart rate up, but kept me smiling throughout.  “Fight Do” is now one of my much looked forward to biweekly activities.

 

A rock concert………….

 

High on life one night after an aerobics class filled with timeless eighties dance moves and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, remixed, and played twice, I was walking back to my hotel and noticed a large poster on the side of a store that advertised, “El Teatro de Puno” (Puno’s theater).  Barely able to contain my excitement at the prospect of attending a cultural event on a Saturday night, I rushed into the store and inquired about the specifics.  After about ten minutes of convincing the clerk that I wasn’t a tourist passing through Puno and that I would be in town in two weeks, she sold me a ticket to the show.  The day before what I thought was going to be a play I decided to look into what it was I signed up for.  I left my hotel and asked a policeman to point me in the direction of the theater, thinking there would be more informative posters there.  Again, after convincing the policeman that I wasn’t looking for a hotel or hostel, but when I said “Teatro de Puno”, I meant, “Teatro de Puno”, he walked me to the theater and explained that the play I had bought a ticket for was actually a heavy metal rock concert.  I couldn’t help but laugh at where my overexcitement had gotten me!  Determined to not sit in my hotel another Saturday night, I went to the concert and was pleasantly surprised that Peru’s definition of heavy metal would be the equivalent of The United State’s soft rock.  Although the opening acts weren’t my favorite, the main event, “Daniel F” and his acoustic guitar, was lovely.

 

 

With a little over a month left in Puno, I am starting to feel somewhat settled.  I have to admit that although I miss the comforts and the activities of home, when I leave Puno I will miss the excitement of never knowing exactly what to expect out of these ventures!

 

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Lake Titicaca and the Floating Islands

After almost two months living in Puno, Peru and after a few embarrassing moments when tourists I encountered asked me for advice about visiting Lake Titicaca and I had to sheepishly admit that I hadn’t yet embarked, I decided it was time to make the trip.  In my defense, I had been waiting for the rainy season to pass and for someone to go with.  Luckily, last weekend both my prerequisites were met.

Through a Kiva connection, I met a fellow microfinance worker, Zoe, who was conducting surveys on microfinance interest rates in Puno.  In the good and admittedly much needed company of a fellow expat, I set out at 6 am on a tour boat for the floating islands of Los Uros.  Although the translation of the name obviously implies that the islands are floating in the lake, I thought that this was surely just an expression, or perhaps a mistranslation; I was wrong!

Thousands of years ago, out of necessity, the Uros tribe began creating islands off the coast of Puno.  The people of Los Uros create the islands using land that they cut away from the shore of the mainland.  In order to maintain the islands, layers of reeds must constantly be added on top of those that are beginning to rot.  Using large stakes, the islands are anchored in the lake and in order to move the islands the inhabitants simply need to remove the stakes and push the islands with their reed boats.  Originally, the idea of the floating island was devised as a defense mechanism against the Aymara tribe, and later against the Incas.  Today, the islands are safe and are rarely moved to new locations along the lake.  Although many of the inhabitants of Los Uros have moved to the mainland, about 70 of these islands remain inhabited, with each community consisting of between four and 16 families. Although the islands themselves are small, the community of islands makes up a rather large population of people who work together in business and culture.  Children travel to nearby islands where teachers provide both primary and secondary education and the island’s inhabitants work with Puno’s tour agencies to ensure that every island benefits equally from the prominent tourist industry. 

Docking at one of the islands and being cheerily greeted in the local language of Aymara, Zoe and I explored the approximately 1,000 square foot island, which was just a bit larger than my old apartment in San Francisco.  Perhaps even more surprising than the fact that these islands actually float, was seeing the juxtaposition of modern technology and an ancient culture.  Looking up at the metallic structures on top of each of the nine thatched roofs I thought, “these can’t be what I think they are”, but again, I was wrong (an ongoing theme!).  The tour guide explained that almost all the islands of Los Uros are powered using solar technology.  Adding to the islands “green theme”, the guide also informed us that the boats these communities use to travel from island to island are made using used plastic water bottles, which are placed inside the woven reeds and act as floatation devices.  As I watched a small girl in the local dress of a top hat and large skirt pop in a CD for us visitors to enjoy, I marveled at the reaches of globalization. 

After returning to the mainland and going to the office on Monday morning, I let the loan officers of the Microfinance Institution (MFI), Manuela Ramos, where I’ve been volunteering, know that I finally made it out on the lake.  They asked me if I bought any artesian arts and crafts and informed me that many of these artesian workers are entrepreneurs of Manuela Ramos and are part of community banks that take out loans in order to buy supplies in bulk in Puno and increase their profits.  After seeing the solar panels and the impressive organization of the community of islands, I wasn’t surprised and was certainly pleased that microfinance too had found a way to merge with the culture of Los Uros. 

 

 

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