Monday, October 26, 2009

Building Bridges Across the Digital Divide

The past three months in Guatemala have been fulfilling and eye opening, but not always easy to understand. Hard to comprehend how a family of seven, their wallets empty, their house too small, was so willing to give me a bed and a seat at their kitchen table for three months. Harder to comprehend they have invited me to return at any time, on any notice.

I’ve also found it hard to comprehend how families in the United States, unburdened by the fundamental challenge of survival, seem so frequently broken by smaller problems. The families of Lake Atitlan seem more willing to share their love – not just with each other, but also with strangers like me. And I wonder if their generosity is because, not in spite, of the hardships they face. Unlike families in the United States, they do not share material wealth; thus they do not have many possessions to fight over. Perhaps we have something to learn from the rural villages in Guatemala. Perhaps we need to reprioritize what is important and worth fighting for in our privileged lives.

Never was this clearer to me than one week after I left for El Salvador, when Chema, the oldest son of my host family, contacted me with some tragic news: his father, Sito, had passed away at the age of 42. Sito, a bus driver, died on a trip he makes six days a week, when his bus – essentially a run-down American school bus from the 70s – collided with another one head on.

Chema and his family were devastated. More than that, I sensed a fear for the future. Fear that a family of four children had lost its only income. But five buses and 24 hours later, when I returned to pay my respects, I saw something amazing. I saw hundreds of friends and family flocking to Chema’s home day and night to give what rice and beans they could spare, to offer their prayers and friendship and support for the future. A family with nothing materially appeared somehow to have everything. I’ve seen American families come apart in similar circumstances, fighting over the possessions of the deceased. In San Pedro, I saw family come together when family was needed most.

The sense that there’s a community that’s bigger than each of us put together is something I try to incorporate into my work. Many of you know that after graduation, I chose to forego a job in the private sector and have been donating my time to helping to grow Guatemala’s third-world economy. I successfully created a micro credit program for the Mercado Global artisans and cooperatives of the Lake Atitlan region. Mercado Global now has a program that will provide a financial means for women to purchase the tools to innovate and the raw materials needed to increase production.


This undertaking brought some more harsh realizations. For it was not just about creating a credit facility; in a society that’s never had access to one, its worth needs to be explained. I had to visit each cooperative in the mission to explain the importance of credit and savings. And then I had to leave it in good hands.

The language barrier made that first step very difficult and frustrating for me: my Spanish is pretty good, but there are three different languages other than Spanish that are spoken in the rural communities I was visiting. (Lucky for me, I had a translator.) But beyond language, the “digital divide” – the difference in computer literacy between the developed and the developing worlds – added another layer of complexity.

My final job before leaving was to hire a loan officer to run the program. Finding qualified applicants was a challenge. Under “technical skills,” a section under which many Americans leave off Microsoft Office as too obvious, one applicant listed “calculator.” (This reminded me of a time I made my host family a slideshow on my computer; instead of watching it, they were entranced by the ability to scroll back and forward within the video.) It began to dawn on me that my progress, though laudable, is ultimately limited by the enormous technological gap that still separates the first and third worlds.

I talked about this gap in a recent Brute Labs post. But in my final days in Guatemala, I got closer to understanding one way to address it. It will be impossible to connect the digitally deprived to the digitally endowed if one group lacks that basic fundamental technological resource: the computer.


Computod@s

From this realization, I opened a new chapter in my passport. Along with Sam Baker, a friend and fellow SCU business grad who was having the same experiences and realizations in his work in El Salvador, we’re starting a socially driven, sustainable business that provides low-income communities, NGOs, schools and small businesses with access to high quality, affordable computers.

We have forged a partnership with DPG, a large computer products distributor in El Salvador with over 20 years experience in importation, transportation, distribution to big companies, governments and PC product retailers. DPG will provide us with a strong logistical backbone and the operational support necessary to get off the ground and begin supplying computers. (They have already provided us with the legal support to register our entity under the name “Computod@s” — “computers for everyone.” They will also be supplying us with their warehouse to keep our inventory.) And we’ll be importing the computers from our supplier, Interconnection USA, a non-profit located in Seattle, WA. Interconnection is a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher that looks to provide a second life to the many computers in the United States that are destined for the landfills.

Working with refurbished computers is good because it’s green and it’s cheap. Extending the life of one desktop computer with a CRT monitor is equivalent to taking one half of a car off the road for a year. And we’ll be offering these computers at a price never before seen in Central America. Operating with a cost-recovery financial budget model, we will be selling brand name Pentium 4 desktops for $150. (Current stores resell comparable PCs for about $300.) Sam and I believe that computers should not be seen as a luxury, and we will be receiving our first shipment of computers very soon to begin working towards this vision.

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with a delegation of students from Santa Clara on an immersion trip. They asked me if it was difficult to pass up many high paying jobs to come live down here as a volunteer. The short answer is yes. But I’ve seen firsthand that the value of even one volunteer where I am are often overlooked and underestimated. Plus, the ability to volunteer is itself a luxury: for many, it is impossible to survive in the developing world if you are not working for a wage every single day.

I’m lucky to be able to donate my time, and I’m lucky to be able to leave whenever I want to – to take a more lucrative job in a more prosperous country. This experience has taught me to wonder what it might feel like to live down here without that easy escape. But it’s also made me realize that we need to do what we can to make staying put a little easier. My job starts one computer at a time. I challenge you to seek where your job lies.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Finals Days in Guatemala



3 Billion

You must open your ears
To understand the tears
You must search your heart
To see this is not the start
You must lend both your hands
It’s time to make a stand

You know that you and me
Have the power to set 3 billion free

Vive en tu corazón y en tu mente
Para hacer que es verdadero
Though you many not understand what I am saying
We share the same dream…to do what’s right
What’s verdadero

From the bottom to the top
The others gotta stop
Give them the tools to make a choice
To empower and raise their voice
It won’t be easy to change something
But it’s much harder than doin nothing

You know that you and me
Have the power to set 3 billion free

Vive en tu corazón y en tu mente
Para hacer que es verdadero
Though you many not understand what I am saying
We share the same dream…to do what’s right
What’s verdadero

BRIDGE

Vive en tu corazón y en tu mente
Para hacer que es verdadero
Though you many not understand what I am saying
We share the same dream…to do what’s right
What’s verdadero

Sukari…shuka ah (meaning: good morning…good night in Tzutijil, the local language in San Pedro)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Price is Right - Results

Thanks for all that participated in the "Lake Atitlan Price is Right." I was hoping to have the answers up by last Friday, but I was in Huehuetenango (a rural village in Central Guatemala, pronounced: Way-Way) and had zero access to internet for the past few days. I am excited to announce our winner, Ashley Foster, from Seattle, WA. Below are the correct prices along with the leaderboard of all contestants. After receiving all entries I decided to omit 2 questions (full week of rent, and 3 hours of spanish lessons) as my immediate family had "insider information." The hacksack Ashley has won is not your average toy played by kids outside at reccess. This hackysack was made by the Lema Cooperative who are famous as one of the only cooperatives in Guatemala that use Natural Tint for there products. Lema purchases only white threads, and creates natural colors from resources in Guatemala. Everything from plants, coffee beans, insects, tree's, and many other natural resources are used in a cooking-like procedure to provide the greens, yellows, browns, and reds in the hacksack. Stay tuned for more competitions to come in the future.

Real Prices ($)
1) Chocolate covered banana = 0.12
2) Strawberry ice cream cone (w/ strawberry sauce on top) = 0.25
3) Kite (flies perfectly in the air) = 0.25
4) French Fries (size comparable to McDonalds regular container) = 0.18
6) 10 chocolate donuts that I bought for my family = 1.23
7) The Prensa Libre Newspaper = 0.37
9) Haircut = 1.23
10) Full loaf of banana bread = 1.96
Total = $5.58

Leaderboard ($ from the total)

1) Ashley - 0.96 (Brother's Girlfriend)
2) Alec - 1.63 (Cousin)
3) Christine - 1.87 (Aunt)
4) Cole - 1.97 (Cousin)
5) Mitchell - 1.97 (Brother)
6) Rich - 2.23 (Dad)
7) Jill - 3.42 (Mom)
8) Shelby - 4.32 (SCU Professor)
9) Rob - 8.32 (Uncle)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Price is Right (winner gets a prize)

The past week has been a little crazy. I got pretty sick Monday afternoon from…well, I really don’t know the cause. There are many ‘variables’ in my village to get sick from. I would be willing to bet it was the food I ate as it had a pretty big affect (the next part is graphic, do not read if you are under the age of 15) on the action that food takes an hour after it enters the body. Had to miss Tuesday and Wednesday of work, and have been playing catch-up the past couple of days. Don’t have time for a full update, so I decided to play a game with you instead. Below is a list of items that I have purchased in the past week. Comment on this blog, or email me (bsbelcher@gmail.com) what you think each item costs (quoted in US$). The person who scores the best will receive a hand made hacky-sack from one of the cooperatives I visited.

1) Chocolate covered banana
2) Strawberry ice cream cone (w/ strawberry sauce on top)
3) Kite (flies perfectly in the air)
4) French Fries (size comparable to McDonalds regular container)
5) 3 hours of Spanish lessons with a private tutor
6) 10 chocolate donuts that I bought for my family
7) The Prensa Libre Newspaper
8) One full week of rent and food (three meals a day)
9) Haircut
10) Full loaf of banana bread (size comparable to footlong subway sandwich)

A Big Mac costs $2.05 in Guatemala. That is a hint for most of you, and a joke for anyone that understood Econ 1.

Responses will be graded and the winner (with the answers) will be posted on Friday, August 7, 5:00pm.

Feliz Fin de Semana!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Connecting the Poor

Anyone who’s ever bought a house knows the importance of the credit application process. The most qualified applicants get the most attractive loans. But the difficulty and importance of a strong application has taken on a new meaning for me recently when I learned that many of the artisans Mercado Global will try to assist can’t read or write, let alone fill out a credit application form. As is too often true, those most critically in need are facing the most obstacles. I learned I’ll need to go through the applications with the applicants, step by step – and then fill them out myself.
The success of a micro loan hinges on the ability of the borrower to meet the monthly payment. One aspect of the loan application, then, is determining a borrower’s ability to repay the debt; for this, we use the Feasibility of Credit form. Put simply, the form helps to assess the borrower’s ability to pay by subtracting their monthly expenses from their monthly earnings. The Feasibility of Credit form will work to beneficially pair the borrower’s monthly repayment capacity with the terms of the loan.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Cooperative of Chaquija. A group of about 20 women in the Guatemalan village of Solola, Chaquija will be the first cooperative to receive a micro loan. The women of Chaquija often work through the day and night at antiquated loom stands to produce the fabrics that sustain their economy. Providing the cooperative with a loan will let them invest in higher quality tools and more advanced technology, in turn increasing their efficiency and improving their quality of life.

video

But the benefits of technological advancement stretch far beyond Chaquija’s looms. Access to information can in so many cases pave the way towards economic advancement. Yesterday, one of the boys in my host family, Victor, sprained his ankle during a soccer game at the local campo. I went to see how he was doing and was surprised to see that basic treatments – treatments we too often take for granted in our own homes – were being forgone. And I’m not talking about Advil and Ace bandages; I’m talking about ice. (Information isn’t all that limits Victors treatment; ice is hard to come by in a tropical climate and a home without a refrigerator or freezer.) I explained to him that it was important to keep his ankle elevated to limit the swelling, another step I had considered universally known.
I started to realize how much a simple internet connection could have provided real, physical – even medical – benefits to Victor and his family. Type "sprained ankle" into Google Search, and he could have learned in five minutes all he ever wanted to know about sprained ankles. (And in almost any language, no less.)
Technology that provides access to information can educate, strengthen, and connect communities across the world (both the “first” and “third” worlds). A family’s access to medical information, a farmer’s access to prices and markets, a mother who is able to contact her son in the United States about the status of next month’s remittance – these are just three of a limitless number of reasons that a connected world is a better one.
While I’m down here, I’m exploring ways to provide technology infrastructure to the three billion people that lack it. (And I look forward to the possibility of working with the Brute Labs team to provide this resource.) Dr. Muhammad Yunus echoes the same vision that there are too many middlemen between the developing and developed worlds.
In this last picture, taken from my office last week, you can see four Americans sitting inside using computers, and four artisans outside making jewelry. How much longer until no one needs to be on the outside looking in? As critically as we must pursue the many green efforts in place across the world, it’s time for us to enable an equally vast information revolution. It’s time to start "G-chatting" with the developing world.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Seasons of the Sky

Many of my posts share the same theme of the peaceful beauty of Lake Atitlan, and its beauty deserves every word. It is easiest to blog about the lake, because it is the one time of the day, on the lake traveling to and from work, when I am alone with my thoughts. No children asking me to perform card tricks, no ladies smacking there hands together to make tortillas, and not trying to figure out what interest rate we must charge so that all the costs that go into the program break-even with the monthly payments on the loans of the artisans.

The boat ride home the other day was one I will never forget. As the mountains and volcanoes surrounding this lake create a climate that would even keep Bill Nye guessing, its mystery brings natural beauty. This day, however, was a special day as I call it the "Seasons of the Sky." I refrained from taking a picture as I fear it may not do justice to this experience, but hopefully my words will be able to fill your blank slate. As I stood up on the boat I found that each cardinal direction of the sky was displaying, in my mind, a different season. To the south I saw what looked like to me as fall, a clear dark blue, partly cloudy setting which gave me a chilly feeling. To the North, winter, as I saw headed straight for my boat a rain cloud that in the right temperature would make Whistler look like a shaved ice machine at a carnival. To the East, Spring, and to the West, Summer, which brought up one of the greatest myths? I know that the sun sets in the West, however; at this moment I could not tell where the sun was in the sky. I have never been anywhere on this planet where the weather was so mysterious (except in Prague when in the winter the sun sets at 2:30 pm), and it is so beautiful. I felt like I was playing Truman in the movie The Truman Show, and Ed Harris (actor who plays God) has created a mini-globe for me.

Within the beauty I get frustrated. As I exit the boat the poverty stains my mind. One of the main sources of poverty is geographical location. Some countries are blessed with natural resources that can only be controlled by the location of the country. Whether it is oil, gold, or an environment perfect for agricultural production, location can be a main determinant in the outcome of a country long before “Columbus” even arrived. But I have begun to think, Lake Atitlan may not have the natural resources to sell on the futures markets and exchanges, but they have another natural resource; its natural beauty. As the Seasons of the Sky put a smile on my face, I cannot help but look on this lake and realize that at any point in time there will be no more than two boats on its surface. Atitlan is home to many tourists, and I wonder how well a jet-ski, or water sport business would do on this lake. A water sports industry could possibly provide jobs for hundreds of Guatemaltecans. The true question remains: is beauty something to capitalize on?

Trying to picture this lake with jet ski’s and another hundred speedboats, I can’t help but think that the lake will loose some of its beauty. What is the cost of beauty, and is it worth loosing some to earn profits? One of the reasons the lake is so beautiful is because when I am on it I know that I am the only one. I get frustrated because I see what potential this lake has, but I get frustrated when I think about the effects of that potential.

What is more important, income or happiness? I know that industrializing this lake will bring hoards of cash to Atitlan, but I also believe that the hoards of tourists that it will take may decrease the happiness of the natives. In the country of Bhutan, they measure GNH (gross national happiness) as opposed to GDP (Gross Domestic Product). They believe that the happiness of the people should be the focus, and not the size of their wallets.

If hoards of tourists are not wanted by the Atitlan natives, I have another answer for the economy, the film industry. Tell George Lucas that if he wants to make another Star Wars film that I have a great location for his next planet. He has used Hoth, Tatooine, and everyone’s favorite Endor (home of the Eewok’s), well I think Atitlan with its towering volcanoes, and mysterious climate would make a great setting for the next “In a galaxy Far Far Away…”

Monday, July 6, 2009

10 Things You Should Know

At the moment I have so much work piled up with the microcredit program that Obama would consider fixing health care a walk in the park. I have lots to do, and yet it feels a little stagnant. I am using stagnant to say that we are taking steps forward, but to not have a lot of muddy footprints to show for. Because I am so busy I will refrain from a long post right now, and will keep it to a list of the ten things you should know about me over the past week. Starting with number 10…

10) I ate eggs, beans, and tortillas for dinner every night this past week.

9) I caught six fish. Although the size of the worms we use to catch fish in the United States…still, I caught SIX fish.

8) It rained every day and I saw three lighting storms.

7) This past Monday the kids from my host family just go the okay to return to school. The children have been out of school the past month due to Swine Flu. Hmmm...

6) I watched Michael Jackson music videos with my family on our 10 inch television each of the past four nights. We are all working on our Moon Walk.

5) My Spanish went from a 4 to a 5, out of 10 (on my scale).

4) I wore a Brasil jersey the day Brasil beat the U.S. in soccer.

3) I went two days without light…and could barely tell the difference.

2) My Host Mom made 350 tortillas!

1) I had $500 stolen out of my bank account after I used one out of the only two ATM machines in my town. Bank of America said that it was a criminal who set up a scanner in the ATM. We were able to trace the money and replenish my account. But the question remains…where the hell am I supposed to withdraw money?!

Here are two pictures that I really like. The first is of my with part of my host family. I was attempting to teach one of the boys how to play guitar (that's me in the hammock). Teaching guitar is difficult as it is, so imagine teaching in another language. The second picture is me waiting at the launches for my boat after work.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lights Out

At Mercado Global I am currently working on a document that will explain, step-by-step, the process of credit. We need to present the function of the program, Mercado Global Credit, to the Board of Directors and receive the “Go for launch” before moving forward. Last night as my boat approached the launch at San Pedro I noticed that the power was out.
In America when the power goes out and I am driving home there is still hope that electricity is alive in my neighborhood. I figure that in America power comes from many sources and boxes in different regions. But in San Pedro, when the power goes out, it’s OUT!
In America when the power goes out, every activity is affected as everything we do seems to be connected with electricity. I was amazed sitting in my house last night to see that my usual activities were not affected. I understood this as since San Pedro has not made themselves as dependent on electricity and do not have the many amenities that require this resource then no major changes were needed. Sure we did not have light, but I think the kitchen/living room (we only have one room other then the bedrooms, which I would call the “living kitchen”) was more lit now with candles then with the single bulb that normally serves as the light source. I had to use my flashlight to go to the bathroom, but I always have to use a flashlight to go to the bathroom. We did not need to worry about our food getting rotten in the refrigerator, because we do not have a refrigerator. We have a gas stove, and I was worried that without power we were not going to be able to eat. However, the gas stove is one of those little Coleman cookers running on propane, so Teresa, my host mom, was able to cook our traditional beans, eggs, cheese, and tortilla dinner. My conclusion is that when the power goes out nobody is that affected. Now the question is when will the lights turn back on? The power went out yesterday at 1:30pm, and it is still out today at 10:00am. In America I rest assure that I will go to sleep and an electrician is at work, so when I wake up I can look at my clock and it is flashing 12:00 (my signal that the power is back on). But I am not sure if anybody is working to get the power back on in San Pedro. And if I have to take a few cold showers that is fine because we do not get hot water anyway.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fishing for Dinner

One of the kids in the family is the cutest boy you will meet. Kind of like a male version Mary-Kate/Ashley Olson…pre-drug rehabilitation center era (okay maybe that comparison was not necessary). His name is Checha, which is short for Cesar (He is wearing the yellow shirt in these pictures. Speaking of yellow shirts, yes I am wearing a Brasil jersey, and yes that was on the same day Brasil beat U.S.A. in the finals). Checha is eight years old, and I spend a lot of time with him making card houses, playing marbles, and I even taught him how to play the card game Uno. I have determined that if Checha and I were stranded alone on an island with no resources, he would survive much longer then me. I figure this is because they do not have some of the resources that we in America are so adapted to. Boys like Checha have developed skills that the American man has lost through innovation, growth, and technology.


This past Sunday, Checha invited me to go fishing with three of his best friends. I was excited to see just how an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy fishes. When I fish in America I get out of my bed, put my rod and tackle box in the car, drive to the local store to buy worms then pick a local lake to drive to. In America fishing is usually personal time with my Dad for the main reason that we never catch any fish, so there is no need to pay attention to our lines. And now for Guatemalan fishing…
We had nothing to fish with when we left the house. First, we had to walk to a store to buy our line, which cost 20 cents. Next we had to walk to a different store to buy our hook, another 20 cents. We walked back to our house to grab the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper. This was going to serve as our fishing rod (see first picture in the hand on the boy on the left). The boys helped me create my rod. In many steps broken down to a few, you need to wrap the line around the roll, make a few holes here and there, attach the hook, and now you have a Guatemalan fishing line. I assumed that the next shop we were going to walk to would be for worms or bait. But there is not bait shop. Instead we had to find our bait. First we walked to the fishing location, which are the docks of the launches for the boats I take to work each day. These are the only docks on the whole lake. We looked below the docks and saw enough fish to take the next step. We walked to the beach where the sand meets the dirt and began digging for worms. All five of us dug with rocks for about 15 minutes, and were unsuccessful. Then one of the boys said we could get our bait in the trees, but it was a pretty long walk away. I had to see what he was talking about so I said it was okay. We walked to a farm 20 minutes away, which had trees with fruit in the shape of large peapods (I tried the fruit and it tastes like jicama). Supposedly inside some of the pods we would find little worms that we could attach to our lines. But they are not in all of them. Two of the kids climbed the trees and begin looking inside the pods.


It took about 20 minutes until one of the boys yelled (in Spanish) “We have bait!” We all began jumping and cheering. It was like we had just caught a fish in America, but all we caught was our bait. Little did I know that catching the bait in Guatemala is much more difficult then catching the fish. These worms were not American McDonalds super-size either, but more like what I would imagine Chinese McDonalds super-size would be. They were white worms the size of one rice granule.



We walked another 20 minutes back to the docks and began to fish. To fish in Guatemala you lay on the dock and wait until you see a fish swim by, and when that happens you drop your line.

As a group we caught SIX FISH! Granted they were the size of Little Nemo, but we bagged them up. After we were finished one of the kids took the bag home. I would say he took them for pets, but they were all dead by the time we walked home.

Yes finding our bait took longer then the actual fishing. But that leads me to believe that the word fishing should be a flexible cultural definition. To my family fishing is talking. To Checha, from what I saw, fishing is time to play outside of the house, and time to compete with friends. My time fishing with these boys was priceless. I hadn’t had this kind of fun since capture the flag in fifth grade. Checha was so happy when we were at the lake. Later that night I took him and Jaun (Jaun is my neighbor) back to the docks and taught them how to skip rocks. Probably will not be my last time I go Guatemalan fishing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Weekend Fiesta: Cockfights, Bombs, and Sports OH MY!

This past weekend I stayed in San Pedro, and I am pretty happy with that decision. This weekend was a festival celebrating the birthday of the town, and also the time in which they crown the Queen of the pueblo (Miss America, Guatemalan style). The festival ran all throughout the weekend with many activities. Below are three of the most memorable that I need to share with you.

Parade

On Saturday everyone in the town takes to the streets for the parade put on by all the regions of Lake Atitlan (in Spanish parade is spelled desfile). Each school entered there band and a float into the parade. The floats consisted of a small display on the back of a pick-up truck. Usually that display was a little girl throwing candy into the crowd. One candy distribution ended in a brawl between little boys on the street. A policeman had to break it up. The video below speaks better than any words I could describe about this parade. The video is pretty long, but the most interesting part is with the fireworks. Fireworks are set off here like mail is delivered on a week day. Last night, fireworks were set of consistently the whole night. They are set off in the center of town, and since my house is directly at the center, I got no sleep. It would be one thing if the fireworks were the type they shoot off when Ken Griffey Jr. hits a homerun, but of course not. Guatemalan fireworks have no color, only sound. They do not call them fireworks; they call them “bombas,” bombs. Rightfully so as every night I go to bed I feel like I am at WAR! They will slow down when the festival ends, but they will not stop. Anyway, in my video you will see a man walk out into the middle of the parade standing proud with his bomba. He is about ready to light off this bomb, but the location he has selected for this bomb to shoot up into the air is right where I would call telephone pole central. If he set this off at this location it would be like the end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; they escape through the window tower, but not without breaking the glass. Finally, all the women in the crowd start whistling (signal for something bad) and yelling at him to move. He finally moves the location. I follow him in the video for a while. Safe to say that in the end Charlie gets the factory and all the chocolate safely. (Internet kept cutting out where I am to upload the video, so I put a picture of the parade for now. You can see in this picture the telephone pole wires I am talking about).


Cockfight

Somebody back in the United States please call Michael Vick and tell him I found a sport that he can play, and it’s legal. Saturday afternoon two of the older boys in my family took me to a cockfight. The event was held in the same place that the kids play indoor soccer. Admission was $1 to sit in the stands, and 2$ to sit around the ring. I bought courtside tickets.



The event was sponsored by the leading Guatemalan beer producer, Gallo, which in Spanish means rooster. There were ten fights, the same amount of races at horse race with about 15 minutes of preparation before post. Preparation includes “the weigh-in.” The roosters strip down to their underwear and are placed onto scales to make sure that there is not outright advantage (see picture below).




After the weigh-in, the manager puts on its gloves. By gloves I mean gives the rooster its weapon. The owner will strap on a Swiss army size knife to the right leg of the rooster. From my experience the rooster does not know how to use the knife, but I guess the owner is hoping that the knife will act like Aladdin’s magic carpet and fly. As they bring the birds into the ring people begin to stand and cheer for their “team.” Before the first bell the referee brings out the heater. The heater is a rooster that comes out to warm up the each cock. They let the bird get some punches in, and they also hold it while the heater takes some pecks at the bird, to get him angry. Each fight goes three rounds, and if one bird is struggling you will not see Kramer jump into the ring and throw in the white flag to protect “Little Yerry Seinfield” (if you have seen that episode). Directly after the end of each fight, the owners approach and exchange money to the winner. I have left out the gore and action, but if you are into that part of Guatemalan culture, please email me.


Basketball

That night we went to the basketball game to see San Pedro play Guatemala City. It is hard for me to explain exactly what this league is, but it is basically the Lakers of my city. The San Pedro team was had yellow uniforms and was sponsored by Banrural, the Development Bank of San Pedro. Not one player looked to be over six feet tall, and they were much younger then the other team. The Guatemala City team, wearing green jerseys, are sponsored by And1 and have players over 6’5’’ tall. They also had a few guys that looked over the age of 40 and a few guys that were not even Guatemalan.




The game was played on the one court in the town, which is outdoors. It had just rained, of course, and the court was wet. It was a pretty sad sighting for San Pedro. They got dominated down low. Both teams ran a 2X3 zone, and the wetness of the court seemed to add another defender. There were about 500 people in attendance that all stood around the sides of the court. The announcer talked during the whole game and half of the time was not even talking about the actual game. The half-time show was a band that played much louder music then they needed to be. And you wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it, but when the second half began the band kept playing. I stayed for about eight minutes into the second half, and because the band did not stop I left. Overall the game was quite a show. The most amusing part was the few times when a homeless dog from the town ran out onto the court and not one person even flinched. They just kept playing and within a minute or two the dog went back into the locker room I guess.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Commute + Observations

Escúchame…The people I have met in the third world are poor. But by whose standards I ask? They never classified themselves as being “third world” regions, but it was by the standards of the first world. Through this process we have made them, in MY opinion, even poorer. Many of them have never been to the first world, but by the way we have structured the methodology we have constructed an interpretation in there minds that we live in a heaven. Through the economic theory of relativity people in the first world are happy based on a relative basis where my car is nicer then yours and my camera has more functions then yours. But let me start by saying in the third world I feel poor in a sense when I pull out my camera. For the 30-75 years we have on this planet it is not necessarily an increase in technology that people need, but equal rights and opportunities.
Before calling me a communist please listen to an average day at my work. I leave the house at 7:00am and arrive at the office at around 8:00am, more or less. Now, in the U.S. this hour commute would consist of what the average person would consider…hell. Hoping on the same ugly freeway each morning driving 40 mph less then what it allows because of the traffic of people doing the exact same thing. In Guatemala my hour is a bit different. I walk ten minutes from my house to the boat launch. The boat is about 30 ft. long and it takes about 40 minutes to get from San Pedro to Panajachel. This 40 minutes right here is one of the most beautiful 40 minutes you will ever experience. As you can see from my pictures the lake is a pure site of Natural beauty. How many other people in this world get to drive by three volcanoes on there way to work? Back in Sammamish, WA, our town rests on the side of Lake Sammamish. Another beautiful lake, but on that lake I am tossed by the waves created from the hundred speed boats and interrupted by the jet skis riding up the ass of my boat. I assure you the only waves on this lake are created by the wind. No Traffic! Oh yeah, and it only costs $2.

Sometimes when I am around nature I think about dinosaurs. I try to picture what it was like for a brontosaurus or triceratops to be roaming around the same ground as me. Lately in America it has been very difficult to do this. The past three days I have seen quite a bit of dinosaurs. After arriving on the dock I walk another 10 minutes. Happiness to me is being in shape. How much healthier are you when your car takes you from your parking garage to the parking space directly in front of your office? On my way to the office I may pick up a mango, a pitaya, and fruits you have probably never seen or tasted. When I arrive at my office I sit in a chair that does not swivel or have leather padding at a desk that is made of a wood not mahogany. But if I want to work outside, I just take two steps. Sitting outside right now writing this post looking at the side of a mountain with a waterfall right in front of me I cannot help but say that although I do not receive a salary my fringe benefits are nice enough. Hasta Luego.

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Week!

The past few weeks have flown by faster than the rain that floods the streets of my new home San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala...and that's fast! I am still in the immersion phase, but the family I am staying with in San Pedro La Laguna is making me feel as comfortable as if they were my own. San Pedro La Laguna is a small village on Lake Atitlan, which is approximately four hours West of Guatemala City. Lake Atitlan (see picture) is absolutely beautiful as it is surrounded by three volcanoes. Its daily dose of rain makes it the greenest place I have ever been in my life. Think… “Great Valley” in the movie Land Before Time.




My office is in Panajachel, which is another village across the lake. I take a small boat to work each day. My Spanish is not perfect, but my family is taking the time to help me. My family has four children of all ages. They were very excited by the gifts I brought; coloring books, crayons, yo-yo, paddle with the ball attached, and their favorite which is the silly putty. This past Friday I hung out with the children. We played basketball in the village center, and I was like Yao Ming to them. After that I brought out my guitar and played some songs for them. I even began to teach one of the kids how to play.




This past weekend I went to Antigua, a tourist village three hours from Lake Atitlan with another volunteer named Meggie. There were many attractions to see, but the top of them all was the hike up Volcano Pacaya, pun intended. The tour book said not to go up if it is raining, but we did not listen. We took a bus to 6,000ft and hiked up to the peak at 10,000ft. It took a couple hours to summit. As we got closer to the top we began to smell the sulfur and feel the heat. At the peak we saw LAVA! It was hot and on the move. But it was raining so hard that you could only pick your head up to see it for a couple seconds. After that we began to retrace our steps down the mountain. Unlike in America, Central American tour guides are less concerned about the safety of the group or the liabilities involved. Our whole group got separated and Meggie and I were left alone to find our way back down. We could not see a football field’s length in front of us and the lava rocks were acting as quicksand. At one point of the volcano I was getting about two steps per minute. I started thinking “I didn’t sign up for this,” but then I remembered I didn’t sign anything because for these tours you are not forced to sign a waiver! We finally hit the tree line and I was able to use my “Man vs. Wild” skills (following horse manure and the water trails) back to base. But not before getting a little bloody. While stuck in the quicksand of lava rocks a basketball sized rock skidded down the volcano crashing into my leg leaving an ugly but manageable gash. It was quite the experience and if this was any indication to the next three months then Guatemala is going to be quite the excursion. Check out this video...

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My House in San Pedro La Laguna

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Walking around the village of San Pedro La Laguna in Guatemala I cannot help but feel very lucky for the room and family I have been blessed with. The day before I arrived the father spent the whole day painting my room and decorating it for me. So sweet! Although I did have a tough time sleeping the first night with the fumes. The patio outside my room (see video below) looks over the main square in the village. It is usually very active with lots of people and stands selling food, crafts, and just about anything you could need. To the left of the church is a basketball court. The first day the two sons in the family took me to the court to play three on three. Guatemalans are typically very short in height, so I had a field day on the post. More videos to come later. Hasta Luego

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Me Voy a Panajachel

Today is the big day!  I leave for the airport in a half hour and thought I would give a little update on thoughts and feelings.  I also wanted to apologize for not posting in a few weeks, but finishing up college has been exhausting, overwhelming, but overall a blast.  

I graduated this past Saturday and four days later I am flying down South.  Saying my goodbyes has been hard, but I am motivated to start.  I could have used another month in the States, but the reason I am having to go so soon is the need to get this microbank off the ground.  Mercado Global has already been taking first steps in planning and investment, and they need me down there asap to get started on some of the budgets and to develop the credit methodology.  

I will know so much more about my role with the bank in 24 hours, and I presume that my next post will be ten times more interesting then this one, but I can say right now that I am nervous, a little scared, but sitting above all these is a feeling of excitement.  I recently found out that I will be joining another intern, Meggie, who is a senior from University of North Carolina.  I will be living in the same homestay as her, and we have already been skyping about all the fun activities we want to do: horseback riding in Santiago, visit a coffee plantation, hike the volcanoes, travel to Antigua, Guatemala, and so much more.  Who knows what will come of the next 24 hours, but you will hopefully be hearing of me from me new desk soon.  

By the way, all my friends and I are currently sitting in my room estimating the weight of my luggage.  The consensus seems to be 70 lbs.  uh oh!  Here we go!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Banker to the Poor" - the Belcher Model

It is with great excitement to say that starting July first, I will be living out this passion of mine. I have accepted a position with a Mercado Global, a non-profit in Guatemala (headquarters in New Haven, Connecticut) that specializes in artisan exports and fair trade. Santa Clara helped me find Mercado with the mutual feeling that my passion and business ideas for artisans would fit with Mercado’s model. Mercado was created by Ruth Degolia, who founded the organization from her thesis at Yale University. I spoke with Mercado last week, and they informed me that given my strong background in business that they have another program they would like me to work on. They asked me if I would be interested in setting up a micro bank in Panajachel, Guatemala (see picture below) for their network of cooperatives. I told them that it would be a privilege, and a dream-come-true. Although I have been reading about microfinance for some time now, after this phone call I began to research microfinance in a new form. Studying the models of Dr. Yunus’ Grameen Bank, among other successful MFI’s (micro-finance institutions) such as Namaste, Accion and Opportunity International, my thought is to take that which I like from each, and form my own model; a model that works for the people of Panajachel. Recently I have received many questions as how I am going to create this bank. In my next post I will give these details!
I have a strong passion for micro-finance. Microfinance is the supply of loans, savings, and other basic financial services to the poor. I have seen how microcredit is a proven poverty reduction tool, providing the necessary capital for individuals at the BOP to become entrepreneurs, think innovatively, and create wealth for themselves. I now have a sense of belief for providing aid from the bottom up, and not as much focusing on dumping money from the top down. With this tool we may provide that step-stool that will allow these nations to reach the bottom of the ladder, and hopefully begin to climb up the rungs on their own. Another way of looking, microfinance is not providing hand-outs, but providing a hand-up.
Access to credit allows poor people to take advantage of economic opportunities. While increased earnings are by no means automatic, clients have overwhelmingly demonstrated that reliable sources of credit provide a fundamental basis for planning and expanding business activities.
By reducing vulnerability and increasing earnings and savings, financial services allow poor households to make the transformation from "every-day survival" to "planning for the future." Households are able to send more children to school for longer periods and to make greater investments in their children's education. Increased earnings from financial services lead to better nutrition and better living conditions, which translates into a lower incidence of illness. Increased earnings also mean that clients may seek out and pay for health care services when needed, rather than go without or wait until their health seriously deteriorates.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Santa Clara Social Innovators (SCSI)


As social entrepreneurs may have great ideas, ideas need resources, ideas need support, and ideas need direction. I have many ideas that are focused on lifting the poor out of poverty. But it is not important this early in my journey to begin to discuss with you about these ideas. What is important is to explain the steps necessary in making these solutions reality. Although I will be graduating, and becoming alumni of SCU in two months, I do not intend to leave the opportunities and resources that are within the classrooms and currently at my fingertips.

I have recently founded an on-campus organization titled Santa Clara Social Innovators (SCSI). The organization’s mission is “to find, support, and encourage social entrepreneurship within the Santa Clara community through an environment that fosters ideas of social justice.” SCSI will encourage students to use their educational abilities and resources “to create a more humane and just world”. I put the phrase of this sentence in quotes because of a realization I had the other day. I was drinking a water bottle in class that I had purchased from the cafeteria. As I looked on the back of the water bottle I found a message: “…this Jesuit University is dedicated to academic excellence and strives to foster among its students, faculty, staff AND ALUMNI a commitment to service and leadership in promoting a more humane and just world.”

I have spoken with many students from many different majors who are very interested in getting involved with SCSI. The goal that Ryan Amante, my right hand man, and I set out for SCSI is to use my business model built for artisan fair trade as a case study for the club in better seeing how students may use the resources of the University. Being said, as I am creating my organization for artisan fair trade, it is my objective to build two headquarters, one in Central America, and the other in the United States at Santa Clara University (I will go into this more in later posts).

Finally, I want to touch on the fact that although this club operates on the participation of students and their ideas, the club however, would not exist without the resources. This is why before our first informational meeting in finding student members, Ryan and I are creating an Advisory Board (AB). The AB that we are in the process of securing will be composed of faculty, social entrepreneurs from Google and Kiva, and some of the brightest minds on campus with experience I areas ranging across the board including Management, Development Economics, Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, Modern Languages, International Business, Food and Agribusiness, Sustainability and the Environment (just to cover some of our Advisors that have expressed interest).

I want to leave you with a fact I read today. It is inevitable that the world population (currently at 6.7 billion) will continue its historical trend and reach 9 billion by the year 2050. The fact is that 90% of this population increase will occur in the developing countries. We must begin to prepare solutions for the problems that these 3 billion people will be born into.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Welcome to My Journey


To set a foundation for the content of The Social Capitalista, I recently returned from a Business Immersion trip in El Salvador. I had the experience of a lifetime. I got to understand the problems that I have been reading about in textbooks for the past four years. It was the perfect culmination to an amazing education I have had at Santa Clara University. Recently I have developed a few business models that are geared towards helping artisans and youth create jobs, and put food on the table. After graduation I will be moving down to Central America and working with non-profit organizations to get my ideas off the ground. The following blog is a summary of my ideas, thoughts, questions, concerns, and experiences to come!

"The Journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."