My biggest and most exciting accomplishment this week has been meeting with some of the women borrowers of the Thanh Hoa Fund for Poor Women (FPW). Tinh, the Kiva Coordinator, accompanied me on my first visit. Since then, I’ve managed to get by on my own – with a translated questionnaire in hand and my handy pocket dictionary.
How to describe the women… well, first off, they are all very different. Most have strong personalities and others are very shy. One thing they certainly have in common – generosity. Everywhere I go, I am offered tea and treats. I am sure I will gain another 15 lbs (on top of the freshman 15) before the end of this trip!
At the meetings, groups of women gather – and I sit and listen as one by one, they tell me about their businesses, their families, their hopes and dreams. I write notes as quickly as I can, and circle words I have to look up in my Vietnamese-English dictionary. I sometimes feel like I am prying – asking their age, how much money they make, how their lives have changed. But they don’t seem bothered by the questions.
Two borrowers stand out in my mind. Ms. Thuy, in her early twenties, is one of the youngest members of 31 – Nam Ngan Group. She used her loan to purchase clothing for resale at the market. She is able to sell 5 pieces of clothing on a good day, for a profit of 35,000 VND ($1.90 USD) per day. She told me that she hopes to save enough to take accounting classes and to one day have a full-time job as an accountant (not my favorite subject, so I did my best not to cringe at the thought of sitting through another accounting class.) 🙂
Ms. Mai used her loan to expand her Pho shop with the purchase of chairs and tables. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. I LOVE PHO. 🙂 Ms. Mai’s initial startup costs for the Pho restaurant was 2,000,000 VND ($112 USD). Nowadays, she makes a profit of about 1,500,000 VND ($84 USD) every month.
Many of the women I interview tell me that before starting their businesses, they worked in the rice fields. They lacked the capital to do anything else. I am reminded of a quote on a pink post-it note I have above my desk in Brooklyn. It reads, “We have choices in the work that we do, most of the world does not.” Microfinance is not the answer to ending poverty in Vietnam as it is unable to reach the poorest of the poor, but I believe in its power to offer deserving women like Thuy and Mai greater choice in how they make their living.
Happy fourth of July!!