Tales of a Microfinance Intern – Cochabamba, Bolivia (Part V)

(This series was originally written in email form during the summer of 2009.  Here it is finally in blog format.)

Friday, July 10, 2009 at 3:45pm

Pro Mujer employees hard at work

It has been quite an eventful couple of weeks in Cochabamba. Work at Pro Mujer is sporadic. Sometimes it is a million miles a minute, and other times it takes all day to have one productive conversation. Last week Saturday (at 08.30 am!), I presented the Non-Monetary Incentives Plan to all of the 85+ Pro Mujer employees at the quarterly regional meeting. My Spanish was far from perfect, but it got the job done, and mine was the only presentation that made anyone laugh all day. We awarded the Center of the Quarter with a trophy and a gift certificate so that all the center employees can go out to dinner together. The Employee of the Month, however, cut out of the meeting before we announced her name, making it more than a little difficult to give away that award. Little obstacles to efficiency and effectiveness are a fact of life working at a developmental NGO. I am getting used to everything taking three times as long as you´d expect, and my creative problem solving skills are growing exponentially.

A member of the Pro Mujer Promotional Team outfitted with the uniforms that are part of the Marketing Plan. The megaphone helps them reach out to potential Pro Mujer participants.

This week I started working on implementing a Marketing Plan to reform and revitalize the marketing and promotional sectors of Pro Mujer. Marketing is essential to any financial organization so that they can attract clients, but micro finance organizations often do not have the extensive human or monetary resources required to pursue effective marketing. With the funds raised by another FSD intern, four of us are helping strengthen the marketing approach used by Pro Mujer so that they can provide more women with micro credit. Since I am still learning about marketing itself, I have spent the last couple of days trying to get all of the supplies that the promotional team will need to make the new marketing plan a reality. That means that I run around the city with the Head of Promotions hunting for everything from vests to tables, to amplification systems and key chains.

The tent for the Promotional Team to use at events in the community

This has been quite the adventure, and I am getting to know the city pretty well. This new project has taken me to radio stations, paper factories, tailors, and tent stores. It is exhausting, and by the end of the day I desperately need to shower the city off my skin, but I feel like I am learning a lot about how to make things happen.

Other adventures that I´ve had recently haven´t taken me far from my regular routine, but they are memorable nevertheless. While out with my promotions boss, I ended up drinking an egg white and sweet beer shake off the street. Then she chased a car down that had hit a man while I helped him up off the ground. I went to a party on a hill and drank chicha out of a bucket meant for sand castles. Chicha is a type of local alcohol made, as far as I can tell, from the fermented spit of multiple women chewing some sort of corn. Someone dips a communal bowl in the chicha bucket and offers it to you. You drink the whole bowl and then offer it to the next person, and so on and so forth. It is considered offensive if you refuse the offer of chicha, which can get tricky.

A raw egg white/sweet beer shake from a street vendor

Salteñas are another thing that have become an integral part of my Bolivian life. They resemble Argentine empanadas, or the Brazilian pastel, a salty pastry filled with meat. But they are so much better than their culinary relatives. There is meat and a hardboiled egg inside with vegetables, and an olive, plus a lot of juicy goodness.

Pro Mujer interns enjoying a typical salteña

All of the Pro Mujer interns go on a mid morning salteña break together basically every day, and it has become a contest to see who can finish theirs with the least amount of juice on the plate. No spoons allowed. I wasn´t too talented at first, but my salteña eating abilities have improved dramatically. Don´t worry, I´m not only learning about micro finance in Bolivia!

Tomorrow we are off to the Bolivian countryside. A town called Villa Tunari in Chapare. We´re going to visit some national parks and hike around. I´m also looking forward to getting out of the city and breathing some fresh air. It hasn´t rained at all since I got here six weeks ago, and sometimes the smog is so thick you can´t even see the mountains surrounding the city. Sunday is a little better because people here stay at home and hang out with the family on Sundays instead of driving all over creation. Last Sunday the topic of conversation was the death of Michael Jackson, as I´m sure it was at every dinner table around the world. Everyone here is playing his music every hour of the day; in the markets, blasting from car windows, all night at the clubs. I never listened to that much Michael Jackson before this, but his music has defined this summer´s South American Experience.


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