Two days with Benoît in micro-credit development

Benoît had done a volunteering of 6 months in 2010 in Formosa with Bernadette Caffier, she was leading the micro-credit project at that time. Two years ago, as Bernadette was retiring, he decided to take over the project and develop the network. The micro-credit network is called « No podemos fracasar »: « We can’t fail », an ambitious name in a country where economy is very fluctuating. 

Understanding micro-credit in one meeting 

This afternoon, it is 6 women of the neighbourhood who are meeting are meeting at Pauline and Benoît house for the second micro-credit meeting of the month. The group is called « Mujeres en marcha »: « Women on their way ». They sit, stick to the wall a poster with their group rules, another one explaining the way of working of the group and finally a huge table with the participants names, the different funds and indemnities. The meeting follow a very precise order: the secretary writes everything on the team notebook, the treasurer opens one after the other the different envelops which constitute the different funds, she counts the banknotes, report the sum on a follow-up sheet as Benoît does does on his own sheet. At the end all the participants sign the book and the follow-up sheet which will be thoroughly kept until the next meetings.

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Group the « Women on their ways »

There are 3 different funds: the solidarity fund, the saving fund and the emergency fund.

-Caja solidaria- Solidarity fund: It is used as a guarantee and covers the members in case one of them can’t reimburse the indemnity at some point. When a person uses this fund, she promises to refund the next month and pay her monthly fee at the same time. This fund requires a participation of 5 to 10 pesos per months.

-Caja de ahorro – Savings bank: It is the equivalent of the internal fund. It works on the principle of a saving account with a difference: the interest rate is decided by the participants (in this group 3%). The interests are distributed between the participants at the end of the year based on their respective contributions. The more they save, the bigger the interest is.

-Caja de emergencia- Emergency fund: This fund works based on the contribution of each members (5 to 10 pesos depending on the groups). It us used in case of emergency such as medicines purchase, gaz or electricity bills…This month 2 persons are using the fund. It reflects the recent increase of energy cost of  +10 % and the bills suddenly more expensive.

And of course the main element of the micro-credit is the credit provided by the network to each participants. It works by steps:  the person borrows a first time the sum of: 1000 pesos. If she reimburse without any issues then she is authorised to borrow the sum of the second step : 1500 pesos and so on. The interest generated by this fund are going to the micro-credit network. It will be re-injected the next year in a new group or new credits. The interest rate of this fund is very high at the moment: 5%, because of the inflation of these last months.

In this group, only one woman uses micro-credit for her main professional activity: she is designer and sew some nice bags, wallets and glasses cases in imitation lather. This month she asked for a loan in order to take part to a training and learn new skills.

Travel inside Formosa province 

It is Thursday afternoon, Benoît borrowed his friend car and he is driving us on a straight road since already 2 hours. The landscape is very flat, covered with fields and punctuated by palm trees and houses. We are progressing inside Formosa province toward the cities of Pozo del Tigre, Ibarreta and Palo Santo in order to meet some other micro-credit groups. Benoît explains me how lucky we are to travel by car, because at the beginning of his project he was doing this regular trip by bus. If it is simple to join each cities from Formosa capital, it is far less easy to travel between each city by bus, so much that he even tried hitchhiking!

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Micro-credit groups inside Formosa province

During the drive, Benoît tells me about a recent realisation of the network: the participation to local handcraft market. He is hoping to be able to increase the activities of the network through this channel and also to make participants realise the good opportunity that represent the network for their main professional activity. Benoît mentions to me the example of a baker in Ibarreta who started by selling her bred on the street and who step by step invested in a place and an oven. She has now a bricks-and-mortar shop. However such examples remains rare and Benoît would like to facilitate more of it. During these 2 days we meet not less than 4 groups. We are always warmly welcomed, there are sometimes conflicts within groups, still until now the participants always refund 100% of their loan.

Promoting and developing agriculture 

In the micro-credit network the majority of the participants have small shops (food, snacks, clothes) and very few participants produce things with their hands. Still there is interesting productions: honey, jam, carob flour. And Benoît tries to connect producers and sellers in order to develop their activities in the province.

It this context we meet Charli, a biology professor passionate about agriculture. He owns a mill which allows the transformation of carob fruits into flour and he works on it since few

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Benoît visiting a mesquite producer

years. In Buenos Aires this flour has lot of success in organic and gluten free distribution networks. Charli explains us that the flour produced in Formosa is clearer and grainier than the one usually found in the shops. Indeed, it exists 2 under species of carob tree: one is European and the other South American and the 2 flours obtained from their fruits are different. The flour made from the European tree is precisely called carob flour, whereas the other one obtained from the South American tree is actually called mesquite. Even the taste of the 2 flours is different: the carob flour has a taste closed to cocoa and is often used as substitute in the food industry. Whereas the taste of the mesquite flour is less pronounced. When Benoît explains that is has contacted a grocery shop in Formosa capital and announces the price the manager would be ready to buy the mesquite flour, Charli answers that he expects a better price for it. He explains that mesquite flour has actually better properties than carob flour: it contains more proteins, included lysine, absent in the carob flour. There is still some work to be done by Benoît in order to develop this agriculture axis in the micro-credit network, however this meeting is promising.

Building a legal context for the mico-credit network in Argentina

The last meeting I attend before leaving Formosa is with the future members of the Argentinean association of micro-credit. Originally the network is supported by French funds. These 2 last years Benoît has raised the money needed to continue and develop the network. However, in the objective of sustaining the network and turning it into a 100% Argentinean network, Benoît started to create an Argentinean association. This way, the network could also benefit from Argentinian funds and most importantly it will have a legal structure in Argentina. Building an association in this country is not easy, to build the case Benoît has been helped by a friend of him who is a lawyer. He has delivered the file to the local authorities few weeks ago and he is waiting for their green light. Benoît ignores how long it will take to obtain it, it doesn’t stop him to start working closely with the future president and secretary of the association.

Since 2 years Benoît has led and grown the micro-credit network of Formosa. He has started important administrative procedures to secure the existence of the network in time and to open new perspectives to small producers. Still, it remains some work for his successor: Clotilde. Benoît selected her for her experience in social work. Moreover he chose to leave the position into a woman’s hands because 90% of the network members are women and during the thirteen first years of the network life they got used to open up to Bernadette. Benoît is hoping that Clotilde will win the trust of these women easily and she will continue to help them with success in their economic development.

Publicités

Two days with Pauline- Addiction Prevention

While I walk with Pauline heading to her meetings and different activities, she tells me about her project. When she arrived in Argentina in 2014 she didn’t speak a word of Spanish and no one was expecting her in the diocese. Not only she had to learn a new language but she also had to adapt her ways of working and communicating to Argentina. And step by step she found her place within a church rather sexist . Her strength? Her passion for her project, her perseverance with her ideas and her experience at the European parliament. Thanks to her professional experience she is used to work and communicate in a political way, which is a real advantage in her mission of coordination of the Teams of Addictions Prevention (Equipos de Prevencion de Addictiones): EPA. 

The listening groups

With Pauline I attend different listening and support groups for the relatives to young

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A listening group and Pauline (right)

people affected by drug addiction. It is essentially mums and wives who are joining. These women experience a tough daily life and sometimes don’t know how to support hers partners or sons facing addiction issues. In these groups they realise they are not alone in this situation, they can learn from others experiences and above all release a bit their emotional burden. Listening and supporting is an art: we don’t judge, we don’t take initiatives and we advise when the situation is really serious, when not doing it would be same as failure to assist a person in danger. When a woman asks for advices, then Pauline can offer solutions: to register her son in a professional training at Don Bosco (Salesian community of Formosa diocese), ask for some psychological support for her son and sometimes for her as well. But there is a long way for these women to reach those steps and it takes quite some time! Pauline keeps anyway her motivation up and always offers to come with them for the different procedures: « My door remains open  you know these options exist. Call me and we will go together. » It is a long-term job where patience is required with women who often have a poor self-esteem level limiting them in their initiatives.

A key meeting 

It is Wednesday afternoon, we are going to the hospital of  « Circuito 5 » district, in the psychiatry section. Pauline has an appointment  with her friend Vanesa,

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Cicuito Cinco hospital

psychiatrist doctor and the psychologist team of the hospital. On the way, Luisa join us. She is one of the most dynamic volunteer of the prevention teams. Luisa is teacher and she recently left her catechises groups to dedicate more time to prevention of drug addiction. At the hospital we meet 4 other professionals of health care: psychiatrists and psychologists. Each person arrives one after another during the meeting. At first the atmosphere is a bit perplex: what do this French woman and this teacher want? The thing is the hospital doesn’t have a lot of resources. The team is already overloaded and there is only 2 psychiatrists with one being part-time. However, as one goes along the atmosphere gets more relaxed and the enthusiasm grows.

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Luisa doing a presentation

Indeed Pauline came to seek for information and ways of linking her listening groups to the next step of the process: the psychological support for the families of persons with addictions. And the doctors they don’t want to stick to treatments for people in situation of addictions: they want to be proactive and  act more in prevention. Therefore when one of the psychologist offers to join on regular basis the listening groups, the objectives of the meetings are over-archived. I  admire the involvement and the efficiency of these volunteers and professionals. At the end of the meeting it is decided to work in collaboration. They already have a concrete action plan and a date to meet again the following week. I don’t remember attending such a productive meeting  before!

EPA, EPA ! Hablemos del tema! Hey EPA ! We have to talk about the issue !

Thursday morning the alarm rings at 6 am, at 7 am we are on the bus and at 8 am we reachEn Aire.jpg the Manantial, a local radio. Today it is a big day: it is the day of the first radio program about the addictions prevention. An idea that Pauline is supporting since many months to the different members of the prevention network and she has finally obtained the green light! The objective of this program is not only to promote the actions already existing on the ground but also to offer a space of expression to a larger public within the city. Drug is a problem of society and talking about it on the local radio is a great way to encourage people to fight to get out of it. At the mic Sergio, a radio journalist is presenting with a calm voice, in tandem with Norma who brings her optimism and enthusiasm. They introduce the Diocese Commission of fight against Drug Addiction (Comision Diocesana de Drogadependencia) and the EPA : teams of Addiction Prevention and its radio program EPA, EPA ! Hablemos del tema (Hey EPA! We have to talk about the issue). To do so they interview a priest and a volunteer. In the control room Viviana is super motivated by this new program and found at the last minute a great jingle. At the end of the program the ideas are flowing: « we need a facebook page so people can easily ask questions and share testimonies ». The initiative of this program is great and its development  promises to be really interesting!

                     Sergio & Norma                                  Pauline & Viviana

In a window time of 2 years Pauline has fully fulfil her mission: she has set a true network of support and prevention against addiction in Formosa capital. She work not only with families touch by drug and health professionals but she also succeed to open the debate to the public at a city level. And the prevention wouldn’t be prevention if it wouldn’t include children too. This is why Pauline has set some drama workshops for children every Sunday morning. After the workshop they have access to a free meal prepared by volunteers. For the project next steps, Pauline has recruited her successor: Niels. She was looking for a social worker in order to be more performant on the ground. And she also looked for a male in order to make the work easier for this person in the EPA network…Asi ès !  This is how the ground reality is!

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Sunday morning drama children group

Understanding Argentina better

Argentina is huge country and a country of contrasts. Even if I knew it before going there, I had few surprises. And after a serie of cultural chocs, I decided to educate myself.

It happens that before coming all the Argentinians I knew were Porteno or Portena (Buenos Aires inhabitants). They  always speak about Argentina in a very positive way. So I had to adjust a bit the image of Argentina I had to the reality. For example I knew politics were very corrupted in Argentina. BUT, while the entire world is outraged by the Panama papers, how could I understand why  a crowd of citizen is acclaiming  Cristina Kirchner who came to Buenos Aires to be judged following some embezzlement of public fund?

Another example: my friends speak rather load, in a very clear way and they always have something interesting to tell. It was clear for me that all the Argentinians were expressing themselves the same way. So what a surprise to discover that the Formosa inhabitants speak very few and rather low.

Therefore after 3 weeks of mini cultural chocs and misunderstanding of this country I resorted to literature. I red voraciously a brilliant book written by the journalist Ludovic Lamant and which treats the history of Argentina as well as politics, society and culture. And for all the things which remains a mystery  for me I have a solution: there is Mafalda, Ché!

Mafalda is the main character of a comics drawn by Quino. She is a little Argentinian girl who express herself and think like an adult. She interrogates herself about world,  war, peace, politic and  soup! She is always very subtil and funny.

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In Andean Argentina

I am walking ahead of the group. We are hiking in the Andes. We are 4 french: 3 guys I met at the hostel and myself. This moring a lady told us about this trail which goes up the crest.

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The earth is green and red, depending on the stratum and above all it is extremely crumbly. From far away the crest appears as fine and fragile as  lace. From time to time I stop and wait for the rest of the group who films, takes pictures and jokes. At the beginning of the crest Vincent opens the way, there is a bit of wind, I don’t feel reassured, but I follow. Everyone speaks a lot, I don’t feel confortable at all. We do a small break, someone asks « Everyone’s ok? », my legs are shaking. I answer that I am not. Indeed I feel suddenly so tall…too tall, as if I was miles above the ground that I am treading upon. I have the impression that if a gust of wind makes me loose my equilibrium, my hands would need so much time to reach the ground and stabilise that I would have most probably tumble down the mountain already. I say « I know it is in my head but… » Someone cuts me « It doesn’t matter, use your hands too! On all fours, let’s go ! ».

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So I do: I use my hands to help myself and try to not think  about the risks I am exposing myself to. On the middle of the way there is a big stone. I sit there and for a moment listen to my companions. And finally I  gather my thoughts: I am determine to finish this crest on my 2 legs. I study the ground as if I was  taming the slope on the right, and the slope on the left. Then I focalise my gaze on the little track, just wide enough for one foot. I straighten up and I progress completely focused. One step after the other. I walk slowly, up to the end of the crest. It feels like I am doing my first steps again. I feel determined, focused, bit prouder at each one of my steps and then it feels like a liberation. I surpassed myself! I fight my fear and I won. To the point that I am tempted to go back by the same way, just to savoure the fact that I -can -do- it!

I haven’t felt such a sensation of surpassing myself since a long time and I like it. It gives me the taste of risks and success. And what actually remains deeply anchored in me from the experience is this learning: to success it is imperative to focus on my way…only on my way.

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