Picture of Ethel Diaz

Article by Mariela Cayro, the MicroWorld Correspondent in Peru

Ethel Diaz is a loan officer at Fondesurco, MicroWorld’s Peruvian microfinance institution (MFI) partner. She lives and works in the remote town of Acari in southern Peru. Surrounded by desert and sand dunes that lead down to the Pacific Ocean, Acari has a population of four thousand people, many of whom are olive farmers, the region’s main industry. Years ago, Acari was a big cotton producer, but due to price fluctuations farmers decided to switch to other products, including corn and livestock, most of which are sold in Lima or Arequipa, both more than seven hours away by car.

Ethel works with Fondesurco’s community bank product, which lends to small groups of women borrowers, and enjoys her job because she feels she is empowering women. She is happy to be able to give women a chance to improve their lives, because she remembers when Fondesurco gave her a chance to improve hers. When she first applied to work as a loan officer, she had no experience in microfinance, and as a mother of three, did not think she had much hope of being hired. To her surprise, she was hired as a community bank loan officer, and given all the training she needed to perform her role.

She feels that her previous experience as a school teacher helps her to form relationships with the women clients, as she spends a lot of time understanding their needs and explaining the loans to them. The women choose the other women that they want to join their group, and then they come to Ethel for a loan. She is happy that the clients see her as a solution to their problems, and that she can help them to improve their lives through credit.

A normal workday for Ethel starts with recordkeeping from the day before - recording disbursals and repayments – and preparing loan files for the credit committee. After that she attends the credit committee meeting to help decide whether loans should be granted or not. During the afternoon she handles her disbursals and repayments for the day, usually travelling to meet her clients at their homes. During the off-season, when revenues from olive harvests have been used up, many new community banks are formed, so Ethel finds herself very busy at this time attending the registration and pre-credit meetings with the clients.

Finally, Ethel told us a story about one of her clients that conveys both the positive aspects of group lending, and the difficulties faced by low-income families:

“Maricruz did not finish high school, and was engaged and pregnant at 15 years-old. She felt limited due to her lack of education, but despite this, and against her husband’s advice, decided to try out as president of her community bank group. The other members supported her and now, at 23 years-old, she manages the organisation of the group, asking for support by sending letters to local authorities, and arranging their celebrations for birthdays and Christmas. Maricruz was also selling food with her sister, but unfortunately she fell ill and is no longer able to work, relying on her husband to pay for her treatment course. They cannot afford the operation she was recommended as they are too poor. She still works with her community bank members, but does not take loans herself as she has no job.”

This article is part of the special report: