July 21, 2010
Veteran marketing executive Madelyn Hammond, President of Madelyn Hammond & Associates, and Emily Lynch, West Coast Coordinator for shoe designer Christian Louboutin, recently accompanied GF staff on a site visit to Peru to witness the impact of microfinance. Once acquaintances, and now lifelong friends, both are dedicated supporters of the Grameen Foundation.
Six people who didn’t really know each other went to the Amazon to see Grameen Foundation and their local partners in action. Four days later we were friends for life and would never look at the world the same way again. This special expedition to Pucallpa, Peru was a combination of divine intervention and supreme coincidence.
Almost a year ago, the world famous shoe designer, Christian Louboutin, was given a list of ten charities for him to review and then select one to really get involved with. Without knowing a lot about Grameen, the idea of microfinance appealed to him and that these loans were primarily made to women made it even more perfect. Emily Lynch, who is the West Coast Coordinator for Christian Louboutin, and responsible for overseeing their Charity associations in the U.S., was charged with spearheading the project. She knew to really get Christian involved would require first-hand knowledge of how a “charitable gift becomes a loan” and actually meet the “borrowers”.
I’m a marketing executive and was already somewhat familiar with Grameen through Yeardley Smith, (the voice of Lisa Simpson), who was a former client. Yeardley’s two trips to Haiti really inspired and made me want to experience a Grameen trip on my own.
We were expertly guided (and educated!) through various towns in Peru by several Grameen and Prisma (their local microfinance partner) associates. Alberto Solano (Grameen’s Regional CEO), Mary Irvine (Grameen’s Regional Director of Development), Diego Fernandez Concha (Director, Prisma), and Lori Ospina (Grameen’s Program Assistant).
Here is our Story: Ten Things Emily and Mad Learned on our Trip to the Amazon
1. …are resourceful. There is a misconception that poor means lazy. What poor is…is a lack of opportunity. The women we met all have 4 or 5 jobs depending on weather, time of year, crops or children.
2. …are resilient. The women had an attitude of “whatever needs to be done will be done”. We saw an incredible work ethic coupled with practicality and strong survival undertones.
3. …just like other women. The mothers want the same things all mothers want—healthy, educated, successful children. We saw women who were “Avon saleswomen” [the equivalent of?]and took pride in their appearance although they were dirt poor. All the women had the same hopes and dreams we all share.
4. …were excellent hosts. The whole group showed up unannounced and we were immediately welcomed into their homes. They all apologized “for the poverty”. We were offered beer and fruit. As we left they thanked us for not forgetting them.
5. …love entertainment. Although there were no bathrooms with plumbing, some had satellite dishes. We saw some playing bingo. We heard music. We talked about Oprah, the movie, Twilight and the Simpsons.
6. …are committed to a better life for their children. We attended a “health meeting” and one grandmother walked three days to get there. Another woman was carrying a machete which she needed to cut her way through the jungle.
7. …have a strong sense of community. They share although they have so little. Those that have a television invite neighbors over to their tiny rooms to watch. When the women have their group meetings, they bring food and crops. If not for the “loan meeting”, these women wouldn’t have the opportunity for this kind of friendship.
8. …their kids are kids….They play in the street and run around like any kid on any street. Except they have no toys, no computer games, no sporting equipment. But they laugh and you can see their imaginations at work.
9. …are incredibly proud to pay back their loans. The women pay the loans up front and the men sit in the back of the room. When we asked them to stand and tell us what they did for a living, their voices were strong and determined and filled with hope and strength.
10. …are beautiful inside and out. The women have a spirit which reflected their sense of newfound purpose. Their stories moved us, inspired us and made us even more determined to help in whatever ways we can.
Stay tuned to further updates of how Christian Louboutin is planning to help the Grameen Foundation. The details are still being worked out, but it is incredibly exciting and will help many of the “poorest of the poor”.