Monday, August 20, 2012

Musings on Microfinance

In the month or so that I have worked in microfinance I have learned so much. I am still no expert, but here are some of the things I have found interesting.

Microfinance is a variety of financial services

Microfinance is not simply providing credit for low income individuals, it is many different financial services. Each microfinance organization is unique, but some of the offerings include loans, savings accounts, and insurance policies. Most successful microfinance institutions offer a mix of services tailored to fit the financial needs of clients.

Microfinance is not a magic solution for poverty reduction

In recent years, there has been a lot of hype surrounding microfinance. Many believed microfinance was the solution to the woes of the developing world. This is not the case. What microfinance does do is provide reliable financial services to low income individuals.

Microfinance stabilizes finances

Microfinance products are most helpful for those with fluctuating income levels. The very poor are extremely vulnerable to expenses associated with things like hospitalization, funerals, and natural disasters. Microfinance offerings like savings and insurance help to protect the poor from financial disaster in these instances.

Many microfinance institutions operate with a double bottom line

Many microfinance institutions are for-profit organizations, but most operate with a double bottom line; a financial bottom line and a social bottom line. The social bottom line emphasizes things such as educating children, home improvements, financial literacy, and more. These social goals often set microfinance organizations apart from other financial organizations.

I could probably ramble on some more, but these are just a few things I have picked up. I think it is a fascinating field, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work in the industry. Hopefully I can learn even more in the next couple months!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Hello Group 77!

When preparing to come to Tonga, I was able to read several volunteer blogs offering advice and suggestions for Group 76. With just over a month until the arrival of Group 77, I would like to take some time to do the same.

Don't stress about packing

It is true that shopping in Tonga isn't quite up to American standards, but there are plenty of things to buy here. Clothes, toiletries, will be fine with the things that are available. However, here are a few things I recommend that you can't find in Tonga:

  • Your favorite clothes - if you have a favorite t-shirt or jeans or sweatshirt, bring it. Two years is a long time to go without.
  • Hammock - who doesn't want a hammock on an island?
  • Hanging basket - great for keeping rodents and bugs away from food.
  • Dress sandals - a nice pair of shoes for formal occasions (church, weddings, swearing-in) is great to have.
  • Make-up - I know that it is Peace Corps, but lots of Tongans wear make-up and it is fun to wear every once in a while.
  • Tampons - stock up in the States.
If you have any extra space, pack some food or candy. You can share it with your host family or save some snacks for yourself. After a couple weeks of Tongan food, you will appreciate it!

Be prepared to give up some freedoms

You will hear from many volunteers that pre-service training is the hardest part of Peace Corps, and I agree. I found that the biggest challenge was giving up my independence. There are many Peace Corps rules to follow and expectations from your host family. Girls especially are expected to stay home, and usually cannot go anywhere alone. It can be frustrating, but homestay is also a wonderful experience. If you come into it with a good attitude, you will learn so much from your Tongan family and community. 

Get to know the others in your group

The people in your group are the ones who you will rely on for the next two years...make some friends! Other PCVs are an invaluable resource during your service. They are the people who will be your best support system and keep you sane. Be nice to them.

Learn the language

Pre-service training is the best time to learn Tongan. Take advantage of your language lessons and practice with your host family. It will definitely pay off once you begin your service.

Tonga is an awesome place

Tonga is a fantastic place to live, so get excited! As with any Peace Corps country, there are challenges, but Tonga is a great country. The people are lovely, the islands are beautiful, and there are so many new things to experience. We are so excited to meet you, and I hope you are excited about joining Peace Corps Tonga Group 77.

Tu'a 'ofa atu!