When it comes to making financial decisions, there is a shift that is occurring not only in our country, but around the world. Now more than ever, women are empowering women to take control of their financial futures. On a recent trip to Guatemala, I saw a shining example of what can happen when oppression is turned into opportunity.
We were a group of female professionals,- the senior management of Capital Sisters International and fourteen of its investors on a mission to discover the true impact of our investment. Our trip was in partnership with Friendship Bridge, an organization that empowers women through microfinance. A visit to the field makes a lasting impression - it stirs the soul in a way that writing a check does not.
Our one-week trip began in Guatemala City. Traveling by van, standing in the back of pick-up trucks, in tuk tuks, and in boats, I ventured through small lake towns, villages and cities, including San Marcos La Laguna, San Juan La Laguna, Santa Catarina Palopo, and Pana. Homes located in remote and isolated rural areas contrasted with crowded, street-filled, chaotic city scenes. These scenes were a far cry from our comfortable homes back in the U.S. On this trip, the women of rural Guatemala and their day-to-day lives became real.
As part of the trip we were invited into the homes of the recipients of our support – women who use micro loans to help fund their businesses -- for a glimpse into their most personal spaces. Although they had very little — often no running water or electricity — their homes were simple and clean. Inside children were safe and loved. Greeting us with warm smiles, they were bashful, yet very curious about getting to know their new visitors.
Like the rest of my group, I was quickly humbled by the difficulty of life in Guatemala. Many begin their day at 4 am to cook breakfast for their families and get to the market to sell their goods. Often their days do no not end until after 11 pm as they complete their daily work. Yet they work with pride and determination, the result of being empowered to take hold of their own lives through microfinance.
Olga Marina Martin Cumez, a 31-year-old mother of four, earns her living by weaving brightly colored huipils (traditional blouses) in a distinctive design representative of her village. Each huipil takes over three months to create. She travels 3-4 days a month by “chicken bus” and foot, with her one-year-old baby straddled on her back, to sell her intricately woven textiles. Her 13-year-old daughter Olivia and her husband care for the two little boys. Olivia is an eager student who loves math and music and wants to be a doctor.
At each client's home we enthusiastically purchased their creations: placemats or scarves, trinkets and jewelry; gifts to share with loved ones at home.
I saw incredible passion and perseverance, but I also made connections with humanity in general. My work in Financial Therapy leads me to meet the most interesting people, who have been tremendously affected by their relationship with money and finances. Universally, we have a deep, emotional connection to money. From the small villages of Guatemala to the bustling commerce of the United States, much of our relationships and happiness is closely tied to the word “success” and the idea of wealth.
As a financial advisor and private banker, motivation throughout my career came from serving my clients. The greatest reward is helping people achieve their financial goals and dreams. I have always felt that quality, financial service goes way beyond the money. While my nearly 30 years have been spent serving the wealthiest of families, through my work with microfinance and these women in Guatemala, I now see the impact of the web more clearly. We are all connected. If my contribution is bringing women together, telling their stories, and realizing how we can really and truly make a difference, then my career goals are met. One woman, one family, one community at a time. It is impossible to make such deep personal connections, touch their lives, and walk away. As I left for the airport in the historic village of Antigua, embracing our guides, unable to hold back tears, they asked that we do not forget them and their people.