Kathleen M. Snoddon recently returned from Morocco where she was able to witness microfinance first-hand. This is the first in a five-part blog series about her journeys.
We had been walking for about two and ½ hours and had stopped just outside the village to allow some of the stragglers in our group to catch up. Hakima, the loan officer from FONDEP was expecting us. Earlier in the week, she had gone into the Berber village to tell her borrowers that some adults and students were coming to visit and would like to meet them and learn about how their small loans had helped them and their families.
There were sixteen of us. We had started our journey in the town of Immouzzer, just south of Fez in Morocco. The path was steep, at first, and rocky. The rocks were scattered along the path to make it easier for the donkeys and locals to get into the forest during the wet season to gather wood for cooking and heating their homes. We passed them along the way with greetings of “as-salamu alaykum”, peace be upon you. As we continued our hike through the countryside, we encountered rudimentary dwellings that resembled the Berber version of igloos. Bricks were sculpted from the earth and dried for days before being piled upon one another to construct a shelter. It was finally covered with some sort of plastic sheeting for protection from the elements. Later, we were to meet borrowers who had lived in these structures and because of the loans and the steady growth of their businesses had been able to save and build better homes in the village.
Having all assembled, we were ready to descend the path into the small ochre-colored Berber village. We were excited and nervous, not really knowing what to expect but certain that we would be beyond the bounds of our comfort zone. Many of us had read Muhammad Yunus’ book, Banker to the Poor and we had met with Sandra Adams of the Grameen Foundation and representatives from FONDEP, the micro finance institution supported by Grameen. We had learned about how small loans empowered the poor to unlock their own resources and lift themselves out of poverty. Now we were going to meet some of these women, and see for ourselves how the loans had changed their lives.