“I got four moms in today!”
Milandra, another Eco Dev volunteer, showed off how busy her day in the microcredit office was. It was week five a SKIP for me, and I had only gotten four moms in total in all my time working the office. I never hid my jealousy of the fact that Milandra always won when it came to mom-interaction in the office; after all, the moms are everyone’s favorite part of Eco Dev!
My name is Shalini and I spent two months volunteering with the Economic Development program at SKIP. I’m currently studying economic development at the University of Michigan, and I wanted a chance to explore how this worked on the field as well as improve my Spanish. SKIP’s program exceeded my expectations. I not only learned about how microfinance programs work, but I got to do so in a culturally immersive environment.
My typical week included a house visit, a shift in the microcredit office, everyone’s favorite task—data entry, and sometimes, workshops with the mothers. Most of the Eco Dev work included some form of interaction with community members. House visits were more than just asking questions about why a loan payment was late; these were times when we were invited to sit inside homes, chat with moms about their kids, and watch them run their bodegas with the confidence of a real business owner, and if we were lucky, they gave us free bananas! These moments showed me the applications of microcredit; from it be raising pigs to owning pantry stores, I saw how microcredit fosters innovation and entrepreneurship.
Furthermore, I had countless opportunities to improve my Spanish. The epitome of my experience speaking-Spanish was conducting business workshops for the moms with my coworkers. With each 45-minute session, I was challenged to be conversational, disintegrate challenging topics to understandable lessons, and use economics-related vocabulary. I was required to have a thorough understanding of SKIP’s economic development program as well as knowledge of the mothers’ economic situations in order to relay how factors such as interest rates, budgeting and saving impact their daily lives. This experience was my first step in professionalism in Spanish and has given me a good starting point from which I can continue to expand my language skills.
The most memorable part of Eco Dev was seeing the mothers’ community. Laughing while making jewelry, veteran mothers encouraging new mothers to join the Eco Dev program, the confidence with which they explain their businesses and ideas—this shaped my perspective to look beyond the data entry days to the big picture moments of the soft skills gained through pursuing economic development. My experience with SKIP has taught me that the right tools truly bring out people’s brilliance and innovation. Needless to say, the full experience of Eco Dev can only be understood once experienced, and I can surely say that I would experience this all over again.