Visiting Bolivian talks micro-finance

  • Feb. 8, 2010 9:00 a.m.

By Heather Ramsay–A partnership between groups in Bolivia and Haida Gwaii can provide benefits to people in both countries, according to a visiting Bolivian. Marina Salazar of the Bolivian-based non-profit organization Foncresol arrived on the islands on January 23. She’s here to teach islanders about how microfinance helps small groups in many poor areas of her country and to find out about some of the challenges people face here. She’s also learning about the business development training provided by Haida Gwaii Community Futures. For Ms Salazar, this trip is not only an amazing opportunity to meet with groups interested in doing the same work she does, but it’s the first time she’s been away from her country and the first time she’s seen the ocean. “It’s amazing. Your ocean is impressive,” she said. Her organization helps set up communal banks in rural areas of Bolivia by providing small loans to groups of local people. These people, mostly women, guarantee each other’s loans and then use the money to support their own individual businesses. She and Art Lew of Haida Gwaii Community Futures hope that similar microfinance groups can be set up on the islands. “We need the same things,” she said, “to develop more skills for our communities and make stronger our women.” The biggest difference between the two places is the economic situation. In Bolivia, a loan that helps a woman buy products for a tiny store, or buy a cow to sell the milk, can be as little as $100. In Canada, that amount of money wouldn’t be enough. Ms Salazar is in Canada until the middle of March. She is meeting with several groups here and Mr. Lew said a larger community event will be held in March. He has also arranged for her to spend some time in Hazelton to work with the Storyteller’s Foundation, a community development group there. Ms Salazar says the country of Bolivia has been very quiet for many years, but “now is our moment in our country.” She thinks the same might be true for Haida Gwaii. “I feel that Haida Gwaii Community Futures and Foncresol will share a successful program for all of these people.”