Donor Spotlight: Mark McMahon and “Changing the Chip” in Nicaragua

30 marzo, 2012

Blog, Volunteer & Donor Stories

By Mark McMahon, Pro Mujer Donor Since 2004

The expression that we most heard on the first Velasco & Patterson Society (VPS) Encuentro in Nicaragua was ”cambiar el chip” or “change the chip”. This was the code phrase for what Pro Mujer in Nicaragua (PMN) is doing for their more than 37,000 clients – a virtual transformation of what women in Nicaragua see as possible and an approach in their lives! This transformation is being led by Gloria Ruiz, the PMN Country Director who oversees a staff of over 200. But I must say that she not only leads it, because the entire staff that we came in touch with during our brief, two-day whirlwind tour had the transformation embedded in their DNA and work diligently to ensure that they spread that message to all who they come into contact with.

We started Monday with an introduction by Gloria. I have never seen someone so enthusiastic presenting an agenda for a visit! She not only spoke from her heart but from her soul. You could tell that this was going to be a remarkable and memorable experience for all of us.

Here I am giving some observations about the takeaways.

This was followed by PMN staff introductions, showing a wide range of specialties and each one talking about the goal of transforming women’s lives.

Here I am with my partner Roberto Moreira speaking with Co-Founder Carmen (in brown) and Lynne (in blue).

The donors present then introduced themselves. Present were the President of the Tinker Foundation, Stan Eisenberg and Mary Jones, individual donors, representatives from Citibank Nicaragua and the Weberg Foundation. Everyone’s support for PM and its mission was as strong as the staff’s love for the organization.

We finished the morning with a presentation of PM Nicaragua’s operation, its growth and expansion over its15 years of existence and where it is today. What came out loud and clear was that the approach is threefold.

  • First the women are supplied with loans to ensure their financial stability.
  • This is followed by intensive training, with the goal of moving the clients pride up quite a few notches.
  • The third step involves healthcare, including PAP smears, blood pressure monitoring and blood sugar tests. The statistics are impressive. In over 9,000 PAP smears given since 2010, over 2,300 tested positive and were sent for follow-up exams. The results for high blood pressure and blood sugar levels were equally impressive.

The afternoon started with a presentation on the health care focus of PM given by Dr. Gabriela Salvador, the Health and Human Development Director for PM’s global team based in the U.S. This was extremely informative on where the program is and where it is going. We then toured the Leon focal center. We got to see the facilities as well as meet with the professional staff; there are over 8,000 clients serviced in this focal center.

The rest of the afternoon was deeply emotional. We heard from Elsa Sosa, a PM employee who spoke on how working for PM has helped change her life. She was able to escape from an abusive relationship. The woman was so eloquent in her elaboration of her situation, spousal abuse and degradation, and how with the support of PM staff and clients she was able overcome her problems and reconstruct her life. I must admit, there was not a dry eye in the room after this brave woman’s remarks.

The last discussion of the day was by eight PMN client leaders. All I can say is WOW. These women are creating the future for this country. It was amazing to hear these women talk about how PMN had changed their lives. What was even more encouraging to me was to hear how they are truly grateful for all that PMN offers them, and this is not limited to micro-finance. That appears more of a tool or lure for these women to look inside themselves and find their inner strength. They do this through their groups and credit officers.

These client leaders have limited if any formal education, but talked about their children who are now doctors, lawyers, teachers and administrators. It was funny to note that several of the women never even talked about what they use the loan money for, but what it has brought them. One woman said that when she started she didn’t have a house to live in. Now she has three!

What really showed me the strength of the program was that after the presentations were made, one of the women asked for the floor, and said that although they were very grateful for all that PMN had done for them, there were still several things that needed to be addressed such as a bigger loan for the group. Now that took courage, and that shows the strength of the program because she had the courage to get up and say things could be better. We ended the day with some great local food and music.

The next day was equally exciting, informative and emotional. We visited another communal bank that was held in the house of one of the clients.  This was a newer group, but no less enthusiastic.  It was great to hear the women relate their experiences and how much Pro Mujer means to them and their families.

Our last visit was to the house of a client, María Concepción Moran.  This I must say was for me the most emotional experience of the entire trip.

Maria Concepción related the hardships of growing up, living in a plastic and corrugated packaging house with her mother.  When she got married she had no place to live and built her own shanty with her husband.  She said how her and her daughter would wait outside a local business to get corrugated cartons to use as walls and roofing for her house.  She mentioned that whenever it rained the little bit of furniture that she had floated in the rain and everything got dirty because the dirt floor turned into mud.  Her husband was laid off from work and their only source of income was what she made by ironing clothes.

Someone told her about Pro Mujer and she went to a meeting, entered a group and took out her first loan without her husband knowing about it.  She used to proceeds from the loan to buy goods to open a small store in the front of her house.  Since then she has expanded her store, and last year took out a construction loan from Pro Mujer and put up concrete walls.

Maria Concepción said that she used to be afraid of the rains and now she is waiting for her first rainy season in her house.  Her husband also spoke on how Pro Mujer had changed her life, their lives.  Next her daughter spoke, and talked about how their lives had been transformed because of Pro Mujer.  Maria Concepción also took advantage and had a Pap smear and she was detected with uterine cancer.  She is scheduled to be operated on this week.  Once again, what we saw was a woman who learned to have pride in herself, a husband who learned to respect his wife and a family who was united behind their struggle to lift themselves out of poverty.

Several times during the trip, it would have been so easy to write a check to these women, but the Pro Mujer way is like the parable in the bible, teaching the women to fish instead of giving them the fish.  This was so evident, so many times, be it from the leadership, the staff or the clients.

What did I take away from the trip? CHANGE! The way that PM has helped these women change, transform their lives and that of their families. I came back changed, reinvigorated and even more committed to the vision and mission of Pro Mujer.