< Light Millennium: Adalante Organization - Using micro-credit to fight poverty and hunger, by Marianne A. Kinzer
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Adelante Organization:
Using micro-credit to fight poverty and hunger

Juana Hernandez takes a break from her business of making and selling tortillas. Her
wood-burning stove is a traditional type used by many women in rural Honduras.

by Marianne A. KINZER

In the spring of 2003 I traveled to the Central American nation of Honduras with my family.   I was excited about the prospect of seeing a country yet unknown to me. My husband had traveled and reported widely from Central America and wanted to introduce us to its riches, and to some of his friends there.  The wealth of Honduras includes its warm climate, still-beautiful tropical vegetation and a long coastline on the Caribbean.



From the airport at San Pedro Sula, the commercial center of Honduras, we took a two-hour car ride to the coastal city of La Ceiba. We drove through poor villages with humble shacks, some of which were put together from found boards or even cardboard, hardly strong enough to survive the coming rainy season. Many buildings had just holes as windows, or only a curtain in the opening to keep out insects and the dust swirling up from busy streets.

Before we reached La Ceiba, we drove up a dirt road to reach our destination, a wonderful eco-lodge built into the rainforest.  This eco-lodge is the realization of a fantasy of local environmentalists, who saw it as a way to protect one of the last pieces of unspoiled rainforest in Honduras.  It has been built to fit modern ecological standards, with secluded cabins nestled in the forest.  In the main building, guests can eat in a spacious dining room or sit at the bar. Relaxing on the porch, you overlook a well-tended tropical garden with a clean pool. Above this lodge towers the 8,000-foot-high mountain called Pico Bonito



At night in our cabin in the rainforest, we heard nothing but the water rushing down in wild streams from the mountains and the screams of exotic birds. Each day we took hikes and bathed in pools under waterfalls.

 Finding relief from all negative aspects of civilization in unspoiled nature, we almost forgot that Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere.  We came down from our secluded mountain.  In a poor village we saw half naked children with sad faces and swollen bellies.  They reminded us that unemployment, lack of education and malnutrition are widespread problems in Honduras.

 It is no coincidence that the environmentalists who thought of making the jungle at the foot of Pico Bonito accessible to exclusive tourism, thereby protecting it from destruction, are close friends with the devoted women and men who fight against poverty and hunger in Honduras. One evening we met them in the bar Expatriates in La Ceiba, where everybody involved with development organizations in this part of the world, as well as almost everyone else who comes to town, sooner or later turns up to share a beer with kindred spirits.

 Tony Stone and his wife Kim are leading the organization Adelante in Honduras. Adelante is involved in a fascinating project known as micro-credit, which was first developed in Bangladesh and has spread around the developing world. This organization does not believe in charity, but helps people to build their own small businesses. Adelante has been remarkably successful in giving out micro-credits to chosen individuals, mostly women. Adelante's slogan is: Unity, Discipline, Hard Work and Courage!

 Adelante's field workers survey villages to find the neediest women in a community, who are also trustworthy enough to fit the program. Typically these are very poor women with several children to care for.  They are given a very small loan, usually less than one hundred dollars, to start a tiny business that can help them find their way out of poverty.

A typical borrower might use her loan to buy a sewing machine and start working as a tailor, or a stove that would allow her to start a bakery.

Adelante not only provides start-up capital, but even more importantly, practical instruction in how to run a business.  The borrowers in each village form a solidarity group and meet together on a regular basis. Adelante staff members educate and train the women on business principles, and help them to invest wisely.

Each woman must invest the full sum of her loan into her business, and then must repay it.  Amazingly, as many as 99% of borrowers repay every cent of their loan.  Adelante's policy is to encourage hard work, discipline and community while providing education, and it works.  Poor people are given a chance to help themselves and develop self-respect.

One day I drove around La Ceiba with staff member Kim Walsh, the dynamic American wife of Adelante's executive director, Tony Stone, who is of Honduran background.  We saw children on the side of the road begging for money.  When I reached for my purse, she stopped me from opening the window.  "No," she said,"don't encourage their begging. If you do that, their parents will keep sending them on the streets.  They will learn the wrong lesson, namely that begging will help against poverty and hunger.  The people we lend to work really hard.  I don't like to give people the impression that they can get money without working."

Adelante is a good example how great effort, hard work and will power, together with a very small injection of capital, can make a real difference in the "war against poverty."

Neighborhoods of three to four houses are common throughout Honduras.

For more information about Adelante, check www.adelantefoundation.org

E- mail to Marianne A. Kinzer: makinzer@lycos.com

This issue is dedicated to How To Decrease Global Hunger?
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