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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Volunteering with the Microfinance Project


In this post Erica, a member of the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative, writes about her experience of working with JWOC. 

In July of 2012, myself and five other students from the University of Melbourne spent two weeks with JWOC, working with the Microfinance Project. We have been working with JWOC by correspondence for the past year and a half through the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative (http://www.melbournemicrofinance.com/) and this was our second annual trip to Siam Reap to implement the deliverables that we have been working on.

The deliverables that we have been working on this trip have included creating a microfinance glossary for new scholarship students, troubleshooting the microfinance software used, creating a loan collection handbook and designing a risk scorecard to cut down on the time needed to assess potential borrowers. In addition we ran a group of classes for the microfinance team with topics that varied from using Excel to understanding credit risk.

Working with Sovann, the microfinance project manager and the microfinance team has been an amazing experience. It has been a privilege to work with such a fantastic group of people. They have been exceptionally welcoming and happy to answer any and all questions we have had, and this has been greatly useful in helping us stay on target and work through our tasks. We have spent a lot of time with them,from riding on the back of their motorbikes to go on loan repayment collections and completing surveys, to observing them meeting borrowers and disbursing new loans.We have loved working with them and hope we will continue to keep in touch with them!

Meeting all these borrowers who we have been working to help has been a truly eye opening experience. Seeing the way these people lived, with so little, yet having the determination to take out a loan to try and improve their lives was inspiring. The fact that these people had limited material possessions, yet were still able to smile (although they may have just been laughing at my attempt to speak Khmer!) was truly humbling. With all the marketing for charities that I have been exposed to in Australia, I half expected to see all people living with so little to be sitting down, depressed, with little to no will to live. Seeing that this was not the case, that people in poverty were not a different species, but humans too and like anyone deserves a life that they could be proud of has strengthen my resolve to keep working with JWOC.

Meeting the kids who attended free classes at JWOC was one of the best parts of the trip. We were able to spend some time with them and play with them. From teaching them how to play Aussie rules football with the footy we brought along, to playing the classic ‘keepings off’, even teaching the kids how to fist bump, it was a lot of fun to interact with the kids. They even taught us how to play a game with their collector cards! Seeing the kids run around and just be kids was heartening, to see that they were still able to have fun and live their childhood.

Another really valuable experience that we had was when we went to visit some local universities. We visited two universities where the majority of the microfinance scholarship students came from Build Bright University (BBU) and the University of South East Asia. At these universities we had the chance to interact with some of the other students at the university. It was particularly interesting to have a chat with some of the students before the lecture. Hearing about their experiences and how determined they were to learn English was truly humbling. One person I talked to, spent three hours a day learning English - one hour translating the newspaper, one hour on grammar, and one hour on listening. Stories like this show the immense determination of the Cambodian people that I have come to see and admire. This spirit of always wanting to improve themselves and their odds in life is the precise mentality that microfinance need, to be successful and effective.

Despite having spent many hours in the meeting room of JWOC with my fellow MMI team, we feel like we have just barely begun to do our part to help the Khmer help themselves. It has been an amazing experience, and JWOC has been fantastic in giving us the opportunity to not only help them, but to get a holistic hands on experience with Cambodian people through the trips to the countryside with borrowers and organising the trips to the universities.

It has been a whirlwind two weeks and I cannot believe that it has passed so quickly. It has been two weeks that I will not forget in a hurry and the memories of the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, even the food I’ve eaten will remain with me for a long time.

I would like to thank the JWOC team, in particular Nicola and Sovann for their endless help to make this trip happen, for such a rewarding experience. I’m sure I will be back next year to do it all again!
 

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