Ten Topics of the Week

This post includes 10 topics I discuss briefly.  Some are work related (w) and others are personal (p) so skip topics that don’t interest you.  I tried to keep each topic close to 100 words so I don’t lose your attention too quickly.  Some topics like “Microfinance Corner” will be repeated in each future entry.  Sorry, since I’m working now I don’t have as many interesting photos in this post as I’ve had in previous posts.

  1. Pro Mujer (w)
  2. Microfinance Corner (w)
  3. Expansion into Rural Areas (w)
  4. Starting a New NGO (w)
  5. Living Situation (p)
  6. Morachata (p)
  7. Cochabamba (p)
  8. Brasilian Obama (p)
  9. Sick (p)
  10. 40 Day & 40 Nights – Marathon (p)

  1. Pro Mujer possesses talented people who are able to accomplish a ton with limited resources.  I am both impressed and humbled by the mission of the organization and seeing first-hand how microfinance functions at the borrower level.  In three weeks I met all 80+ members of the Cochabamba region, went to a retreat, and visited 9 of the 11 offices in the region.  I am also surprised I’m working 60 hour a week here – I thought I’d have a bit more of an easy schedule!  Visit the website to learn a little more – there is an NBC video on the homepage I find interesting:  www.promujer.org
  2. Microfinance Corner: I define microfinance as a platform allowing financial services and products to reach the poorest class of individuals and families.  Healthcare, education, technology and legal assistance are some additional parts of the microfinance platform; however these services are separate from the core business of microfinance: microcredit/microloans, insurance, savings and bank accounts.  For example, by giving out small loans microfinance institutions (MFIs) give microenterprises an opportunity 1. to make critical capital expenditures, 2. to increase capacity to meet demand, and 3. to diversify their business and shield themselves from unstable income generation.  This allows clients to realize one goal of microfinance: to create and sustain savings accounts.
  3. My work thus far has been varied but my main responsibility to is assist with expanding Pro Mujer’s footprint into rural areas.  This is a seemingly impossible task given the lack of infrastructure in rural areas, the distance between Pro Mujer staff and potential clientele, and the reality that each rural town has less potential clients than urban centers.  Resources cannot be utilized with enough efficiency and therefore the cost of servicing rural clients becomes too high.  Currently, I am brainstorming nontraditional means of promotion that are cheap and effective in rural areas… Ideas?
  4. An idea I came across recently is starting a new NGO that utilizes the current network of microfinance clients to promote secondary and/or university education.  Microfinance enables families to climb the financial ladder but education remains a secondary (and thus long-term) goal behind providing shelter, food, and healthcare.  Working with MFIs gives the NGO a filter to find the upper class of those in poverty where families are relatively stable and are ready to benefit from education.  Using this filter, the NGO, partner MFIs, and partner educational institutions find students who show potential and offer scholarships or cheap student loans.  I recognize this would take a tremendous effort from me and a good bit of luck but for now I think I’ll just look into the feasibility of the idea… Help/Comments?
  5. I have an awesome living situation.  I live in a beautiful building/house where each of the four floors is inhabited by a different sibling.  Floor one has the oldest sister who is married with children, 20 and 22 years old.  Floor two has a brother whose family includes two boys, 9 and 10.  I live on the third floor with one of the brothers (Roland) who is single and a successful dentist.  I have plenty of privacy with my own huge room with a killer view and bathroom.  The forth floor houses one of the sisters and she is really fun and a professional.  The parents (76 and 81) live in another house directly across the street and they are very loving and kind – explains why the rest of the family is so great.  The family also has two country homes.  One is 30 minutes away and has a dozen different types of flowers and delicious fruits growing year-round!
    Country Home - Lots of fruits!

    Country Home - Lots of fruits!

    Also Flowers

    Also Flowers

    I couldn't stop eating the pomegranates

    I couldn't stop eating the pomegranates

    The grapes were pretty good too

    The grapes were pretty good too

  6. The other country home is two hours away in Morachata – a beautiful secret getaway town hidden between mountains.  I went with Roland and the parents Saturday morning and it was unbelievably relaxing.  The air was fresh, the views were breathtaking, and at night people would go onto the streets or into the parks to party.  The parties included people playing music, dancing, singing, and socializing around a fire as if they had no worries in the world.  I consumed numerous types of drinks including wine, beer, chichi, whiskey and tiger milk – weird but tasty.  There was an air of innocence at those parties usually lacking at most bars/clubs!
    Driving through the hills

    Driving through the hills

    At one of the parties (felt like we were camping)

    At one of the parties (felt like we were camping)

  7. Cochabamba is far better and more modern of a city than I expected.  The food is diverse and delicious as Cochabambinos say they “live to eat, and never eat to live.”  Year-round the weather is spring-like with mornings and nights a bit cool and days very warm.  There are plenty of beautiful plazas to sit back and people watch as well as bars and clubs to go a bit crazy if one [not me] desires.  The city feels very normal likely because 1. it does not attract a tourist crowd.  2. the existence of a clear upper, middle, and lower class.  Also, the city has the tallest statue of Christ in the world (33 meters) – a couple meters taller than the famous statue in Sao Paolo.  He is atop a hill on the east side overlooking the city.
    Christo looking over Cochabamba

    Christo looking over Cochabamba

    Cochabamba, Bolivia

    Cochabamba, Bolivia

  8. Brazilian Obama – Since shaving my head I’ve been confused for many ethnicities including African and Middle Eastern.  In Bolivia, however, I am most often considered a Brazilian – to the point where random people start speaking Portuguese to me.  Once I inform them I am from the U.S. with an Indian heritage they immediately show great interest in my life.  Usually the topic of politics comes up and thus Obama surfaces and although relations between Bolivia and the U.S. are horrible, he is greatly admired.  Also, I look nothing like Obama but for some reason, in a friendly manner, people enjoy calling me Obama.
  9. I spend the better part of the last two weeks with some sort of stomach illness.  It wasn’t the traditional “foreigner arrives, eats something questionable, lives in the bathroom for a week” sickness as it came and went in an unpredictable fashion.  It was more of an annoying pain in my stomach than any bowel issue.  Nevertheless, I think it has finally passed so I can finally include back into my diet lots of great dishes I wasn’t eating before and most importantly I can go back to eating various types of tasty hot sauce with every meal!
  10. Today marks 40 days and 40 nights of not smoking anything (cigarettes, cigars, hookah).  I’ve been a casual smoker for years so this is a great step but it’s particularly impressive given my smoking habit normally increases significantly while in a foreign country.  To sustain my abstinence I have decided to train for a marathon.  I wanted to run the Chicago Marathon in October but registration closed a week ago so instead I will add my registration to the New York City Marathon’s lottery.  Hopefully by November I can be prepared for the race, assuming I receive a spot through the lottery.

Hopefully this pans out...

Hopefully this pans out...

Other random thoughts:

-Go ROCKETS!!!

-Happy Birthday Mom

-I miss BBQ and Tex-Mex

-I can’t believe I am safer from the global epidemic in Bolivia than at home in Houston or New York;  hope everyone is okay and taking the proper precautions

I love that on this blog I can share my experiences and thoughts with anyone interested in my trip but please don’t forget to update me on your life.  As great of an experience as I’m having, the best part of each day is when I check my email and get updates from friends and family… makes me feel not so far away.  If you want to call, try my cell after 7pm ET or during the weekend.

Until next time,

Thomas

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4 Responses to “Ten Topics of the Week”

  1. Sandhya Says:

    Glad to hear the trip is still going well and you’re learning so much. I’m jealous of those country homes! Also, way proud of you for not smoking…let’s try and catch up via phone soon.
    Hugs,
    Sandhya

  2. Tina Says:

    I love pomegranates! Tiger milk? That’s interesting…you consumed all of those beverages together in addition to tiger milk? That could be why you’re having abdom pain haha…the whole not smoking thing – good for you! I don’t think pulmonology is going to be my specialty but that doesn’t stop me from giving my lectures…haha =) That’s really exciting that you’re going to do the marathon. I’ve always secretly wanted to do that but you know how I lack any discipline or motivation when it comes to exercise and so ya…hahah…

    The pictures are still great! You should take a picture of the house you live in and the view from your room. It sounds beautiful.

    Enjoy the rest of your week!

  3. Falyne Says:

    sounds amazing, Shiju! and if I grow a brain about finance and think of something, I will let you know (its all over my head..I stick to bodies). And yea, way to go Rockets….my brother is here visiting in Israel for my graduation and we are following the Rockets closely 🙂 We are with you in spirit if you are watching the last game tonight with the Lakers!

  4. ali Says:

    i espcialy like the obama reference. i like the shaved head, although its gonna take some getting used to when i see you in brazil. i also liked the intestinal story. thats very important to lock down. dont feel bad if for some reason you still have pain, ronnie is still having problems a month after he returned.

    also, its your move. come back from your meeting and play.

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