Culture, Independence and Poverty
A strong sense of culture and independence radiates from the remote villages of Chiapas, a southern state of Mexico. Numerous indigenous communities have preserved their own languages, styles of dress, and traditions. But sadly, this cultural richness is coupled with severe poverty. Half of Chiapas' 3.2 million citizens live in poverty; 65% of children are malnourished; 58% of people do not have access to clean water; and 30% of adults are illiterate. Such poverty has given rise to social movements that aim to improve living conditions for the people of Chiapas, without sacrificing their indigenous identities. The most famous of these movements has been the EZLN(the Zapatistas), whose charismatic militant leader, Subcomandante Marcos, has attracted international attention since the EZLN's first major battle with the government in 1994.
However, the Zapatistas are just one of many organizations working to improve Chiapas' standard of living.
Less flamboyant and less violent activists include micro-credit providers such as Alternativa Solidaridad (ALSol), a highly successful Grameen replication in Chiapas.
AlSol: Providing Financial Tools for Change
AlSol was founded in 1998 by two ambitious and visionary women, Claudia Rovelo and Pilar
Garcia. They established AlSol in a small Chiapan town, San Cristobol de las Casas, in order to provide poor women with the financial tools necessary to change their own lives.
AlSol's loans begin at 500 pesos (about $54) and progress up to 5000 pesos (about $540) by the fifth loan cycle. The loans are repaid within one year. AlSol charges 2% monthly interest for rural loans and 3% for urban loans. These rates are based on declining balances, so AlSol's interest is considerably lower than other micro-credit providers in Mexico, which typically charge a 6% monthly flat rate.
These loans currently go to 1700 women, who mostly use money to purchase materials to make artisan products that they sell in the market and city store. Some also invest the money in agriculture or livestock. Each woman is a member of a group with 2-9 other women from her own community. Generally, there are 2-7 groups per community and together, these groups form a center. Every week the center meets in someone's house or yard. During this time the women make payments on their loans and deposit some savings. With this weekly installment system, AlSol has a 94% repayment rate.
As a requirement, every borrower must save at least 20% of her loan amount. For example, if a woman takes out a 500 peso loan, each week she must pay 15 pesos.
Grameen TrustChiapas is the first Grameen replication in Chiapas, Mexico, which was initiated in 1998 with financial and technical support from Grameen Trust.
GT-Chiapas provides financial services to the poor in rural and urban San Cristobal de Las Casas as well as
Zinacantan, Amatenango del Valle and Las Rosas in the rural areas. GT-Chiapas has reached 1,466 borrowers, 90% of whom are women. The project has formed 84 centers and 296 groups. US$ 1,471,901 has so far been disbursed as loans and the repayment rate 94%.
Ms Maricela Gamboa de Lescieur, the executive director of GT-Chiapas reports that demand for loans is exceptionally high in Chiapas.. The borrowers in the rural areas are engaged in a number of activities including agriculture, buying and selling vegetables in the market, growing and selling flowers, tailoring, raising chicken, pig, goat, cattle and arts and crafts. In the peri-urban areas, the borrowers take loans for stationery stores, carpentry, tailoring and for selling prepared foods like 'tacos' and 'tamales' on the street.
By Miranda Jennings & Dwight Haase from Chiapas