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Santiago’s first loan

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Santiago Marroquin Civil is 58 years old, and just took out his first loan with Genesis Empresarial in the last year. He told me that it wasn’t part of his culture to accept loans, or even any help for that matter. ‘Tengo lo que tengo. Y puedo lo que puedo,’ he said. In other words, he was used to making do with what he had. After all, after just six years working at his vivero – a nursery of plants, flowers and trees – he had been able to take the 400 small geranium plants he had started with and make them into 75,000 plants of many different varieties.

That sentiment did change though, when on a bright sunny day, as he described it, a visitor arrived at his vivero. It was Oscar, a capacitador from Genesis’s Servicios de Desarollo Empresarial (a trainer who works with Genesis providing technical and financial training to its clients — and incidentally, one of the Oscars I had met the day before at the Esquintla branch). Oscar is an agronomist and he offered to help Santiago with his business. He showed him how to make and use organic fertilizer and other techniques for planting and growing some of his plants. He also told him about the loans that Genesis offers in tangent with its training so that he could invest in his business even more, and watch it grow. Santiago watched his plants succeed and soon he agreed to consider a loan. ‘I just wanted to be successful,’ he said and swallowed his pride.

Santiago showing us one of his new greenhouses to maintain his new poinsettia crop.

With Santiago’s first loan, he was able to rent some new land on the Pacific coast where his business partner, who is also his youngest son, bought some new seeds, hired some help, and planted a crop of Moringa trees. Moringa trees originate from India, but are known here as the árbol milagroso or the árbol de la vida (the ‘miracle tree’ or the ‘tree of life’). There are many uses for all of the parts of the Moringa tree – the leaves, flowers, pods of seeds, bark and even the roots – and they all have lots of nutritional value. (Santiago was very excited about sharing his knowledge of this powerful tree, reading me the long list of vitamins and minerals that each leaf contains).

This investment has already shown a rapid return. With a new profit realized from the Moringa trees on the coast even before his current loan was due, Santiago decided to plant his own poinsettia plants back at the vivero in San Juan Alotengango. He had bought fully grown plants in the past and had re-sold them at his vivero, but he had never cultivated them before starting from just their seeds.

After learning how to plant and care for the poinsettia from a friend, he invested his earnings from the Moringa in new poinsettia seeds and a new, large greenhouse. The greenhouse alone was an immense investment – as it meant clearing the land at the back of the current nursery, buying the materials to build it with and supplying the labor to put it all together. As in many places around the world, poinsettia are very popular plants during the Christmas season – and this was Santiago’s strategy. He would be able to spend the next few months cultivating the plants, have a plentiful demand, and then we would be able to earn his entire profit all at once at the end of the year.

As he talked about his plans for even more Moringa trees and a second greenhouse for even more poinsettia, you could see the pride shining through on Santiago’s face. But the good kind of pride, we confirmed — not the kind that had prevented him in his past from seeking assistance. He told me that if that was the case, then yes, he was very proud. He told me that having never attended any school as a child growing up (his mom had died when he was nine years old, he was raised by his father and started working at a young age), he was proud that he now attends primary school on the weekends. He is also proud to be able to offer jobs to the four or five men who work for him at the vivero. ‘I want to be able to employ even more people, so that they can be able to feed their families,’ he said.

The sign outside of Santiago’s vivero.

When I left Santiago’s vivero, I saw that it was actually called the Vivero la Ceiba de Oro – a fitting name I thought, as it describes one of the largest trees in the region, and that this one is made of gold.

5 thoughts on “Santiago’s first loan

  1. Very interesting, Kate. I wasn’t aware that there was a cultural bias against accepting aid or loans. Do you find that it’s more a matter of personal pride (sounds like the case for Santiago) or distrust/fear of being taken advantage of? How you combat that? I assume the best way would be to break through to one or two people in a community and let them be the positive examples to the rest.

    Also, do you find this same attitude among women as men? Just curious.

    Thanks!

    • What great questions, Meghan — and thanks for asking them! This question is interesting because at least with the case of Santiago, I really learned a new definition of the word, ‘pride.’ Near the end of my conversation with him, I told him that I could tell how proud he was of his accomplishments at the nursery, and specifically with the new Moringa and poinsettia crops. I had very much intended it to be a compliment, but he looked at me funny for a moment, his first impression being that I had actually insulted him for being proud. I was obviously very embarrassed – my Spanish is good, but I was worried I had accidentally said something very wrong when really I wanted him to know that I was happy for his success and that I enjoyed seeing that same happiness in him as well. We both had to clarify though that we meant the ‘orgullo bueno’ – or the good type of pride. It wasn’t that he was too proud originally to take a loan – almost the opposite – that if he took a loan, then that action would have made him look too proud, and since being proud is not desirable, then that would have been bad. It’s a very fine line, I know.

      What changed his mind – at least in what I learned from him during our conversation – is that he realized that this sentiment of his was unfounded and that he didn’t care what others thought of him. He learned that there were people who could help him succeed and wanted to see him succeed and there was no reason not to accept their help.

      I didn’t see this same sentiment played out nearly to this extreme elsewhere on my travels, and I think it is important to note that I met only a small selection of clients and ones that had generally been very successful so far in translating the loans and training from Genesis into personal and financial accomplishments.

      But also interesting that you should ask about women – as the big, hairy generalization I can make there is a revealing one as well. What I heard a lot is that many women were originally apprehensive to take out their first loan because they were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to pay it back. While that seems like a sentiment many of us would have about taking out a large loan, for these women it was more a matter of low self-esteem, a feeling that they weren’t good enough to be successful in a business initiative and make a profit. It was after they had the loans and paid them back, that they realized that they had more value than they gave themselves credit for.

      I should really write another post just about women – as I have a lot more anecdotes I could add here, but this reply is already so long!

  2. This idea of the two sides of pride is really an interesting one, Kate. Thanks for sharing!

  3. good post, kate, thanks. As I’ve discussed briefly with you, I’m on the board of a little NGO headquartered in Idaho andoregon that works with small plot ag in guatemala. they’re planting pidgeon peas,also originally from india, then to mali. I’m thinking of going down there in may. i suspect as you hang around small plot ag in guatemala or other central am. countries you could find several crops/new ways to use that often degraded land. I’ll direct your post to these folks, semila nueva.

  4. Pingback: To be a woman is to… « Accion Ambassadors Blog

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