This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much
heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Projects aplenty - past, present and pending

In an earlier post, entitled "I chose to walk through an opened door," I alluded to projects I've launched with the help of friends in Pilon, a larger town next to Marea del Portillo. I want to explain more about these activities but they are evolving so quickly it's rather like trying to count tree leaves on a windy day.

At first, I thought it would be a breeze to set up a micro-lending endeavor, offering small sums,  free of charge, to people who wanted to improve their lives and make things better for their families - fixing up their homes, for instance. This was my original thought, in part, because I realized it's very hard for people to save up enough money to buy all the necessary supplies at once. An interest-free loan would allow families to repair their homes more quickly, I thought, and they could live more comfortably while they gradually paid it off.

That initial plan for extending micro-credit had to be revised. The local fund managers were very careful in their screening process, before approving loans. Money was only to be given to people who could pay it back. In discussing a loan, it was always made clear to the applicants that, if they did not repay the money, it would be impossible to help others.

Unfortunately, too many people honestly had to admit that paying the loan back would be next to impossible; they could not promise to do so. The recent employment restructuring by the Cuban government has made finances even more difficult for many people, particularly those who were struggling already. Micro-lending helped a few families but the inaugural version of the venture needed revamping; that process is still underway.

In the future, I think loan repayment will most likely be done with a blend of cash and sweat. Those familiar with Habitat for Humanity will understand the concept behind the term "sweat equity." That's an idea I want to steal and rejig for my own use in Cuba. Instead of putting in a requisite number of volunteer hours to assist with home building, though, I think it will work to ask loan recipients to help with a variety of activities that will benefit the community.

The people I want to assist and empower have more time, energy and skills than income. Therefore, to me, it makes sense to figure out ways they can work off some of the debt, rather than letting people struggle to make cash payments, no matter how incremental the amount may seem to North Americans. Keep in mind that the local currency is worth pennies, literally; one Cuban peso equals four Canadian cents. (For more on Cuban currency, you may want to read this post: "Money, money, money....")

It will be more challenging to set up a "sweat" system or, in effect, a way of bartering with one's ability to work, but I'm sure it can be done. This and related endeavors are still in the early development stages, so I'm reticent to even try to go into detail at this time. However, I will say that two projects involve art and craft production and one, which is now being tested, appears to be quite viable. Supplies for the pending project will cost more.

So far, any supplies we've needed have been minimal; some materials have been donated and, for purchases, I've been able to provide money myself or through unsolicited contributions from friends. But, I do have a few ideas for funding! When I return from my forthcoming trip to Cuba, at the end of October, I should be able to offer a more clearly developed picture of what's happening and a preview of what's being proposed.

Please check the blog every now and again for updates.

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