So you’re participating in our Courage of One Challenge with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I and you want to learn more about poverty alleviation in Central America?
For people living in poverty, keeping financially afloat is a constant struggle as lack of savings means that many families are only one catastrophic event away from becoming completely destitute. These events can range from crop failure on a family farm to the job loss of the primary wage earner. A major illness is another catastrophic event that many times requires families living in poverty to sell the few valuable assets they own or obtain emergency funds from loan sharks at exorbitant rates to pay for a family member’s care. Despite governments in Central America offering varying degrees of healthcare to their populations, the reality on the ground is that the system is underfunded and with erratic service levels, this being especially true in poorer and more rural communities. The burden of the loss of time and money means that many people living in the bottom tier of the income spectrum do not access even the most basic preventative and outpatient services, as the only options close to them are private and out of their price range.
There are microfinance institutions in Central America that are trying to tackle this problem by providing their members with basic preventative healthcare as an added benefit to their loans. Some institutions even offer below-market cost basic health insurance plans with the policy premium being financed and embedded into the loan. This helps microfinance borrowers access sorely needed check-ups and diagnostic exams that can identify potential issues and chronic illnesses, that if left untreated, could become life threatening. Many microfinance institutions in the region also provide health chats at their monthly client group meetings in topics such as obesity, blood pressure and pre-natal care for expectant mothers. These group meetings, often times comprised primarily of women, provide a safe space for the members to discuss these issues in a free and open manner.
The goal of these microfinance institutions is to move beyond just addressing the financial needs of the people living in poverty, to addressing root causes that worsen poverty’s hold on a family. These efforts also insure that younger generations comprised of the children of current borrowers will be more astute about the importance of taking care of their health and the financial benefits of doing so. They are also able to take advantage of the fact that they have a periodic and constant interaction with their clients allowing them to present health topics and options repeatedly to bring the message home.
Finding microfinance partners that care about their borrowers and whose primary mission is to ameliorate their lives and that of their families is of paramount importance to the Whole Planet Foundation. Institutions that go beyond just providing loans to their clients by adding life-enhancing training and services are a prime example of this. One example of this is the organization we fund in Nicaragua, Pro Mujer, which has for many years provided a range of primary health care and preventative services to its borrowers. A trained nurse that provides clients with a variety of services including check-ups, Pap smears, glucose screening and blood pressure readings staffs a clinic located in each of the Pro Mujer branches. These nurses also attend group solidarity meetings to provide onsite blood pressure readings and health chats. In the event a clients further medical care, they can access it via local private clinics where the organization negotiated preferential rates exclusively for their borrowers. Pro Mujer even goes as far as setting usage targets for each clinic to make sure that their staff is doing everything possible to get their clients to get a check-up and run diagnostic tests. The difference it makes on the health of the women and well-being of their families is staggering, with many borrowers seeing a trained medical professional for the first time in their lives because of their loan with Pro Mujer.