Some of the most compelling stories I have heard during my time in Paraguay often come from the very people working at Fundación Paraguaya. The trainers, or capacitadoras, I have been working with balance not only their full-time positions, but attend university as well.
The capacitadoras start working at 7:30 am when the Fundación Paraguaya branches open and often work past closing time at 4:30 pm, giving classes to the women’s lending groups “in the field.” Most of the groups cannot meet in the mornings and with each capacitadora responsible for more than 30 groups, or comités, many times a capacitadora must give two classes in the afternoon, not finishing until 6pm. Then, they must take a collectivo home which will take at least an hour, if not more.
This job takes dedication.
One capacitadora in particular impresses me. Nora is one of the best capacitadoras, a natural teacher; she is a pleasure to watch in front of a comité. When I ask her about her approach to teaching, she tells me that, “I connect well with the women because I know how to talk to them. I have many friends of all ages.” But to me, Nora’s success is that she truly wants the women to understand and she takes her time explaining every detail. She never assumes that the women already know something. She confronts the educational barrier that many women face and works around it.
But apart from her outstanding work with the Fundación, what also impresses me about Nora is her own story. Nora is 29 and a university student studying accounting. Everyday she travels 2 hours to get to work on the collectivos. When she finishes her comité meetings she either heads to her university for night classes or she goes home to work on homework. Nora comes from a family of 7 brothers and sisters and is the first in her family to attend university. Her mother only attended school until the 5th grade and her father attended until the 3rd grade. She told me that they are extremely proud of her.
But it has not been an easy road for Nora. Before starting university last year, Nora worked for almost 10 years at a retail store. But even there she managed to take full advantage of her situation. She started out working as a cashier and worked her way up through the business, working in merchandise and then as an assistant manager.
In Paraguay, after 10 years of employment your employer must give you a higher salary and other benefits. As a result, many employers let their employees go around nine and a half years of work. Such was Nora’s fate.
At first she was hesitant about going to university. She wasn’t sure if she could do it. But after ten years of working in a retail store, she was ready to expand her possibilities. She wanted something more.
Balancing her full-time position and her schoolwork isn’t easy, but Nora has to support herself, pay for school, and help her family. She told me she is thankful for her job in many ways. Before working at Fundación Paraguaya, she didn’t know how to use a computer. When she first started working at the Fundación, she would write everything by hand with the aid of a ruler, including her reports and schedules. Today, she has a Gmail account and knows how to use Excel and Word. She feels comfortable using a computer now, something else she thought she would never do.
Like any business, nonprofit, or some combination of the two, the people that work for you are essential to your success or failure. Working with low-income marginalized women is not easy. At times it can feel like Fundación Paraguaya is trying to do the impossible, but employees like Nora, are a great inspiration. Day in and day out, they are the ones on the frontline, working to give the clients of Fundación Paraguaya the tools they need to live better, more economically stable lives.