Two and a half months in Paraguay working for Fundación Paraguaya has been a really valuable experience. I think there was an excellent fit between my ambitions (learning about microfinance on a local level) and the needs of the Fundación (analytical person with finance background). One thing I’ve learned is that lifting people out of poverty through microfinance is complex because of the playing field between efficiency (that requires a certain standardization) and the observation that people, better yet, families, are poor in their own unique way.
Looking back, I valued the ambassadorship on a professional level, more than on a cultural or personal level. Yes, I have seen some parts of the country during quick weekend trips. And yes, I have made some friends. However, it proved to be difficult to really get to know the people. In general, I found that the Paraguayans tend to keep to themselves. I have the feeling I only scratched the surface of the psyche of my colleagues, and only when I brought up the subject of football did they start to open up.
Every intern at Fundacion Paraguaya has to give a final presentation, summarizing the work that has been done and sharing final recommendations with the management and other interested colleagues. I decided to end my final presentation by finally disclosing my favorite Paraguayan football club. For two and a half months, I’ve been kindly pressured by the Fundación staff to choose either Olimpia or Cerro Porteño; by far the two biggest clubs in Paraguay. Despite being told that Olimpia was founded in the early 1900’s by a Dutch dude that brought the first football to the streets of Asunción while being cheered to by enthusiastic crowds Pope-style, I chose Cerro Porteño because of class acts Lugano & Santana. My final choice was received by cheers from half of the audience, booed by the other half. Perhaps one or two people were neutral, but of course, they were not Paraguayan.
The final presentation was yesterday. At the time of writing this, I’m waiting at the airport of Buenos Aires for my connecting flight to Amsterdam. I’m actually happy to go back to Holland, and see my girlfriend, friends & family. Back to the land of bicycles where you can also cross the street as a pedestrian without risking your life. Back to FMO where meetings start on time, where lunch includes vegetables and where working hours are flexible as long as you are productive.
Nevertheless, I will miss being at the forefront of microfinance and close to the clients. In the end, they are what it’s all about. I will miss the freedom I had in executing my projects and contributing on an organizational level with the limited working experience I have. I will miss the collective ‘brindis’ where everyone gives a little speech while sharing some beers. I will miss the empanadas, no explanation needed. Finally, I will definitely miss the passion that each one of the employees at the Fundación has to eliminate (extreme) poverty in Paraguay and in the rest of the world.
Overall, there are things about Paraguay that I love and there things that I hate. No country or culture is perfect. By living and working abroad now and then, I’m trying to take the positive things with me while staying true to my Dutch roots. It’s fun to be a global citizen.
Dennis van Erp was working out of Asunción, Paraguay, where he’s collaborating with Accion partner Fundación Paraguaya on developing a business plan for their microlending program.