So before everyone thinks that I’m just down here on an extended vacation for two years I figured I better talk about the work I am and will be doing. Most people back in the U.S. (and I originally thought this) think that the Peace Corps is place where a bunch of hippies go live in a hut for two years working on teaching English or building improved huts. While the teaching English is still applicable, there have been a lot changes within the organization in the past 50 years. In Honduras we have six different projects: Business Development (my project and where the brightest volunteers are located), Water and Sanitation (fancy way of saying “we build latrines”), Health (the best female to male ratio for all you prospective male volunteers), Protected Areas Management (never actually seen a PAM volunteer, I heard they come out of the jungle once a year to purchase supplies), Municipal Development (no funny comment for them) and Youth Development (babysitting!). Throughout training, the business team sat down with each volunteer to figure out where they place each of us, and what kind of work we would like and be best at. Throughout my interviews I stressed that I wanted a structured environment, void of kids, and preferably not with any government connection. The structured thing is a big deal as one of my greatest fears was (and still kind of is) not having anything to work on. Where other people enjoy not having an office and going around finding their own projects, I am definitely of the personality type where I need to work something like a 9 to 5, with stuff to do. So after considering all of that (including that I wanted a medium to large site) they assigned my main counterpart to be an organization named FAO.
In addition to being the name of an evil organization in the show “Dark Wing Duck”, FAO is an acronym for Food and Agriculture Organization and is officially a part of UN. As the name suggests, FAO works in developing countries in the areas of food security and improving agriculture practices. So you might be asking where a business volunteer fit into to all of this? I asked the same thing myself. Well gear up here because it’s about to get real boring as I explain this. Ok, so the work of FAO is all about strengthening farmers, which includes (but is not limited to) teaching improved farming techniques, starting family gardens, and providing fertilizers and other agriculture materials. In order to organize all of the farmers, they have used the Caja Rural model. Caja Rurales are cooperatives where any group of people can organize, pool their money together, and make loans to people within the caja. FAO (thanks to the European Union) loans these cajas fertilizer, seeds, and other materials based on the number of people within the cooperative. Instead of paying back FAO, the members pay only a percentage (usually 50%) that is deposited into the caja. So not only do the members receive discounted materials, but they also reap the benefit of increasing the amount of money in the cooperative, which increases dividends and allows them to make more loans. So it’s really a win-win for the cajas. Let’s just hope Greece doesn’t tank the EU in the mean time. My role in all of this is improving the organization and administration of these cajas as they are, in effect, microfinance organizations that are required to keep accurate books and manage loans. As the education level of many of these farmers is very low, topics like calculating interest, accurately recording shareholders, and even just using a calculator are necessary to teach to many of these cajas. Also, some cajas want to start micro businesses and there is a need for basic business training. In addition to this, there is a Caja Regional, composed of hundreds of smaller cajas, which wants to start a regional store to sell all sorts of items at a discount to members of the cooperative. Kind of like a Honduran Sam’s Club. Here they also need training on running a business. So hopefully I didn’t lose everyone there, I at least know my mom and grandma are still reading, but this is the basic project I’m working on.
Now you might be wondering about what I talked about in my last post, corn planting? chicken coops? Well, in order to integrate with counterpart, I try to learn about and involve myself in everything that they do. That includes stuffing myself in small trucks to traverse crappy roads and learn firsthand how to plant corn better or build chicken coops without having a Lowes you can run to for 2x4s. The funny thing about all of this is that I’m pretty much useless compared to an experienced Honduran farmer. While they wield their machetes around like extensions of their hand, I try not to get in the way and help out when they need someone tall, or stomp around in mud when they need adobe (which is awesome by the way). It’s a humbling experience let me tell you. However, I’ve learned a lot about basic farming and handiwork and also have gained respect from the farmers as they never seen a gringo being out there willing to help. It’s part of a process, once I gain their confianza (trust, confidence), then I can start giving trainings about how to run their caja. I’m excited, this next week I’ll be starting to give some of my first trainings, charlas, by myself without other FAO people.
So there it is, I also hope to work with the local high school in their business curriculum and I might even teach some English. On a different note, after four months of inconsistent internet access and a Kindle that bit the dust two months ago, I finally have a modem. Not the fastest thing in the world (I feel like I should hear “You’ve got mail!” every I open my email), but it’ll be a lot easier to check in and keep up with you all. In the mean time, stay classy America.
 Peace Corps has a saying, “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” One volunteer turned this around and said, “It’s the longest vacation you’ll ever hate.”
 Views on other projects are totally subjective and not the official stance of Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.