Posted by: Sanette | July 20, 2010

that’s all.

That’s it; my time in Guatemala ended last Friday. I am back at home in Chicago for a month before heading to Duke in August. Thank you so much for reading! Contact me at anytime.


Posted by: Sanette | July 20, 2010

Part III: Understanding Our Place

Note: As my internship in Guatemala comes to a close, I would like to use my final blog post to reflect on the Social Entrepreneur Corps program and analyze the work in the field. The post will consist of a background piece and three parts. Thanks for reading!

The Big Picture

I realize that many of the challenges I faced are inevitable in this line of micro work. University of Connecticut senior Komal Sandhu, one of my teammates, said she needed to take a step back from the intricate details in order to see the larger impact we made.

“The hardest thing for me was losing track of the effectiveness of what is actually going on in the campaigns,” she said. “You are so busy keeping track of how many glasses are being sold, how many people are waiting for an exam. Everything seems so trivial at the time, and it seems like you’re not really making a difference, but we are.”

At the end of the day, the asesores earned a profit and people have valuable products. Over the course of 16 campaigns, 70 asesores administered 1,234 eye exams, sold 1,540 products and earned 14,807.50 quetzales—$1,850.94. The women earned $7.25 per hour in a country where the minimum wage is $0.88 per hour. In Guatemala, a machismo society, that impact is huge for women entrepreneurs and for rural consumers.

“Overall, we are getting products to people who need them,” said Brooke Prouty, a junior at Miami University. “I don’t think it’s going to change the world, and we didn’t change their entire lives, but maybe we changed a piece of it.”

Question of Choice

If I could return to Ciudad Vieja and offer direct relief once more, I don’t think I would have quite the same uneasy feelings upon leaving. Back in May, I pitied the residents like no other. I was fairly certain that their lives would be permanently changed for the worse.

In my journalistic mind, I wished the tumultuous conditions of Ciudad Vieja would be deemed “sexy” news and hoped for influxes of services and help. After all, without us, without the gringos, could the people manage?

By the end of the summer, I finally realized that while the relief would be good and welcome, the residents can manage both with us and without us. As of now, the most I can do is invest and trust in this country.

The key word of this summer was “access,” creating awareness and providing opportunities for Guatemalans as the method of assistance. But another word I would use to describe my work this summer is “choice.” In the end, the choice of how to sell the products belongs to the asesores. The choice of whether or not to buy remains with the people. For example, during several campaigns people wanted to purchase reading glasses even though their vision seemed fine. We told them the information, including the fact that wearing unnecessary glasses could harm their eyes, but some insisted on buying the products anyway. Whether they distrusted our diagnosis or believed too strongly in the power of magnifying reading glasses, I had to hold myself back from asserting my own judgment. Although we volunteers, like journalists, have the responsibility to inform the public, we cannot control their actions. And we shouldn’t, for it is not our place.

Leaving it up to them

I didn’t solve world poverty this summer (a shame, I know). But I do have a better understanding of addressing the issue through an effective use of the MCM.

There is a time and place for direct donations and relief, but such methods cannot work in the long run. The MCM is sustainable, bridging the gap between charity and business, and makes a tangible difference in people’s lives. And finally, the model invests in Guatemala’s most important asset: the people.

I think my changed perspective is illustrated by the way I view our base city of Antigua. When I first walked around the town, I noticed the cracked sidewalks, the drunken borrachos on the streets and the faded paint on the building walls. I saw the city’s faults and failed to recognize anything picturesque. By my final week, however, I actually stopped and gazed at the immense churches and ruins, the towering volcanoes surrounding the city. From my very core, I believe Antigua is simply beautiful, and words cannot do it justice.

I love the United States, but I’ve grown to love Guatemala, too. I see enormous potential and spirit in the people who live here, and I am confident in their ability to bolster their families’ situations and their nation’s economy—as a gringa, I’m happy to take the backseat.

Posted by: Sanette | July 19, 2010

Part II: MicroConsignment Hits the Mark

Note: As my internship in Guatemala comes to a close, I would like to use my final blog post to reflect on the Social Entrepreneur Corps program and analyze the work in the field. The post will consist of a background piece and three parts. Thanks for reading!

The new micro model

The Guatemalan-run enterprise Soluciones Comunitarias (SolCom) utilizes SEC co-founders Greg Van Kirk and George Bucky Glickley’s innovative MicroConsignment Model (MCM). Before arriving in Guatemala, I likened the MCM to the microfinance model, in which microfinance institutions, such as Grameen Bank, Acción International and Opportunity International, give high-interest loans to impoverished entrepreneurs to start small businesses. Microfinance, microcredit and microfranchise quickly became the hottest new tool to combat poverty, resulting in billions of dollars in loans. Using group lending and accountability, microloans can potentially increase household income and empower women. In many cases, the model works.

In contrast, critics maintain that the poorest demographic do not benefit from taking on entrepreneurial risks, as reported in Aneel Karnani’s assessment of microfinance in the 2007 Stanford Social Innovation Review. The poor are often entrepreneurs by circumstance because steady jobs are not available. Additionally, in group lending, one or two people may default and end up in a worse position economically than before. Loans taken out by women can also become subject to the will of their husbands.

Van Kirk and Glickley’s MicroConsignment Model, on the other hand, bypasses some of the inherent risk built into the microfinance model.

According to the “The New New Thing: The Micro-Consignment Model” by Van Kirk and Brett Smith, founding director of the Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Miami University, the MCM is “a sustainable, replicable means of delivering health-related and economically beneficial goods and services to remote villages in developing countries.” The model addresses community needs in a two-fold manner by training women entrepreneurs (asesores) to sell beneficial products on consignment, as well as providing rural persons access to such products. In contrast with microfinance, the asesores do not need to invest anything but their time for training and selling products, reducing the risk of default. Since they receive the goods on consignment and without monetary investment, the asesores do not stand to lose financially. SolCom field leaders and volunteers also provide support during promotions and campaigns.

Every week our team of eight students split into two groups, each traveling to a different rural town to host a campaign with an asesora partnership. Together, we administered free eye exams and sold reading glasses, eye drops, sunglasses, water purifiers, wood-burning stoves, energy-efficient lightbulbs, seeds and solar lamps. SolCom provides the products and the asesores sell them. Part of the money generated from the sale goes to SolCom to reinvest in more products, and the other part goes straight into the asesores’ pockets. Neither side sees a profit until the product is sold.

Obstacles along the way

Working on the micro level is not an easy task. Although I understood the impact on paper, the small-scale approach can create a tunnel vision view of our influence. After selling yet another pair of reading glasses during my fourth campaign in Xela, I found myself wondering, what difference does it make whether this one particular 60-year-old woman has a pair of reading glasses? What contributions would she make to society from her little town off the map? In all honesty, I thought, there was no point.

On the contrary, sometimes I got a little too attached. In Solola, a vacant-eyed little girl in tattered clothes hung around our campaign, murmuring an indigenous language I could not understand. The other children avoided her like a leper. Finally, my field leader and I asked a man to translate, but he told us not to worry about her. I never did find out what she wanted, and as far as her broken eyes were concerned, no pair of glasses could help her there.

I also had to overcome my image of SEC volunteers as “salespeople.” I found our value as soon as I had to prove myself to Guatemalans. As part of a developing country, Guatemalans are accustomed to receiving goods and services for free. Some were surprised and even resentful upon learning that they had to pay for items that many foreign groups typically donated. With pure donations, though, the consumers lack the same sense of ownership and care that come with paid goods. Donations are also unsustainable since no profits are generated. The cycle ends. I had to explain to Guatemalans that SolCom is a business and not a charity. In a consignment model, though, money can be reinvested into additional goods to reach an even broader range of people.

Finally, I struggled with the inconsistency and inefficiency of some of the campaigns. Though most of the asesores were brilliant businesswomen, some continued to defy SolCom protocol, such as trying to sell the magnifying glasses to people with far vision problems who were in need of a certified doctor. Our campaigns were haphazard at times, especially when we tried to conduct surveys about diabetes and hearing aids on top of giving eye exams. We also spent hours traveling to villages where we sold products for one short morning to one small sect of people. I couldn’t help but wonder who else would benefit from, say, a water purifier but did not have the means to attend the campaigns or the resources to purchase the goods.

Posted by: Sanette | July 18, 2010

Part 1: No Entrance in Guatemala

Note: As my internship in Guatemala comes to a close, I would like to use my final blog post to reflect on the Social Entrepreneur Corps program and analyze the work in the field. The post will consist of a background piece and three parts. Thanks for reading!

In short, DukeEngage in Guatemala is not a program for everyone, but I can say without hesitation that I do not regret one minute of my summer. I have traveled internationally in the past, but venturing to a developing country gave me a new perspective and intimate understanding about the culture, universal values and myself. Even though I am young and a woman and worked in a machismo culture, I found that the Guatemalans took me seriously and respected my opinions. Our consulting work was well-received, and our assessments during campaigns were valued.

Practically, I learned how to give up many luxuries that I was used to. I resigned myself to a life of perpetual grunge—wearing four or five shirts on rotation, showering only a few times a week (with a bucket bath, naturally) and accepting sweat as my natural perfume. I also learned to eat whatever I am served or go hungry (eggs, tortillas and frijoles are standard). I can nap on chicken buses, feel comfortable with absolutely no personal space and bounce around from city to city, working all the while. The ever present insects hardly faze me (be it 30 flies crawling on my Nebaj kitchen table during lunch or bedbugs in my sheets). I feel equally awkward in English and Spanish, and the lack of internet is a way of life.

But what I gained back from the people was more valuable than anything I gave up. My homestay families emphasized the importance of community and welcomed me as their daughter, giving me the nicest room in the house and their only set of tupperware for lunch. I grew to appreciate a simpler, slower paced way of life—a nice change from my usual busy schedule. I am more flexible and easygoing because of this trip, and for that, I’m grateful.

The program was a wonderful mix of structure and independence, which allowed us to pursue group projects (such as my team’s feasibility study on diabetes). Over the past eight weeks, I dabbled in volunteer work that ranged from physical labor in direct relief efforts to providing the initial groundwork for budding enterprises. Our work was supplemented by cultural experiences as well. I climbed the ruins of Zaculeu, kayaked in Lake Atitlan, wore the traditional garb of my indigenous Mayan family, cooked boxbole and hitchhiked in the back of a pickup truck.

My Spanish improved, my health deteriorated and my perspective on a multitude of issues will never be the same. This is Guatemala.


During the morning of Tuesday, May 25, I waded through three feet of mud that had settled in the streets of Ciudad Vieja, shovel and bucket in hand. Every shop, school and restaurant was closed. And every resident from ages 5 to 80 was outside, hauling rocks, handing out water and digging feeble paths through the hardening sludge. They had been working for days and would continue for months to come, said Beck Pryor, Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC) field leader of Xela.

Our group of 35 university students and several SEC staffers were some of the only gringo volunteers assisting Ciudad Vieja, one of the many Guatemalan towns affected by the mudslides generated by Tropical Storm Agatha. I had never seen such devastation firsthand before, and though we shoveled and hoed and pitched rocks, the town was still in ruins two hours later when we packed up to leave.

I asked Beck how often major disasters, such as Agatha, occurred.

Maybe every couple of years, she answered, but minor catastrophes like mudslides happened frequently. Because neither Guatemalan nor international media covered such events, residents were left to clean up the mess.

“This kind of news, it’s not Paris Hilton, it’s not Katrina—no es sexy,” Beck said, gesturing to the turbid streets. “It’s sad, but it’s reality.”

An unfortunate truth

My program in Guatemala focused primarily on long-term, developmental work, but our labor in Ciudad Vieja influenced my mindset for the rest of the trip. Over the following weeks, I could not forget Beck’s words. Providing direct relief felt necessary but almost futile—after all, a similar mess would happen again in a few short years, and I wanted to create a sustainable difference.

Additionally, although I recognized the truth in Beck’s claim, my idealized vision of the media hinged on its responsibility to give others a voice. Yet, like she said, I knew that traditional news coverage of natural disasters tended to glamorize catastrophes. According to Philip Brown’s 2008 analysis of natural disasters, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the media focuses on personal stories and sensational images because reporters seek to showcase the most interesting (and thus most profitable) information.

And as a result, many details and events can slip through the cracks. My work in Guatemala focused primarily on people in rural areas. I met orphans, women with cataracts, the blind, the deaf, diabetics. Sometimes the solution for someone was highly feasible and required only a small investment on an individual’s part, had the products and financial support been available. Yet in each of those personal cases, I was forced to realize that—on the micro level—access was limited.

Posted by: Sanette | July 16, 2010


*Solely for your own understanding! Reading this is not necessary in understanding the subsequent parts!

After serving as Peace Corps Volunteers in Guatemala from 2001 to 2003, social entrepreneurs Greg Van Kirk and George Bucky Glickley co-founded a series of developmental programs to provide beneficial goods and services in developing countries. In 2004 Van Kirk and Glickley launched the U.S. nonprofit Community Enterprise Solutions (CE Solutions). Based on their pioneer MicroConsignment Model (MCM), CE Solutions trained women entrepreneurs (asesores) to sell products, such as reading glasses, water purifiers and wood-burning stoves, on consignment to persons in rural villages.

To further self-sustainability, Van Kirk and Glickley founded Soluciones Comunitarias (SolCom) in 2006 and transferred full ownership over to Guatemalans by 2009. Finally, to support the initiatives, Van Kirk and Glickley created the sister organization Social Entrepreneur Corps (SEC) in 2005 to provide internship and volunteer experiences for college students and recent graduates. SEC now has programs in Guatemala, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

I applied through and received financial support from my university-sponsored DukeEngage program, participated in the SEC program and worked for SolCom. After spending the first two weeks in Antigua for orientation, the 35 participants from various universities were split into groups of eight or nine to conduct week-long field work sessions in Huehuetenango, Nebaj, Solola and Xela on a rotational basis. We returned to Antigua for analysis and reflection during the middle and end of the program.

Although we held campaigns centered on the MCM and conducted surveys on products and village needs at each site, our work was never the same from city to city, or even from day to day. In Huehuetenango, we held two consulting sessions: first, with two women entrepreneurs who wanted to sell peanut butter; and second, with a couple who planned to use a government-granted plot of land as a community space. We decorated an afterschool center and improved publicity for a Nebaj restaurant. We conducted initial MCM training for a weaving cooperative in Solola, as well as evaluated a new potential product for SolCom. We painted a mural in a basketball court near Xela and listened to a presentation from Pajebal, a loaning company founded by a recent Duke graduate.

DukeEngage, SEC, voluntarios de los Estados Unidos—however you want to say it, welcome to my summer.

Posted by: Sanette | July 16, 2010

this is the end.

Note: As my internship in Guatemala comes to a close, I would like to use my final blog post to reflect on the Social Entrepreneur Corps program and analyze the work in the field. First, I’ll post a brief explanation of the background of…well, everything…and then the next three parts, which has yet to have a title. I’ll think of it later. Maybe on the plane that I will be boarding in about three hours. =)

Anyway, the three parts are:

  1. No Entrance in Guatemala
  2. MicroConsignment Hits the Mark
  3. Understanding Our Place

Thanks for reading and sharing in my summer!! I appreciate it. Actually.


Posted by: Sanette | July 7, 2010


I arrived Monday at my fourth and final field site, Xela—the second largest city in Guatemala. Our eight-bedroom apartment is a five-minute walk from the central park and overlooks a view akin to a small-scale NYC.

I can’t even express how much I adore this place. The architecture is similar to that of Spain, and the restaurants and shops have an American flair and cater towards gringos. Still, Xela is very much Guatemalan. Unlike Antigua—where more westerners than locales walked the streets—Xela is a working, thriving, bustling city, with the people to match.

Yesterday, I got a taste of the professional side of Guatemala. Since most of our campaigns and field work take place in rural communities and startup businesses, my perspective of the country focused on its third world status.

That is, until I learned about the work of recent Duke graduate Rob Krieger and his organization Pajebal, Inc.

Rob joined the Peace Corps Small Business Development team soon after graduating. After working with small businesses in Guatemala for two years, he started Pajebal, a loaning company seeking to address issues like poverty from an economic standpoint. Pajebal works with other Guatemalan companies, analyzes people’s needs for loans and then grants loans with little interest to groups of two. To finance the loans, Pajebal’s website allows Americans to directly invest in different Guatemalan enterprises with the click of a mouse. Some options include Guatemalan coffee farmers, traditional Mayan weavers, street restaurants and carpenters. Investors can pick and choose the business they want to support.

Different from microfinancing, Pajebal not only seeks to develop small companies, it also aids entrepreneurs who have visions to create their own businesses that will in turn employ others in the community. Its motto is to go “beyond micro.”

After Rob’s presentation, we took a microbus to one of Pajebal’s main partners, Codicap, located in the rural town of Aldea Vásquez, Totonicapán, where Rob lived for two years while in the Peace Corps. The employees at Codicap gave us a tour of the office, and then Rob treated us to a traditional lunch of soup and tortillas.

Since he is returning to Duke in a few weeks to study at the Fuqua School of Business, one of Rob’s primary concerns is creating a sustainable organization that is run and staffed by Guatemalans. He already has two dedicated analyst/advisors, Milthon Escobar and Wanda Ponce, and he hopes to expand. The transfer of power is crucial in creating a lasting business, free from American help.

Although we did not directly offer our help or assistance yesterday, the presentation was incredibly valuable. Campaigns and small-scale work are helpful and necessary, but I find the larger developmental work more compelling. And if you feel compelled, like I said…the click of a button…

Posted by: Sanette | July 3, 2010

dinner guests.

(Background: Our site leaders Alli and Izzy ate with us at a really nice Uruguayan restaurant in Pana Friday night. All the restaurants on this strip are only closed in on three sides. The tables nearly spill out onto the street, making it very easy to see/hear/experience everything that goes on outside.)

Oh, how I will miss Guatemala in two weeks. Let me count the ways…

  1. Street vendors. Because one of the guys on my team (cough, Sid) is incapable of saying a firm “no,” we attracted a crowd of at least 10 different vendors of all ages swarming the table, laying out products and calling, “Buen precio! Buen precio!” every 30 seconds.
  2. Dogs. They’re everywhere in Guatemala—even under our table. Komal had her leg licked up and down, and I resorted to sitting cross-legged.
  3. Little explosions here and there. It sounded like a dozen fireworks going off next door. After we saw fire above our heads, we realized it was the street lights igniting.
  4. Love texts. Guatemalans are pros, and my host brother from Nebaj is no exception. My friend once received one that listed all the letters of the alphabet sans TQM (“te quiero mucho). And I got one that read: “If I gave you a mirror, you would be more beautiful than your reflection.” Anyhow…Guatemalans definitely don’t shy away from public displays of affection, in all forms.
  5. Sarita. Best ice cream place. I got a banana split with chocolate, cheesecake and oreo ice cream for under $2.00.

American dinners will be so dull in comparison.

Posted by: Sanette | July 1, 2010

i’m on a boat.

Brave New World author Aldous Huxley described it as “the most beautiful lake in the world.” My honest opinion: he wasn’t exaggerating.

Panajachel (the region of Solola that my group is staying in) is a little city off the coast of Lake Atitlan, which is surrounded by mountainous volcanoes and little villages. My particular street is a tourist’s dream—plenty of restaurants, shops, street vendors and hotels. But beyond the road, Solola is fresh and natural and gorgeous.

We took a motorboat to reach the town of San Juan across the lake. The ride was bumpy— I could hear and feel waves of floating debris hitting the side of the boat—but the view was unreal. Pictures to come.

In San Juan, we gave two presentations to women in a co-op called Lema, a weaving association that uses natural dyeing practices. The first presentation was about the homestay program, which may be implemented in San Juan in the future. The second presentation gave a general introduction about Soluciones Comunitarias and the different products, such as water purifiers and glasses. The Lema women want to set up a kiosk to sell the products in their store.

The women then showed us how they weave. They use plants that grow around or inside Lake Atitlan like coconut husk, pericon, pepper and annatto to extract colors. After dyeing the thread, they use ancient weaving techniques to make mats, bags, scarves, etc.

Afterwards, I walked around the town and conducted surveys to gather more information about community needs in San Juan. The people there were the friendliest of all the cities we visited—I had great conversations and passed along my contact information as well.

So, to backtrack a bit, we had pretty terrible weather this week–lots of rain due to the hurricane off the coast. Our ziplining outing was canceled yesterday (hopefully rescheduled for tomorrow). Another group also canceled one of our presentations for tomorrow. Work was pretty light for the first two days, but we spent all of Wednesday preparing for our presentations. We also have a few random projects as well, as well as continuing work regarding diabetes.

Turns out rainy days are good times to bargain with the street vendors. One particular incident, though, didn’t quite go as planned.

While my friend Komal and I lounged on our beds Tuesday night, a few other people from our group burst into the room, saying they got awesome prices for scarves and bracelets from a street vendor. Komal and I immediately wanted to go bargain, but Vinny warned us that the lady was rude. Still, we decided to take our chances.

The sun had already set, and so most of the vendors had packed up. We ran into the lady almost immediately. Komal and I were trying a bargaining technique that our site leader had taught us (one is stubborn and rude, the other acts as a sweet, understanding “translator”). I was the former. After a bit of going back and forth, I finally said I would only buy the bracelets and not the scarves.

After I made my purchase, the lady glares at me, waves her hand in a rude Guatemalan gesture and then calls me words I don’t care to type out.

Once we got over the initial shock, Komal and I couldn’t stop laughing. But I did learn one thing: even if hardcore bargaining gets me better deals, I’d rather use honey than vinegar. =)

Posted by: Sanette | June 25, 2010

don’t let the bed bugs bite.

asdfkjkladsfja too late.

As of Monday, I am back in Antigua with my host family. I never expected saying goodbye to my family in Nebaj would be so difficult (though leaving the bed bugs behind is another story). After all, I only stayed with them for a week, and my days were spent working outside of the house. Still, I really fell in love with the family there, with the Ixil tongue, with boxbole food and even with their 50 people+ prayer sessions held for the community.

This week, we spent the mornings going over product information, updates from the field and reflections on our personal team projects. My group (Team Impacto) is working on an analysis of diabetes. We have been surveying individuals to assess the knowledge of diabetes in Guatemala, as well as to determine the feasibility of offering home testing kits. Based on our results, we’re going to discuss how best to distribute information and products to people in rural communities. So far, we found that most people know generally what diabetes is but lack specifics. They’re also interested in knowing more and in having a means to check their blood sugar.

In the afternoons, we had Spanish classes. During my final class yesterday, my teacher and I walked to the market, ate ice cream and chatted about everything from abortion to the World Cup. Although I’m not too soupt on studying every night, I hate to call this the end.

I can’t believe I only have three more weeks—everything’s going by so quickly. I’ve got to make them count! Some of us are staying in a hotel in Antigua through Sunday, and then I’m off to Solola Monday and then Xela…can’t wait. =)

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