This guest blog comes to us from Jainam Giamo, a student at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton, California. Since his trip to Morocco, he has started a microlending club at his high school. They have 12 members and growing!
“It’s not very hot today, only 110 degrees” said the shopkeeper in Ouarzazate, Morocco…“last week it was really hot though.” Although I just finished my junior year in high school, for years now I’ve been intrigued with the idea of microlending & entrepreneurship. I’m especially grateful to Olivia Hayden and Brian Doe at Whole Planet Foundation for allowing me the amazing opportunity to visit with & interview their microlending partner INMAA in Morocco, and with the many microloan recipients at the La Kasbah carpet weaving woman’s cooperative in this remote oasis town in eastern Morocco.
During my sophomore year in high school I joined a global business & entrepreneurship training organization called DECA which happened to have a branch/club at my school. I continued in DECA through my junior and now into my senior year (they made me their CFO!). Last June I wanted to find an interesting summer job, but as it turns out, it’s remarkably hard to find an office job when you’re still in high school and have no experience, well…really at anything! Maybe it helped that I was willing to work for free – but I was accepted into the internship program at a microlending firm in San Francisco called Kiva. I learned a lot about technology, marketing & microlending, but I yearned to get out into the field and see how these loans ACTUALLY worked and how they impacted real families.
That was when I discovered Whole Planet Foundation. They were extremely supportive of my passion, and introduced me to their lending partners at INMAA in Morocco (who were equally enthusiastic). INMAA offered not
only to meet with me, but also to tell me about microlending and to take me to meet some actual microloan recipients. I was ecstatic!
I arrived in Morocco some weeks later, and after two nights in a youth hostel in the fun but chaotic city of Marrakech, my Whole Planet adventure began.
We drove for five hours through barren moon-like landscapes interrupted occasionally by lush desert oases, and by towns clinging desperately to the main road for (economic) survival. I finally arrived (20 minutes late) at the desert town of Ouarzazate to find the INMAA staff already waiting for me in the hotel lobby.
“Way to make a great first impression,” I told myself! They were so gracious, and probably more than a little curious to meet the teenager who traveled from the other side of the world to the outskirts of the Sahara Desert to meet with them—in August no less!
We talked for hours about the microlending process: their selection criteria, the importance of the educational component of lending, how the repayment process works in a cash-based environment, what borrowers do with the money, and the challenges unique to that area. Later that day we visited the INMAA regional office as well. I learned a lot, and I am very grateful that they took the time to meet with me. The next day we visited La Kasbah, a woman’s carpet weaving cooperative whose members had taken many loans from INMAA (all repaid). They used the loans mainly to finance the purchase of material to make the carpets.
“This is why I came,” I said to myself. It was amazingly inspiring to see & experience personally, how Whole Planet Foundation-sourced microloans have given these women not just hope, but the ability to keep an ancient tradition alive while supporting themselves and their families. I am so grateful to both the INMAA staff and Whole Planet Foundation for giving me this incredible opportunity, and for the life-changing work that they do.