The Microfinance Team

Proyecto Educativo Caminante – Microfinance Project

Boca Chica, Dominican Republic

May 2011

 The Hiram College Team

  • Natalie Richardson  (Communication, Class of 2013)
  • Lauren Jasko  (Neuroscience, Class of 2013)
  • Rachel Petrack  (Philosophy, Class of 2013)
  • Javonne Woodland  (BSN, Class of 2011)
  • Debra Martin
  • Dr. Bill Fillner


Caminante is an educational project in the Dominican Republic that works with children that are living and working in the street — children that have been victims of abuse or sexual exploitation — and works with the communities of Boca Chica and San Andres to raise awareness and prevent further cases of abuse.

Caminante was founded by Sister Denise Pichardo, and has been operating for the last 17 years in Boca Chica. Recently the project has been able to expand into the neighboring community of San Andres with their latest project La Casona. La Casona is an educational project focused on alleviating poverty by teaching skills useful in Boca Chica’s tourism based economy. Some of the current classes include cooking, baking, jewelry making, beauty courses (hair styling and acrylic nails), and computer courses covering both Microsoft Office and basic computer skills.

one of Caminante's first microloan recipients... a true success story.

                           Caminante Microfinance Project —The Concept

The intent of the microfinance project is to reduce the number of cases where a   family is dependent on a child’s income. The primary goal is to create a sustainable microfinance project that not only reduces poverty in the barrios where it is implemented, but also gives students an opportunity to see the power of microfinance at the personal level and inspire them to get involved in other projects across the globe.

The project structure — developed during 2010-2011 through a joint effort between Hiram College students and Caminante staff — is a 26 week pilot project. The pilot project involves 3 groups of women. The Hiram College team will be in Boca Chica for the first 3 meetings of the pilot groups.


The Microfinance Team's information session to the first group of women at la Casona.

The first meeting is an informational session about the project. During the meeting women will gain an understanding of the microfinance loan process and project structure. In the second meeting women will form groups with the understanding that they will be responsible and accountable to each other during the repayment process. During this meeting materials and information on micro-enterprises will be presented. The women will then begin brainstorming and developing a business plan. Caminante staff and Hiram College students will provide assistance with business concepts and development. The third meeting will be centered on micro-business management and designed to help women finalize their business plan. (Caminante staff will determine when and to whom loans will be distributed.)

 During continuing weekly meetings (26 total) the women will participate in workshops to further develop their enterprises and to address many of the challenges that face families in situations of poverty in the Dominican Republic. The workshops will focus on business skills and on community issues such as nutrition, where to receive vaccines, parasite prevention, HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness, and money skills for creating a family budget.

In order to measure the microfinance program success the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI) will be used to insure not only that the project is targeted at the families that have the greatest need, but also so there is a way of monitoring the program effectiveness.

Preparing for the Trip

During the 2010-11 school year Hiram College students developed a series of workshops for the Caminante Microfinance Program along with support material for the workshops. Emphasis was on the first 3 weekly meetings designed to launch the microfinance project

During Spring 2011, Natalie Richardson and Lauren Jasko lead a drive for contributions to the Microfinance Project. Their efforts, along with others, managed to raise over $1900 for the program, detailed in the table below.




Brad Ayres Books


Brad Ayres Cash


Llamda Cash


HOLA – Hiram Cash


Rotaract – Hiram Cash


Rotary – Hiram Cash


Rotary – Aurora Cash


Rotary – Hudson Cash




Other contributions, including baseball equipment, were donated by members of the Microfinance Team. The baseball equipment was donated to the working boys (street boys) program lead by Julio Sanchez. The books donated by Brad Ayers of Hudson went into the homework rooms supported by Caminante.

On the Ground in Boca Chica — Adapting to Community and Cultural Needs

Just days before the Hiram Microfinance Team’s departure to Boca Chica, Caminante staff implemented a dramatic shift in philosophy, changing from a microfinance approach to a village savings program approach — shifting from credit based to a savings based program.

“The basic principle of the Village Savings and Loan (VSL) system is that members of a self-selected group voluntarily form a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) and save money, through purchasing shares. The savings are invested in a loan fund from which members can borrow, repaying with a service charge added… The primary purpose of a VSLA is to provide simple savings and loan facilities in a community that does not have access to formal financial services. Loans can also provide a form of self-insurance to members, supplemented by a social fund which provides small but important grants to members in distress.  Associations are autonomous and self-managing… a VSLA’s goal is institutional and financial independence.” (Source: VSL Associates, LTD)

Caminante’s change from credit based to a savings based program turned a year of planning upside down… The planned workshops for starting a microcredit program were no longer relevant. The new emphasis was on savings and how to introduce the poor of Boca Chica to the concept of a Village Savings and Loan Association. Many of the subsequent workshops and training sessions were still appropriate, with some adjustments, but none of those materials were to be put to use during the service learning trip.

The Microfinance Student Team at work at la Casona. From left to right: Lauren, Natalie, Javonne, Isaac (translator), Rachel (standing)

The Microfinance Team had to react, to think on their feet. And not surprisingly, the students’ response was very positive. The students met numerous times with Ivelisse Lara, the Caminante Staff member responsible for the new program, to brainstorm workshops that would introduce the savings program to Caminante staff and clientele. With the assistance of an interpreter, Isaac Vitorianno, the team designed 3 workshops. Two of the workshops were delivered, the third was rained-out. More than 50 local residents attended the workshops… at the first workshop the students employed a skit to bridge the language gap with great success. Additionally, the students, with Ivelisse, visited the homes of local entrepreneurs, women, to see firsthand the enterprises created from the 2009-10 microcredit pilot program.

Village Savings and Loan Associations — The Future

The Village Savings and Loan solution seems to be a good fit for Caminante and the poor of Boca Chica. The positive aspects include reduced monetary risk for Caminante, which has limited resources, and the participants learn the power of savings, the expense of interest, money management skills, and gain the opportunity for independence, autonomy… empowerment! Additionally, the interest generated from loans can be used to create a community emergency fund to assist members of the VSLA in times of need.

One drawback of the shift from credit based microfinance to a VSL solution is that the poorest, the most needy, may be eliminated from the program. If there is no opportunity to generate income there are no funds available to be saved. The inherent risk is the very poor may rely on income generated from adolescents on the street to create a revenue stream that will allow them to enter a 26 week savings/training program from which they can receive a loan. This can place children in harm’s way… in the path of sexual predators that are pervasive in Boca Chica. This inadvertent risk is completely contrary to the mission of Caminante and will be monitored closely.

The Microfinance team will continue to work closely with Caminante to develop and deliver training materials and any other resources that will improve the success of the first Caminante Savings and Loan Association. It is a beautiful beginning…

Natalie, Lauren, Rachel, Javonne, Debra, and Bill. August 2011

One Response to “The Microfinance Team”
  1. devonna says:

    I sounds like you doing some great work. I wish you all the best.

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