Written by GAiN staff who visited Diaconia, our partner in Paraguay, to attend a trust group meeting (part of the micro-enterprise program).

Close your eyes and journey with me as we travel down a dusty, red dirt road in rural South America – a road unmarked and impossible to find to the untrained eye. After half an hour of twisting, turning and bumping along, the road becomes impassible by car and the journey must be continued by foot.

Makeshift households are sparsely scattered, with laundry strung on lines; chickens, pigs, and dogs running around; and residents going about their daily lives. Around a few more corners and we reach a household where 15 ladies gather outside, weekly, in what is known as a Diaconia Trust Group.

Each lady exhibits hope and joy, as she describes her dreams of building a business for herself. The possibilities seem endless: a bakery, a cleaning business, a dressmaker, and even a pizzeria. She dreams this business will bring a better future for her children, as there is likely not a father figure in the household.

In the first meeting, earlier this year, each lady received a loan equivalent of approximately $30 USD – which will be paid back over the course of 12 weeks.

As the present meeting commences, the appointed group leader starts things off. All 15 ladies are called by name, one at a time, to walk up and make their loan payment in cash, into the cardboard box. A payment is in the range of 15,000 Guaranines ($2.70 USD). The ladies are also required to pay group designed penalties for late payments from previous weeks. The group secretary dutifully makes note of the payments by hand in the book, as the loan steward stands by.

Following this initial round of payment, any ladies who received additional loans from group savings (for special projects) are once again called to the front to make their cash payments, as the secretary takes note.

Once these debts have been paid off, the ladies request any loans from the group savings for special projects. The group then approves these requests and the loans are issued.

Upon completion of the meeting, each lady returns down the dusty road by foot, as she continues to work hard building her business, and in turn, restoring hope for the future of her family and the future of Paraguay.

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