Making Change

Professor takes on-the-ground approach to economic development

A loan from La Ceiba allowed Honduran Maria Diaz (in red) to establish this fruit stand. The UMW student group has made about 80 loans in all, averaging $130 each. Photo provided by La Ceiba.

On the first day in Siete de Abril, Faramarzi and Sarah Alvarez ’12, then also a sophomore, walked from house to house urging local women to come to the class they would be teaching on basic business planning. Many of the women were already selling items such as handmade jewelry or fresh fruit. The idea was, if the women would take small loans from La Ceiba, they could grow their businesses and have a better way of supporting their families.

About a dozen women showed up at the first class in the one-room village school. Alvarez and Faramarzi handed out worksheets with lessons on them, but the classroom- style teaching the Americans used was utterly foreign to the Honduran women. It was a flop.

“I think a lot of them were taking the worksheets home for their kids to draw on or to burn in the fire,” Faramarzi said. The next day, only four Hondurans showed up. “I don’t think we had really prepared ourselves.”

So just like Humphrey, the students had to toss out their plans and start over. Faramarzi and Alvarez worked well into that first night in Honduras to come up with role-playing exercises they hoped would save their teaching plan. After midnight Meredith Greenwell ’12, then a junior, took over. Alvarez, now 22, remembers waking at 3 a.m. to see Greenwell sitting in the dark a few feet away “cross-legged with a flashlight taped to her shoulder, hunched over, and just writing and writing.”

Humphrey smiled at that story, in part because he’s been through it himself. “Maturation by fire,” he called it. It’s stressful, it’s difficult, and it is part of learning how to use economics in a complex world. That’s the challenge that Honduras brings. The needs there are real, and so is the students’ passion.


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