Last Saturday, Aug. 10th, saw Martin, Phil, Kathleen, Ray, Tom, Gary, Rachel, Larry, Virginia and myself, off to Nogales, Sonora to do a field trip and to learn more about micro credit lending.  We met at the Nogales, AZ Burger King and were joined by Wayne Rush, Dan Albertson, who is the President of the micro lending bank, and three other Rotarians and one daughter.  Interestingly, two of the Rotarians were eClub members and the third was from California with her daughter.  We began the most harrowing part of the trip, crossing the street in front of the Burger King to get down to the gate and into Mexico.

Having not been to Nogales in many years, I was struck by the change of the city once in Mexico.  What used to be a vibrant tourist area is pretty drab these days. No El Cid's, the Cavern or all those fun shop where we bought Jose Cuervero for $2.50 a liter and knew we paid too much for it.  Any way, we were met by a number of Rotarians who were giving up part of their Saturday and ushered into vans for a quick trip to the EnComun Crecemos headquarters where we met by the staff of the micro credit program.  Dan give us a presentation upon the ins and out of micro credit and how the program was functioning in Nogales.  After many question from our group, we were back in the vans with staff, interpeterters and local Rotarians.  Wayne Rush and I grabbed the back seat so had time for a lot of Q&A while we driving.  Our first stop was at a pick up truck selling lunch.  The family had secured a loan as part of a borrowing group and had a brisk business selling food.  When asked what they did with the money they made, they explained that it went into an education for their children and that they hoped to have a little cafe in the next five years or so.  On that Saturday, they were being helped by two of there granddaughters. 

Our next stop was at a little convenience store in a middle class neighborhood.  The owner explained that she had several loans as part of her group.  One loan was used to expand her store physically after she had used another loan to expand her inventory.  Along the way, she started a second store! Our third stop, was to another convenience store in a much poorer neighborhood.  While the owner had a lot of space in her store, her inventory was lacking.  She explained that see stocked only those items that her customers needed but that she wanted to expand her inventory into meats, refrigerated items and fresh vegetables.  Her gross income was between $2,000-$3000 per month. Again, she was using her profits to educate her children.  Our final stop was at another family food business in a local swap meet that was opened only on the weekend.  They did a brisk business in breakfast and lunch some sundries that they had for sale.  By this time, we were getting tired and headed back to the border.

If you are asking why Valle Verde Rotary should invest in the micro credit program, let me offer a few more comments and observations.  One of the aims of the mircro credit program is to keep residents in Nogales, Sonora by providing them with economice oppertunites, training and funding.  This appears to be working.  In the area surronding the second store visited, people who were squatters ten years ago, are now building permanent houses.  They make lack running water and sewers but they are real houses.  Second, Nogales, Sonora is booming! Trucks are hauling building materials all over the place.  The big box stores from the US are present in Nogales along with other large retail estalblishments.  Warehouse, tranferring of goods and manufacturing facilities are all over the place but it is micro credit that gets the best bang for the pesos.  $80 a week as a factory worker versus $500-$750 a week gross as a small business. Nogales is growing at such a rate that people are returning for the new economic opportunities it presents.  Our interpeter, used to teach in LA.  He returned home to Nogales for a better quality of life and teaches English and Spanish.

Are there problems and uncertainties in the future for the micro credit program? You bet. But $250,000 invested in the micro credit program will yield greater resuts than two more border patrol agents.  If you want another reason to support this program, the Sage of Omah's foundation invested $1M in start up money a few years back.