Thursday, March 30, 2006


Microcredit is a relatively new form of international aid that helps people from poor countries by giving out small loans to individuals to fund small business. This system started in the 1970s with Muhammed Yunus, an American trained professor of economics, who began giving the first micro-loans in his native Bangladesh. Initial reactions to this enterprise were very negative, with arguments such as the poor would not be able to save or would default on the loans. Today microcredit institutions have overcome those arguments and are now loaning money to five million people. Recently the film Small Fortunes: Microcredit and the Future of Poverty made by BYU’s Center for Economic Self-Reliance aired on PBS and discussed the pros and cons of microcredit.

Businesses funded by microcredit aren’t elaborate by any means, but they allow the receivers of the loans to perhaps double their income. In many cases this takes the receiver from a step away from starvation to a respected and prosperous member of the community. Every month the receiver pays back a portion of the loan with the money they are receiving from their new business.

The loans themselves are small and interest free, so no one is going to make a profit from the business of micro lending, but it has potential to help every poor person who can come up with a business plan. The businesses are things like making market bags out of old cement bags or raising chickens. They are things that don’t require a lot of capital to start, but the people who receive the loans don’t have that little amount of capital to start the business on their own.

This kind of aid is useful because it is not just a handout. The people are required to work hard, give back the money they borrowed, and become self reliant. Surprisingly, almost all the loans do eventually get paid back, even though there is little that the lenders could take away from the receivers if they defaulted on the loan. This system also re-supplies itself so it helps many people, not just a few. The money goes out, comes back in, and can go out again.

Although initially microcredit began by giving loans to both women and men, now about 96% of all the loans at the Grameen Bank and the majority of loans at other institutions are given to women. Lenders found out that women are more likely to actually repay the loans, while the loans to women also have a more direct affect on the family. Women are the primary caregivers to children, so when their situation improves the situation of the children improves as well.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Living Maya

The film “Living Maya” was an enlightening portrayal of what it is like to make an ethnographic documentary. The film was essentially a “making of” for the film itself where audience is able to see how the film makers chose their site, enter the field, and interact with the people they film. I really enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes work that goes into making a very low budget ethnographic film like this. It gave me insight into what really goes on and reminded me of what happens when anthropologists go out into the field to study other cultures.

The film makers had an idea of what kind of village they wanted to film, so they talked with their friends about the villages in the Yucatan. They then spent several weeks driving around to different villages to see which one was the best one. When they found the village they wanted to work in they gathered the men together (the women weren’t allowed to attend the meeting) and asked for permission to make a film there.

This reminded me a lot of when I went to Guatemala. The town that I studied in had BYU students coming there for 10 years. I was a pretty pampered anthropologist in that regard. The people knew what I was there for and were pretty willing to talk to me. The year I went however,the field facilitator put one student in a small, very remote town where no BYU students had ever stayed. Professor Hawkins went up there with the student and asked around if they would allow the student to stay. The family they talked to said that they would have to have a town meeting about it, but he could stay there in the meantime. A few days latter they came up to him and told him that he could stay.

I also really liked the part of the film where the women are talking about the filmmaker in the kitchen, with him right there. The women are speaking in Mayan so the filmmaker doesn’t know what they are saying, but someone went back and translated it and put in subtitles so the audience can tell what is going on. I know this happened to me everyday while I was in Guatemala. I was able to tell from my limited Maya capabilities a little of what was going on, but when I asked they would deny that they were talking about me. So I thought the film was very realistic with what it portrayed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hear Yourself

Today I stumbled upon the Inquiry Conference site and found that the audio for the 2006 presentations is now available online. Feeling somewhat curious, but a little aprehensive, I scrolled down the page and clicked on my own presentation. It was a very weird feeling to hear myself giving a presentation. It's not like hearing someone else give a presentation because all the memories come rushing back. Even though I was just listening, I was not an idle bystander. I felt like I was back up there, nervous and frustrated with myself for not being able to get the words out right. (When I got up to give my presentation my words just wouldn't come out. I stumbled and pronounced words wrong.) Listening to myself on audio recording was really just too much for me because I felt like I was giving the presentation again. I couldn't do it, so I stopped listening.

You can listen to the presentation at

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Computer Meltdowns

My laptop has been acting really weird latelty. I will turn it on and it will be fine for a while, and then the screen will go black. I figured out that if I shine the desk lamp onto the screen I can see what is there. So the lights go out I guess. Last week Rob opened his laptop and the plastic around the screen broke, so he can't close it anymore. Then yesterday he tried to use his computer and it wouldn't let him open any programs. He opened it in safe mode and was able to move most of his files onto an external harddrive. This afternoon he spent an hour and a half on the phone with Dell customer service, but so far nothing has happened. Luckily, we still have our desktop computer, which besides from being old, is usable. Rob tried to turn it on yesterday and it wasn't turning on. Then I noticed that the screen and the printer had power, so I suggested that he check the power cord on the tower. Yup, it was just unplugged.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Inquiry Conference

This is it. Today is the day of the Inquiry Conference. In three short hours it will all be over. Will I have made it through alive? Well, most likley. I am really nervous about it though, and am doing my best to go through my presentation so I know what I am doing when I get up there. It's just so surreal. It is one of those feelings of "I can't beleive this is finally happening." Like when you get married, and you're like, wow, I'm getting married. This is on a much smaller scale, but feel like, "wow, I'm presenting at the Inquiry Conference." Wish me luck!