I arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras last Wednesday. Two of the staff members of Prisma Honduras, Orbelina and Lucy, were kind enough to brave the rush hour traffic and pick me up at the airport. You can read more about the staff members and the various Prisma offices on Dr. Kendall Mau’s informative blog: .
My first impressions of Tegucigalpa were that I could be in any large suburban US city, albeit with a little Latin flare! In my first three days here, I visited two different malls, both packed with people shopping at many of the same stores you find in the US, went to Wal-Mart to get a phone, and had dinner at Ruby Tuesdays. And if you’re wondering, this was not all at my suggestion! Even the prices for goods and services in Tegucigalpa are not much different than at home. Where am I again? When you see all this, it’s hard to believe that Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America (according to the 2006 CIA World Fact Book). Furthermore, in 2006 the unemployment rate was estimated to be at an astonishing 27.9% compared to 4.8% in the US. How can this be, when everybody is shopping?
Living in a nice section of Tegucigalpa, it’s really easy to forget that there is another half (or more) that lives below the poverty line in Honduras. There is an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income between the rich and poor here. This week, I finally was able to get out and meet some of the Kiva borrowers in Prisma’s Danlí office, about 60 miles away from Tegucigalpa. Danlí is colonial town with a cowboy feel. Cattle ranching, coffee production, and cigar production are the economic mainstays. Now I remember what I am here for! I spent most of my time with Manuel, one of Prisma’s loan officers, driving around to meet various borrowers at their homes and businesses. Manuel knows just about everyone in Danlí and the nearby town of El Paraiso. He remembers everyone’s name, their family situation, where they live, and how much they have borrowed without needing to bring his files. I could tell that Manuel’s clients have a lot of respect for him. Everyone welcomed us in their home with open arms. Furthermore, I am told that none of his clients have ever defaulted on a loan!
As I return back to my apartment in Tegucigalpa, I remind myself that there are many sides to this country: the one where I am living with all the creature comforts of home, and another one, where many people are working hard every day just to meet their basic daily needs.