Posted by on November 20, 2013
by Randall Paul Cass
Randall is a second year student in the IAD Graduate Group. During the summer of 2013, he worked on a project in Ecuador supported by the nonprofit Freedom from Hunger and the Blum Center For Developing Economies at UC Davis.
Here in the Andes, the elevation can get to you. For me, the transition from life at sea level in Davis to the 9,000-foot high city of Quito was quite the unexpected challenge. Altitude gain can make you dizzy, even sick, if you do not take precautions. For those first few days you feel a little lightheaded and out of it - walking up a flight of stairs feels akin to finishing a half-marathon. You sleep 12 hours a night. It takes time to get used to being so high up. The Spanish word for gaining elevation is subir. It also means rising or moving up. Subir isn’t easy. But it is definitely worth it.
The city of Quito is literally tucked in the clouds. It’s nestled between majestic mountains. There are endless photo opportunities. The city center is so dense with historical landmarks, unique architecture, and cultural exhibitions that it has been named a world heritage site.
However, Carolina and I are not here to be tourists. We are in Ecuador to conduct surveys with youth taking part in savings programs offered by local savings cooperatives. The goal of these programs is to teach youth responsible money habits by providing them with savings accounts and financial education talks. For our survey, we are especially interested in exploring the use of technology to encourage youth to save – this includes cooperatives sending out motivational and informative text messages to youth and even collecting deposits door-to-door with smart phones that can print transaction receipts. Carolina and I travel to schools and to the homes of youth involved in the program and interview them on their savings habits and their thoughts on the program technology.
This project was made possible through Freedom from Hunger, the nonprofit that funds the youth savings programs we are studying. The organization believes that educating youth about good financial habits and encouraging them to save will help bridge the poverty gap as Ecuador’s next generation enters the workforce.
Of the dozens of youth we’ve met with so far, there is one young man that particularly exemplifies a success story for the program. His name is Michael and he is 19 years old. He started attending the program’s financial education talks over two years ago, and opened a savings account shortly after. We visited him at his home in a rural area outside of the highland town of Guaranda. There, on his family’s pig farm, Michael explained to us how the savings program encouraged him to plan for the future, secure a job, and save. Through the job he currently works, he is able to put money away in his account and help support his mother and 12 brothers and sisters on their farm. He hopes to continue working and eventually attend university. Michael has a clear vision of what he wants in the future, and the program has assisted him in achieving his goals thus far.
If my trip to Ecuador has taught me one thing, it’s that subir is challenging. I learned this the hard way as I adjusted to Quito’s mountain elevation. I also learned this talking to youth that participated in our survey. Through improved access to financial services, young people like Michael can subir. They are rising above what is expected of them. They are “moving up”, both personally and economically. Their dedication is inspirational. Especially because subir isn’t easy. But it’s definitely worth it.
Posted by on November 20, 2013
Curious to know what kinds of folks are in the IAD grad group? First year IADers were asked to write an elevator pitch about their interests, specializations and goals for their IAD 200 course "Theory and Practice of International Agricultural Development". Click the link to see what they said!