Savings accounts, Christmas books and even loans, are part of the range of products from a "rural box" led by Emberá women in the heart of the Panamanian jungle. They have proposed converting it into a bank only for indigenous people to end the marginalization they suffer.
Tired of the obstacles and discrimination of not being credit subjects to have an account in a financial institution, just because they do not have stable income and because they are indigenous, these entrepreneurs created the project with only 22 members since 2015, as commonly they say to each other
Armed with several accounting books and a small safe, this handful of women from the town of Ipetí Emberá-Alto Bayano, in the district of Chepo, 59.5 kilometers east of the Panamanian capital, meets every Tuesday, in a center health, used only for that event momentarily.
In the middle of the settlement, still framed by the traditions of the ethnic group, the rural box begins work, the first step, the attendance list, the one that arrives late is subject to the penalty of paying 25 cents, and the one that fails to arrive, one dollar as a fine.
This was told to Efe by the president of the Caja Rural Ipetí, Melina Casama, who says that it is vital to keep track of those who will pay loans and savings in the current, Christmas and school accounts.
She says that this initiative to combat financial exclusion suffered by much of the people with low income, especially indigenous, help them obtain without many requirements monetary assistance, in exchange for a commitment to pay.
But this alternative requires that the person be a resident of Ipetí, be 18 years old and be a member, either type A (shareholders), B (holder of accounts with right to loans) and C (only accounts) in the project.
"Today it is difficult to save, but with something that we deposit, we have a hope to supply some need or urgency inside our homes," said the female indigenous.
The president and her delegation dream big, so they aspire to create a more formalized banking structure, according to her, and become entrepreneurs in their community.
"We have always thought since we were organizing, of dreaming of having our own bank within the community, and that we manage it," she said.
One of the beneficiaries is Gloria Samana, an artisan who makes baskets from the chunga palm, or in the Embera dialect "jiwa", who told Efe that the project has been beneficial for her family, especially now that her husband does not work because of health problems.
"If we earn $ 40 from our handicraft sale, we put half the savings, and we use the other for our expenses (...), the rural cash has benefited us, partly because we avoid leaving our town and being exposed to attacks," she said.
The rural bank, supervised and planned by the international NGO "Brigadas Globales", is advised by technician Evidelia Martínez, who, while receiving the money from the users, told Efe that until now, the capital is 13,577.94 dollars, excluding assets, an upcoming meeting room.
"The bank maintains 15 current loans, with a capital of 5,744.94 dollars, in the cooperative's booklet 1,270.70 dollars, and in a petty cash, 1,561.47 dollars," said Martínez.
She said that when they make loans under 500 dollars the guarantee balances with the savings and in case of exceeding this sum, the backup is some good with a higher value than requested. So far there is zero arrears in payments, a synonym for responsibility within the organization.
Although she sees the cash flow and the on-time payments made by the Indians as positive, Martinez is concerned that the amount of money she is entering is high, partly because in the National Bank, where they make their deposits, she has a limit to enter the money.
She said that the Bank has mentioned that they should be constituted as a cooperative, in order to expand their deposit range, but this involves undergoing a process to acquire legal status, which would require lawyers, and money.
In a previous interview, the president of the Emberá General Congress of Alto Bayano, Sara Omi, the only woman to hold a high position in the National Council for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, told Efe that the rural box has been the remedy for meeting the needs of their community.
"This alternative goes from the own vision of the community, since they can invest in the recovery of the cultural identity, to the tourist undertakings or the recovery of the alimentary security, until now it has served to solve certain specific needs as education and health," she said.
This proposal is in the process of being materialized by indigenous women, born leaders who support their families, culture and traditions, who are not stopped by the world of finance. EFE