I want to tell you the best story I’ve heard lately.
I heard it while we were out in Matilde, a small farming community about an hour and half from Chinandega. We’d headed out that way to visit with Don Celso, a farmer and participant in Amigos for Christ’s MicroLoan program, in the hopes of getting to know him a little bit better and asking him a few questions about his experience in the program.
I love spending time with Don Celso. He has kind eyes and an easy smile, and when he tells you (after only knowing you a few minutes) that he already considers you family, you believe it. Plus, he’s a spectacular storyteller; almost every sentence starts with, “Let me tell you a story…” and is full of the humor, sincerity, and wisdom that seem to characterize all the other parts of his life, too.
So, we wiled away the afternoon lounging in plastic chairs and swinging on hammocks, and Don Celso generously invited us into his life, sharing story after story about the hardships and triumphs he’s experienced during his life as a farmer in rural Nicaragua. Before starting with the MicroLoans program, Don Celso told us, he was hopelessly stuck in a terrible cycle of debt. Nicaraguan banks typically charge up to 50 percent interest on loans, when they give them at all, he explained, making it almost impossible to turn a profit and leaving families like his at perpetual risk of losing everything if they have even one bad harvest.
Since receiving his first low-interest MicroLoan four years ago, though, things have been different. For the first time in his life, Don Celso told us, he’s begun to really believe that his life can change; he has a vision for his future and hope that, one day, he’ll actually get there.
He talked about moving his family out of the palm branch shelter they lived in before and into the new house he built himself, and how it’s the first time in his life he’s actually owned a real brick-and-mortar home. He talked about his kids – two grown up and three still at home – and the future he wants for them, about high school and college and new opportunities he never thought they’d have. And he talked about peace, and rest, and how for the first time he comes home at night after a hard day’s work and has a sense of wellbeing, a belief that everything will, in fact, be okay.
There was so much he had accomplished, so much that had changed over the years. Which of all those years, we wondered, did he earn the most? Which was his best year? We, of course, were speaking specifically in monetary terms, looking for a number that could help us wrap our minds around exactly how much something like a MicroLoan could impact a family like his.
Don Celso reflected for a moment before he answered. “Well, I don’t suppose this is probably the answer you’re looking for, but let me tell you a story…”
Two years ago, Don Celso began, his wife Reyna was pregnant with their youngest daughter, Sulmi. Although basic medical care is provided free of cost at public hospitals and clinics, patients are responsible for paying for all the medications, equipment, and transportation, and any special circumstances could cost extra. And, like everyone in their remote community, Reyna had to travel over an hour to the closest hospital when the moment finally came for her to give birth.
Once she arrived, however, the doctors gave them the kind of news every parent dreads: the umbilical cord was wrapped around her baby’s neck, and if they didn’t operate immediately it was likely that neither mother nor daughter would survive. “The extra costs for the operation and recovery were expensive, and normally I would never have been able to afford it,” said Don Celso. “I was going to lose both of them.”
“But,” he continued, “I’ll tell you what happened. Because I had my earnings from my MicroLoan that year, I was able to pay for it all, and it saved the life of my daughter and the life of my wife. And now, look at them,” he said, gesturing toward Sulmi learning shyly against the door frame.
“She’s here, the light of my life, and she’s alive.”
Spellbound until that moment, I was pulled back to the present as I looked over at that precious “earning” watching us with bright, curious eyes a few feet away. I didn’t know how much all those extra medical expenses cost, but suddenly the amount of money he earned that year – whatever it was – seemed priceless.
“So, I guess it’s not what you were asking,” he went on, “but that’s my answer. My daughter and my wife are alive and they’re with me today, and that’s the best earning I’ve ever had.”
Actually, Don Celso, you’re mistaken; we didn’t know it before, but that’s exactly what we needed to hear.