WSU Students Continue to Change Lives $50 at a Time

OGDEN, Utah – Fifteen Weber State University students are in Guatemala helping Mayan women start and improve small businesses during a two-week study abroad class ending June 26.

Five years ago, foreign language professor Alicia Giralt started a microfinance program in Guatemala. Each year her students return to teach Mayan women basic business concepts and loan them $50 to start or improve their enterprises.

“Microcredit is exceptional because it creates sustainable development,” Giralt said. “It helps whole communities come out of poverty, which could eventually help the whole world.”

In years past, students have donated the $50 for the microloans. This year, however, the program received so
 
WSU Students serving in Guatemala.
many donations from World Link Partners and former students of the program that this year’s students do not need to fund the microcredits.


Before embarking on their two-week trip, students spent one week in class brushing up on business Spanish and learning about Guatemalan culture.

Spanish student Stephanie Fuller said she was looking forward to the trip for two reasons: “The best way to learn a language is immersion, but I’m more excited to help the women and learn about microfinance,” she said. “Guatemalan women have had a rough go of it for the past few thousand years, and a small amount of money can make all the difference.”

Each year students are paired with a loan recipient to work on new ideas.

“One woman made cakes, and she had the natural red, yellow and blue dyes, but she didn’t know how to mix her colors,” Giralt said. “A student taught her how to mix colors for more variety, and just that helped improve her business.”

Students said hearing Giralt’s share stories of success from former years heightened their excitement. Giralt explained to them that the microcredit program took root almost immediately. By the second year WSU students visited, the Guatemalan women had formed a cooperative to collect loan payments as well as to support each other. Each woman was still in business, and in just six months, all had repaid the original loans with interest. In addition, each of the women contributed another 25 cents per month savings to their cooperative for the future.

“We focus on women because many studies show that when you help women, the whole family benefits,” Giralt said.  “They use the money for food, education and health.”

Giralt’s favorite part of each trip is providing students an opportunity to see how other people live, how a different culture functions and how the students can become friends with someone who seems so different from them.

“You’ll see the culture and circumstances of Guatemala with your own eyes and not just my filter,” Giralt told her class before they left.

WSU junior in health promotions and Spanish minor Angela Stander echoed Giralt’s hopes.

“It’ll be cool to not see the worldly things we’re so dependent on,” she said. “They live off the land. They have different priorities. I feel like they’ll change my life much more than I’ll change theirs.”

Visit weber.edu/wsutoday for more news about Weber State University.
Contact:
Alicia Giralt, foreign language professor
801-626-6726 • 801-391-3805 • agiralt@weber.edu
Author:
Cozette Jenkins, University Communications
801-626-7295 • cozettejenkins@weber.edu