You might have heard about it. Or perhaps even been amongst the lucky ones on the east-coast to experience it. It being that extremely wonderful weather which hit the east coast of the USA in multiple storms of snow and ice. Amidst the ice and snow however was an incredible week of training up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at HOPE International’s headquarters.
Three of us were meeting for a week of training in Lancaster: myself from conveniently close Maryland, Drake from Dallas, TX and Joanne from Columbia, SC. As I battled the snowy roads in a drive up to Lancaster on Monday, Drake and Joanne faced a series of delayed and cancelled flights and train rides until finally everyone was in town sometime after 12am. Our Field Communications Manager, Lori, joked as she picked us up that this was just the start of our training for the field- learning how to be flexible! The rest of the week was a testament to that- my car wouldn’t start the next morning, then an ice storm came on Wednesday and froze all the roads, and then…well you get the idea. The weather aside, this past week of training has been a fantastic time of learning, meeting nearly everyone at HOPE and getting more excited than ever to join their team.
Starting when you first walk into the office, there is a sense of energy, passion and caring that draws you inward. Colorful artwork from around the world and pictures of those HOPE serves artistically brighten the walls. Stacks of “Mission Drift”, HOPE President Peter Greer’s new book wait to be shipped out. But it is the staff who truly embody HOPE’s unique culture. Each day of training was a whirlwind of information (more on that to come) presented to us by everyone from the Vice President of Operations to HOPE’s writers and graphic designers. Every single person we met seemed to have this blend of talent, knowledge and passion for changing lives around the world. Not only that, but everyone was so excited that we were finally there, excited for the work we are going to do overseas and insistent that we reach out to them if we need anything.
HOPE’s mission to alleviate physical and spiritual poverty is carried out through two primary tools – microfinance institutions (MFIs) and Savings and Credit Associations (SCAs). Both methods have distinct advantages in different settings, and this quick graphic was extremely helpful in explaining that:
Each of the countries that HOPE works in uses one of these models, or a combination of the two. HOPE also partners with numerous other organizations like Esperanza and Urwego who already had programs in place in countries like the Dominican Republic and Rwanda before HOPE arrived. Rather than just starting out on their own, HOPE comes beside them and sees how it can help.
Where I’ll be going in the Republic of Congo, HOPE uses the MFI model. Based out of the city of Brazzaville, MFIs are great tools for urban settings where clients are closer together. This way a loan officer can make his or her rounds much more efficiently with a larger number of clients than having to drive or walk all the way out to rural villages to meet only two people. For me, this means that I’ll be focusing on telling the stories of clients taking out small loans rather than meeting in savings groups. However, MFIs do still offer saving services.
That’s just a sampling of what we learned. We also learned about HOPE’s Global Brand, met with their writers, learned about how they use photography to show their clients full of hope, learned about their strategic plan as an organization and much more. From mock-interviews with translators to finance training and talking with the president, last week was overflowing with information. My brain is still sifting through everything and coming up with what I want to learn more about, but it has definitely been an invigorating week that has also filled me with purpose: they need us, the communications fellows out there in the field gathering stories, helping improve their programs and brand and everything in-between. We all left on Friday excited for the year to come, buzzing with new information and lists of things to do to get ready- I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A brief update on me and fundraising! For those who don’t know, I had to split my budget between work-related expenses and personal expenses for HOPE’s auditing purposes. So now the breakdown is as follows for my goal of $10,000:
Work-Related Expenses: $3,000- Through my HOPE Rising page, funding will go to my visa, vaccinations, travel in-country and more. All donations are tax deductible.
Personal expenses: $7,000*- Through my website (maraseibert.com/support-me). These expenses cover all my food, other travel, emergency funds, and more. You can also donate through Bethany Community Church and will still get a tax-deductible receipt! Just go to their donation page here, and scroll down to “HOPE International/Mara”.
Just as a status check so you all know how I’m doing on fundraising, I’ve raised $1,100 for my work expenses and $3,046 for my personal expenses for a total of $4,146! Thus far, I still have $5,854 left to go.
My plane ticket has been bought! I’ll officially be leaving Maryland for Brazzaville on March 4th, in three short weeks and there is still much to get ready in the meantime. The agenda for this week? A trip to the embassy of the Republic of Congo in DC – it’s time to get that visa.
*After talking with Pastor Kevin, I decided to keep my budget at $10,000 total for the year to fully cover all my expenses.