I know financial inclusion can change lives because it changed mine

An Accion employee remembers his roots in El Salvador and how agricultural microfinance improved his family’s life

When people ask me why I’ve worked for one organization for nearly 15 years, I usually give an answer about how great Accion is. But there’s more to the story.

Jose Amaya at 12, growing up in El Salvador

Me at 12, growing up in El Salvador

I come from a very poor family in El Salvador. I was born in 1981, at the beginning of a bloody civil war that lasted 12 years. Some days we had no food to eat, and my mother (God rest her soul) would walk long miles searching for food, sometimes with no luck. On those days, everybody would go to bed hungry, hoping the next day would bring better luck.

The small village where we lived had about 30 huts. The land was owned by one of the 14 families in the oligarchy that controlled most of El Salvador. When the war broke out, many of these landowners fled the country, and the land became a communal space for all the people who lived on it. A governing body was formed, and everybody worked the land together.

Then reforms came, and the land was divided equally among all the co-op members. My family got about 10 acres and a cow.

As new landowners and cattle raisers, my family’s biggest challenge was obtaining money to work the land on our own. That’s when we found out about agricultural microfinance.

People from Jose's village planting maize. Agricultural microfinance brought opportunity to his village.

People from my village planting maize.

My uncle was the first one to start “working with the bank.” He took out small loans to buy fertilizers, pesticides, and to pay his laborers. With the help of a technical assistant, he was able to expand his crops beyond maize, sorghum, and beans. He planted rice, sesame, and other, more profitable products.

In a few short years, my uncle went from living in a hut to living in a brick house. Everyone wanted to emulate him, including my father. And although we never got to the point of building a nice brick house, my family became self-sustaining. Our cows multiplied, and we worked our own land instead of laboring for somebody else.

I came to the United States when I was 16, and dazzled by this big city called Boston, I almost forgot about my little village. I started taking English classes, and the teacher helped me enroll in high school. Then someone gave me an old desktop computer as a present, and it became my object of fascination. I took it apart and put it back together many times. After finishing high school, I went to a vocational school for computer science.

I worked at a dry cleaner while I studied. Soon after I graduated, I came across an internship opportunity on the Accion website. So I called. A kind lady answered the phone, and after a short conversation in Spanish, I was invited for an in-person interview.

I arrived a few minutes early for the interview. While I waited at the reception desk, I started looking at the objects on the walls. It all came back to me. The Latin American decorations all over the office brought me back to my friends and neighbors in the village I had left behind. I realized right then that Accion was unique.

I ended up getting the internship. That was 2004, and here I am, still amazed by this place, and highly optimistic that we are making a difference in the world.

When the occasional drudgery of a busy day gets to me, and I start questioning my purpose, I reflect back on my little village, I feel nostalgic, and then I find my groove again.

As our CEO Michael Schlein said in a recent meeting, “It’s so rewarding to work for an organization where you can help make a positive impact in people’s lives.” It means even more knowing that the lives we’re improving are people like my family and the neighbors in my village.

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