Where I Work Instead of Sleep

Cartago Travel Blog

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Sanatorio Duran

Last night I went to see “Donde Duerme El Horror” (Where the Horror Sleeps), a horror film made in Costa Rica. The good news is that Wednesdays in Costa Rica are 2 for 1 movie night which means that two people can go to the movies for 2000 colones ($4 USD) total. The bad news is, and I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, I was absolutely terrified! The movie takes place in an old hospital in Cartago known as Sanatorio Duran (look it up on Google if you dare!). Although the giant house is absolutely terrifying on the big screen with its creaking doors and dark hallways, something about it bothered me- the place looked so familiar! After the movie, I went home and thought about the house a little too much. This morning, after an obviously restless night, I asked a co-worker about the house in the film.

A picture of Sanatorio Duran that I took BEFORE seeing the movie!
She told me that it was at the bottom of a large mountain on the main road that goes to Volcano Irazu and that the people in Costa Rica believe it is haunted. At that moment, it struck me! When I traveled with my homestay family to Irazu, we stopped on the side of the road to photograph this beautiful horse on the mountaintop. At the base of the mountain, my homestay mother pointed out “an old haunted hospital.” I took a few pictures, but in day-light, did not think much of it. In retrospect, I am glad that I saw that house BEFORE I saw the movie and I am positive that I will never return.

On the bright side, while I am sleeping less, I have more time to contemplate all of the things I have been learning at work. Yesterday we had a big meeting with Erika, a consultant who provided a social audit for the institution where I work.

Me hard at work
She will be personally helping us work toward the following two objectives:

1)      Develop a measurement system for poverty

2)      Develop a measurement system for client satisfaction

This institution hopes to develop a measurement system for poverty in order to identify what percentage of their clients is living below the poverty line. Most microfinance organizations aim to work specifically with ‘the poor,’ but this one differs in that they aim to work with ‘women in need.’ Yes, the people here do intend to help the poor, but they also intend to help people who are merely lower-middle class in order to facilitate a more stable financial situation and independence. This institution firmly believes that microfinance efforts can empower a woman and her family and in doing so, can change their lives. In my opinion, this seems like an overly ambitious thing to measure. What metrics can you use to identify if somebody is poor or not? How do you know that they are answering your questions honestly? In the meeting, we discussed a variety of poverty indicators including, but not limited to: education level, number of dependents, overall household income and expenses, capital goods, food security, infrastructure and sanitary services, living conditions, and basic necessities (eg. electricity, clothing). We hope to reach out to our clients and to eventually measure our overall impact by creating a large questionnaire for loan recipients to fill out before taking out a loan and after paying it back. The questionnaire will ask things such as the number of meals skipped a month, whether or not the children need to work, if improvements have been made to their home in the past year, what their expenses are per child/dependent, etc. We hope that the results of this particular survey after the loan is paid back will indicate that the microloan and the business overall helped the family to improve their quality of life in some way, shape, or form.

Although I have helped with the brainstorming process for the aforementioned goal, my personal project here has been focused entirely on client satisfaction, the second objective. This institution has set several goals for the next few years in this regard. The main overarching goal that my survey is specifically tailored toward is the percentage growth in the overall level of satisfaction. Presently the institution does not measure client satisfaction through a consistent survey. The reasons for this vary, but they can mainly be attributed to the fact that the surveys cannot be distributed by mail, email, or online. Instead, the surveys need to be hand-delivered, picked up and filled out in the office, or done by telephone. These methods are very time-consuming and expensive, especially given the range of locations of our client base. Although the system of distribution cannot be improved, this component still needs to be measured in order to assess the overall success of this microfinance institution. The goal is that by the end of 2010, we will have achieved 80% satisfaction among our client base, 85% by the end of 2011, and 90% by the end of 2012. With this desired steady growth rate of 5% a year, the measurement system must be very effective in order to facilitate and instigate positive change for the clients.

After a lot of meetings, translations, and changes, I have finally finished the next draft of my survey. The survey is separated by different legs of the microloan process: first impression/interaction with the institution, formalization and paperwork for the first loan, assistance and support from a loan officer during the loan period, the time using the literal loan itself, and the payback of the loan at the National Bank. Each component asks a variety of questions measured on a scale of 1-5 in order to determine the client’s level of satisfaction with a variety of things. For the first impression leg, I ask about the professionalism of employees, the availability by phone, and the opportunities for credit. For the formalization leg, I ask about the clarity of the legal documents, the explanation of the terms and conditions, and overall understanding of what is being signed. For the assistance leg, I ask about the way the client is treated, loan officers’ knowledge of the products/services, efficient service, problem resolution, and the offering of other services to suit a client’s needs. For the loan leg, I ask about the interest rate, the loan term, the ease of the process, and the amount of the loan. For the final leg, I ask about the location of the bank, the ease of the process, the employees’ help, and the number of questions clients need to answer. I hope that this way of organizing the questions will facilitate more clear, useful, and honest results from clients.

Overall, I am glad that we are working hard and in a timely manner toward these objectives, but I will admit that I have a bit of fear as well. I am nervous that we will work hard to complete the necessary paperwork and surveys, but they will not be distributed and analyzed after we leave. I hope that a few more conversations with the executive board here can improve my confidence that our work will become effective tools that will truly enable the institution to make a positive change for themselves and their clients.

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Sanatorio Duran
Sanatorio Duran
A picture of Sanatorio Duran that …
A picture of Sanatorio Duran that…
Me hard at work
Me hard at work
photo by: walterman9999