Matteo Ricci College
Poverty Education Center

Elise Hollowed

  •  Elise

  • First Few Days of Work


    Reading the responsibilities and requirements for my internship was daunting. The requirement of a master’s degree, managing my own projects, and doing internal reviews of operations? That sounds much more like a real world job that anything I have ever had to do! In preparation, I read and re-read books by Muhammad Yunus, researched microfinance projects in India, and focused on every detail in my economics classes. I worried I would not be able remember complex economic theorems or think creatively and analytically enough to succeed in my position.

    As my first day of work approached, I felt prepared.

    It started a bit slow, as they had no previous set-up for interns, but my first morning was spent learning about the process of micro-finance and how BMSS operates within certain guidelines. Groups of 10-20 women, 6 receiving loans at a time, loans of 15,000 INR maximum, interest of 12% annually to be scaled as the loan is paid off, a savings system to be put in place for the entire group before any loans are received, and a grading system to decide when a group is ready to receive loans. Check. Easy. Understood. I knew all of this! It was numbers; I could write them down and absorb the information.

    The rest of the day was a bit frustrating as it was spent trying to figure out how exactly I could help. I don’t speak Kannada, the local language, and everything from the graded exam to the applications was incomprehensible. I gravitated towards the familiarity of numbers, but even then could not read what they were representing. 

    The next day they decided to send me into the field with one of the community workers. Truthfully, I think this was just an excuse to get me out of the office and out of the way. I woke up early to take the bus and arrived at work eager to put my knowledge to use. I waited…..and waited…around lunch time the community worker showed up. She spoke some English, but not enough that I really ever knew what was going on. We went to a sewing shop in what is considered the urban slum of Bangalore, Rayapuram. Immediately, I was greeted and given a drink and snack. They sat me down and started playing with my hair! Then put on bangles and painted my face! I was so confused, but all I could do was laugh, and they laughed with me. Then they brought me outside and had me join hands and swirl around a pan of oil, chalk, and leaves, which they had lit on fire. All I managed to understand was that this was their way of welcoming me into their lives and inviting me to share an experience with them. I still do not understand the significance,  but if I have learned anything from my time in India, it is to accept, enjoy, and let be. You cannot come with expectations or judgments because you will be let down and proven wrong over and over. Even planning is often a waste of time! Nothing will happen as it is supposed to, but if you allow it to shape itself then every "plan" turns out great.


    The women of Rayanpura reminded me that you cannot judge a culture or its people from the outside. The notions I have are constantly being turned upside down. These women blatantly burped like 12 year-old boys, acted like teenage girls giving make-overs, and gossiped as much as the Real Housewife of Orange County. I relaxed, let down my guard, and felt comfortable having fun and laughing.

    It was only after this light-hearted talk and play that I began the case study I had been sent to do. I asked questions about their families, work, lives before and after the loan, and how their sewing business was doing. I learned that they were all in arranged marriages and had never left the house alone until they had started their shop. They had not talked much, and rarely socialized. One woman’s child had recently died of dengue fever and another was raising three girls without a husband. They told me about one woman in the group who could not make it to meetings very often because her husband was an alcoholic and would not allow her to work. It was shocking to see these women, with whom I had related, talking about such serious and tragic events. They had invited me into their homes and made me try food until I felt I would burst. They had showered me with gifts of bangles, a scarf and necklace because they were excited to dress me in traditional wear. I felt guilty and tried to return the gifts at the end of the day, but all were persistent in insisting I keep them.

    My first real day of work was nothing like I had expected. Micro-finance is not about the numbers or even the economics. It is about the people; it brings an opportunity for people to have confidence in themselves and gain independence from a society which imposes strict customs and traditions on the lives of the woman. My economics background may help me in auditing the organizations' finances and structure, but that is insignificant to the work I hope to continue doing. These women don’t think of interest rates, regression lines, or equilibriums when saving for their children’s education or putting food on the table. It’s merely a necessity of life. What I gain from this experience won’t be something I can read in an economics textbook. The theories and things we read in class are all hypothetical. To address development and poverty one must first go to the people they seek to help and learn, from them, what is needed. The poor are not naïve to what it takes to overcome poverty. They only lack the resources to act. 





  •  Bangalore

    Though there are many things that I do not understand about India, there are also lots of great aspects to Indian culture and more specifically, Bangalore.

    I was feeling a little home sick after a week here and made a list of everything I missed about Seattle. From rainy days to the familiarity of getting off James St. exit, I have a lot of love for the 206. It was after a bit of moping that I realized people in Bangalore probably have equally long, or longer, lists of things they love about their city. So I asked them! 

    Top responses:

    “You know what? I am going to be honest with you here. Bangalore is the best city to stay in in this country. People here are much more open-minded than anywhere else. The cosmopolitan culture is just awesome. People here are willing to help each other regardless of where you are from. I don’t know why but I feel really proud when I tell someone that I am from Bangalore. I don’t know why but I suddenly feel much cooler.“

    “Weather, weather, and weather.”

    “Top of my head — weather, food, (most) people, (relative) safety, culture (music, literature, drama/theatre, dance), book shops, quizzing, pithy and expressive swearing, drinking, bus service.”

    In conclusion, it motivated me to get out and get to know the city and it’s people. My attitude affects everything I do, and if I am not open to India, then India will never be open to me. So cheesy...


    Elise Room

    my room



    Field Work


    My field work has allowed me to interact with women and children who continually push my understanding and respect for the human being. The cruelty we inflict on each other is appalling, but the ability of the victims to sustain, and even achieve happiness, in such primitive situations is inspiring.

    I got to talk with women who were dealt bad hands. Many had alcoholic husbands, had been widowed, and lacked the education and upbringing to allow them a stable lifestyle. They have dealt with disease, death, and unexpected expenses that left them destitute. They live in conditions many in the US would deem unlivable. One home I entered had a 6 x 6 ft space that doubled as a shower and sink during the day and a bedroom at night. No kitchen was larger than the smallest of Western bathrooms, and communal living was taken to a level I had not even imagined. Before joining the Self Help Groups, none of the women had a savings account, and they often did not understand the concept of savings. Now all are able to sign their own names and have opened accounts. They understand the importance of keeping their children in school and see prospects of escaping poverty. Life is still difficult, but through these hardships I can sense that they are not depressed and have not given up. They enjoy life and love their families.