> Posted by Jimena Vallejos, Project Coordinator, Fundación Paraguaya
Non-discrimination is embedded in the fifth Client Protection Principle, Fair and Respectful Treatment of Clients. A microfinance institution (MFI) may work, knowingly or not, with clients that have particular disabilities or conditions. In order for MFIs to operate without discrimination, it’s essential that they are inclusive of persons with disabilities and that they offer services that account for these clients’ unique needs. Fundación Paraguaya (FP) is an MFI that operates in Asunción, Paraguay and employs an impressive non-discrimination policy and code of ethics, fully taking into account those with disabilities and physical conditions. These documents can be viewed on the Smart Campaign website:
Fundación Paraguaya and CFI are working together on a specific project, “Non-Discrimination: Making Microfinance Institutions Disability Inclusive and Smart Campaign Certifiable,” establishing and testing guidelines for a model comprehensive non-discrimination policy. As part of the project, Thomas Meriaux and Caroline Cervera from Handicap International are currently visiting Fundación Paraguaya to provide trainings on disability inclusion for clients and employees at the MFI. We recently spoke with Thomas about his visit, and he told us about an incident that brought it all home.
I went to Paraguay to gain greater understanding of the different levels and areas of Fundación Paraguaya on the inclusion of persons with disabilities. During my visit, I met with high management members, human resources staff, and managers within the field offices. This helped me to see the different perspectives of FP staff first-hand, as well as the different focus and roles that each department plays concerning persons with disabilities.
One day in between interviews I decided to go for a walk to observe the institutional context and digest the details of discussion at FP. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision. Right at the corner of the MFI, I noticed a barbershop and decided to go in, as I was actually in need of a haircut. I was welcomed by the barber, and as fate would have it, I immediately realized by the sounds he made that he was deaf. It was a serendipitous opportunity to apply what I was describing to the managers just a few moments before. I faced the barber directly, so he could read my lips, and I spoke slowly with simplified sentences accompanied by explanatory gestures.
He expressed that he had understood my request and immediately started cutting my hair, and the final result was very nice. I thanked him, paid for the haircut, and headed back to FP.
Upon my return, I shared my experience with Jimena (FP’s Inclusion Project Coordinator) and learned, to my most pleasant surprise, that the barber, Mr. Toñanez, has been a client of Fundación Paraguaya for over two years.
For this reason, we decided to go back to the barbershop, accompanied by his loan officers. I explained that, for me, he was an example for us to maintain in our work not only because of his warm welcoming, but also for his capacity to communicate effectively and his great abilities as a barber.
This experience reinforces the idea that with an inclusive environment, a person with a disability is completely capable of doing an excellent job, in spite of the popular misconception that disability creates barriers. When financial service providers have awareness of this and incorporate it into strong client care, this is what enables financial, economic, and other opportunities for all kinds of people, regardless of condition or impairment.
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