Zach and I thought of the idea for this documentary with our friend and fellow microfinance nerd, Haley Priebe, while drunk in a bar in Cartagena, Colombia. That was in June 2009. At the end of the week’s discussions, we had ambitiously decided to create a documentary of us living on a dollar a day while travelling around Bolivia and Peru, interning for microfinance institutions and showing our videos to university students to raise awareness for Microfinance and our student microfinance network, MFI Connect (www.mficonnect.com).

             A few months went by, we discussed it casually, bounced it off of friends and family, and the ideas continued to evolve. If our peers in the West were able to see us struggling in poverty, maybe they would be able to connect to it more than traditional documentaries which seem so distant and surreal? Maybe we could contrast it with our typical lifestyles in the US, showing a documentary of us interning at an Investment Bank in New York for the first half of the summer (My alternative for this summer) and working at a Microfinance Institution in the developing world for the second. This way, we thought, we could explore the differences between the First and Third World in terms of access to credit, and research how financial services such as microfinance have begun to counter this inequality. Also, we could explore the realm of jobs that exist in social business or microfinance, hopefully finding viable alternatives to the world of traditional capitalism.

             Over lunch conversations, 5 minute chats and Google documents (amazing btw), the idea molded into what it is today. And it is far from perfect, we will be the first to admit that, but we still and always have believed very deeply in the core goals and research of this project. We want to say thank you to everyone who gave us direction and took the time to humor us and hear out this crazy idea. I doubt too many people really took us seriously for the first 10 months of planning, or maybe ever. The project was a farfetched concept for a major film production, full of uncertainty that two twenty year olds, with big dreams and no film experience, had thought of. Even once we had refined our final proposal for the 10th time, we were declined funding repeatedly from every outlet we sought for a span of several months. I don’t even know if I truly believed myself that it would actually ever happen. It only became real to me as I lay down to sleep on our dirt floor the first night, hungry as all hell, and silently cursing myself for thinking this was a good idea... :)

          With all this in mind, I wanted to take the opportunity though to thank those that believed in us and decided to take a risk and fund this project. We are deeply indebted to Whole Planet Foundation, the philanthropic wing of Whole Foods (www.wholeplanetfoundation.org), and the students at Claremont McKenna College for making this happen.

           So as I come to the end of this experience, born from a conversation over a year ago, unlikely from the start, and fraught with repeated disappointment, how do I feel? I am again sitting in my tree, this time watching the colors of the sky switch from shades of pink and blue, to purple, and now a yellowish gray, while I write. Every gust of wind and shift in the sky’s portraits evokes a wave of new emotions within me. I cannot label them as good or bad, positive or negative, but I will deem them strong. This trip has been a whirlwind. My mind is skipping around at a rapid pace, jumping from thoughts of orange juice and Chocolate Chip cookie dough ice cream in my kitchen, to my loved ones at home, to my future life path, to my loved ones here, to the stories we just compiled, to the fact that my bony butt hurts from sitting atop my tree. While my emotions are mixed and powerful right now, I know, with both my heart and mind, that this project was the right decision for me at this point in my life and I will never regret it nor regret taking the time to experience it. Because in reality, as we have sarcastically joked about throughout the trip, 8 weeks is nothing. I mean, as my brother kindly calculated and sent to me from his cubicle in New York, it’s only .08% of my life so far.

           My decision to take this trip to follow my intellectual interest in microfinance and development economics, passion for travelling, and desire to give back some of what I have received, does not mean I am rejecting my life at home. I see it as adding another perspective; a perspective that will keep me asking questions, growing, and appreciating my loved ones and my opportunities. I love my life at home and am genuinely happy spending time with my friends and family, chilling and enjoying life. I guess I am seeing now that I do not have to choose between this world and that one. My eating a steak or enjoying the shit out of a shower when I get home does not mean I am betraying Chino and Anthony. My friends here have blessed me with their smiles, generosity, and stories, and I will have them forever more, to dig into, and harness patience and selflessness in times of need. I was fortunate enough to be born into an amazing world, far removed from many of the struggles that plague this mountain side and I cannot deny this. It seems unproductive to me to self loath because of fortunate circumstances beyond my control.

           I kinda feel like I have three options. I can either ignorantly pretend poverty doesn’t exit, pessimistically hate the world for its inequality, or accept it and try out some ideas to try and make it a bit better. I want to move forward from these 8 weeks by seeing my life and my resources as an opportunity, bordering on a responsibility, to bring some good into this world. To remember those that are struggling, to accept their struggle not hide from it, and try to capture opportunities, no matter how small, to give back to this world that has given me so much.

                Ok that’s as much rambling as I can muster right now. My butt is hurting a bit too much, the sun has risen, and I am probably already late for my last English class at the local school. Also, I have to figure out how to get down out of this moisture laden tree without prompting an expensive hospital bill on my last days…

                Thank you to everyone for reading, donating, spreading the word, and for giving me the inspiration to stay strong and continue trucking through this experience. It would not have been possible without you. While not my last post, this will be my last from Guatemala. Much love and respect from Pena Blanca.
Lizanne
8/9/2010 01:28:18

Chris- I have followed your journey this summer with wonder and awe. I hope we can connect before you head back to CA. I am so proud of you for pursing this passion out of the college boy/Fairfield County comfort zone.
Safe Travels home. See you soon.
xoLizzer

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Elena
8/9/2010 09:36:55

Chris-
It's so great to hear you articulate your thoughts on how to integrate this experience into your life back in the US. I'm sure it must be difficult to grapple with the stark disparities between a comfortable life at home and the families you've come to know and love in a third world country. In any event, I think your conclusion that it's an opportunity, "bordering on responsibility," to experience a new life and give back to the global community is an excellent one. I hope that your message really reaches our fellow CMCers (and the many others who will hopefully see your documentary), because after all, the life of a privileged American is only one of the millions of lives on earth that make up the human experience. This has been a truly amazing project and I can't wait to see what you come up with next!

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Dear Chris,
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