International practicum: the intersection of business and serving others
Guatemalan trip changes perspective
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
John Brown University’s Graduate Business international practicums are a great opportunity to gain a global perspective on business, leadership, and life outside of what we’ve grown accustomed to. They challenge students’ assumptions about how the world works and, more importantly, how people live and grow, what they care about, and what drives and inspires them. The students on this year’s Guatemala practicum acted on that intersection of business and serving others by partnering with Agencias Way, a retail business with a heart for those in need, to impact the life of a family and their community in an incredible way.
One of the visits the team made on the trip was to the garbage dump. Many of the poorest families in Guatemala make their homes here, and they call it “the settlement.” People in this area spend their days sifting through the trash, hoping to find something they can sell or repurpose for their own use. It is dark, dangerous, and completely devoid of hope.
While visiting the dump, the team met a woman named Cecilia and her family. Mary Smith, one of the students on the trip, recollects that initial meeting:
She showed us how she weaved some beautiful blankets and blouses using a technique more common among the indigenous people. Because her husband Gaspar was unable to find work, it fell on her to provide income for the family of five, plus her oldest daughter's family of three. This meant weaving and sewing.
She told them of her struggles and asked if they knew anyone who would be willing to buy her products. Someone in the group asked why some of the blouses were unfinished, and one of the family members told them she needed a sewing machine in order to finish them.
Rosa Jerez, another student on the trip, took notice. “We all went back to the hotel that night, but I was thinking of how I could help this family.”
The next day, the team visited Agencias Way’s warehouse in Villa Nueva. Agencias Way sells furniture, electronics, home appliances, and other large consumer goods, but it is more to the Guatemalan community than a retailer. The company is owned by the Way family and has a heart for the struggling and the poor living in the settlement. In fact, it is the only business that will deliver to that area.
Agencias Way builds its stores in smaller towns and rural areas. It extends credit on a handshake, and if somebody needs extra time to pay a loan, then Agencias Way gives it to them. More than that, all current customers have access to free doctors’ appointments and receive discounts on medicine.
This resonated with the JBU team. “It was through a genuine sense of caring and seeing an opportunity for someone actually interested in serving those who are less fortunate that the connection was made,” Smith said.
Professor Joe Walenciak noticed some sewing machines sitting on the shelves during their warehouse visit and pointed them out to Jerez, who then asked the Way family about them. “I thought about Cecilia and approached Maria Way de Macias. I told her about Cecilia's condition and her story. I asked her to pray and, if it was in her heart to help Cecilia, to let us know.”
Asking the Way family to help worked. Upon returning home to the U.S., Rosa Jerez and the team were excited to receive an email with photos of Agencias Way delivering Cecilia her brand new sewing machine.
It was a group effort. I don’t take any credit for this work, but God was with me when he gave me the courage to ask Maria for the machine. I sawMaria and thought about Cecilia and how similar they were. These two women are trying their best to be role models for their families. They both have strong business sense. I hope they can meet each other sometime. I am excited to know that Cecilia will be able to support her family.
“Talk about living out the whole mission of JBU, hearts, hands, and minds,” Smith said. “We had the opportunity to witness words put into actions.”