2013 was a big year for Opportunity’s work in Nicaragua, and 2014 promises to be even bigger. Our community economic development program doesn’t just focus on farmers; we aim to lift up the entire community.
We take a two-pronged approach to helping our farmers. First, we provide training and increased access to loans. In 2013, 250 clients received training on modern farming practices such as soil fertility and effective seed use. Second, we invest in infrastructure that adds value to crops and improves access to markets. Our yucca processing plant makes packaging and processing tools available to farmers for their crops, allowing them to sell for higher prices. Sales through the processing plant rose to over $90,000 in 2013, and the average Opportunity farmer’s income was $1000 – 30% more than the average in the area.
We are also ensuring a brighter future for the children of Nicaragua. The Emprendedora Technical School, founded by Opportunity in 2012, has grown by 200% in just two years, and now serves 180 students. By 2016, the school hopes to hire seven new faculty members and expand to a student body of 300. 81% of students at Emprendedora are maintaining grades of at least 80 points, compared to the public school average of 60% maintaining grade level at 60 points. In addition to utilizing their new computer lab and Internet access, Emprendedora’s students benefit from the entrepreneurship lessons Opportunity has embedded into their curriculum, in which they receive a comprehensive, hands-on “field-to-market” education on how to operate a sustainable, profitable business.
Finally, we give back to the community as a whole. We trained 11 community leaders to identify child labor and sex exploitation, resulting in six cases currently under prosecution, and we have established 54 libraries that serve over 3000 rural children and their families.
Because of your support, Ana is unstoppable.
Despite the poverty and gender discrimination which could have held her back, Ana owned the opportunity to thrive, then paid it forward, empowering her village and lifting up the women around her to, finally, have a voice in shaping their futures.
Ana and her seven siblings grew up in La Laguna, often without enough to eat, and she worked from a very young age to pay her own school fees. Ana says her parents instilled in her a sense of independence, and also responsibility to give back to her community.
Ten years ago, in order to survive, Ana and 20 other determined women formed La Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) Trust Group to access loans from Opportunity International. Most bought goods such as oil and rice to sell by the roadside or in front of their homes. Then Opportunity International approached them to work on critical issues in the community, including the need for potable water. Ana and her neighbors had been without drinking water in their homes for many years because of an earthquake. They would travel 7 km to fill their barrels at a monthly cost of about $24 for 3 cubic meters of water. Not only was this a great expense for people living in poverty, but also took them away from their businesses and families.
Community issues in La Laguna had always been handled exclusively by the La Laguna Community Cooperative, a group consisting of five male elders. The group had been trying to get a new well dug for about 10 years, but Ana’s Trust Group was frustrated and no longer trusted that the men could get the project completed. Ana was determined to get things done and became the first woman to join the cooperative, and then the board. That’s when things started happening. Opportunity International lent the cooperative $10,000, payable over 10 years, to dig a well 600 meters deep. Under the instruction of Ana, the community members came together to dig and install piping to carry the water to each villager’s home. The cooperative started with 157 homes, and then ran piping to additional homes as more money came in. Today, the water project is self-sustaining. Presently, 224 families pay $5.24 per month for 8 cubic meters of water. By the end of 2013, they hope to reach every family in this community of 3,800 people. Ana says the improvement in their lives is remarkable: they save so much time and money now, and the water is far superior to what they were getting before.
In 2010, heavy rains destroyed the one road out of the village, cutting off residents’ access to healthcare and the outside world. Working with Opportunity, Ana and the other board members were able to raise the money to complete the 7.5 km road this past December, which has opened up the village’s world of opportunity. The cooperative also helps needy people rebuild their roofs, and recently refurbished the community’s library. Their next big project will be building a healthcare center for the community.
Ana has recruited other women to join the board and now there are equal numbers of women and men—and even young people—solving the community’s critical issues. She believes that the older board members must begin to train the younger women how to serve and lead. Approximately 20 people meet regularly in Ana’s home to discuss coop business.
Ana earns $60 a month as one of five employees of the cooperative; she is the bookkeeper and cashier. To supplement this income and her husband’s earnings as a photographer, Ana prepares 130 native meals each Sunday and sells them for $1.20. She is proud that her family no longer has to live with her mother, but has their own home, that she can pay her 10-year-old son’s school fees, and that she will be able to do the same for her 3-year-old daughter when she is ready to go to school. In her mind’s eye, she sees her children as successful professionals, with a better life than she has had.
She will tell you none of this would be possible without Opportunity International’s investment. Ana dreams of becoming a lawyer to help the people of her community. She says it hurts her when she sees people being taken advantage of by lawyers and others. She is also excited to see what Opportunity International will do beyond her village in Nicaragua, and even in other countries, and she would like to somehow to be a part of that.
In Nicaragua, the least developed country in Central America, approximately 32 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day. Nearly half of the country’s most impoverished people live in rural areas where they struggle to survive in agriculture-based occupations. For nearly two decades, Opportunity International has worked with microentrepreneurs in Nicaragua to build sustainable, successful businesses that will break them out of the cycle of poverty.
Opportunity's programs in Nicaragua seek to develop a community from within, building upon its local assets and investing in strategies that grow the local economy through the development of small and medium enterprises. With you support, the program provides both individual and community-level investments to address sustainable solutions for entrepreneurs, their families and their communities.
In 2012, the agricultural program achieved notable growth. The yucca processing plant reached $250,000 in sales, confirming the demand for our products and surpassing the established goal by more than 20%. During the year, 125 new farm loans were disbursed. Opportunity’s approach of co-investing provides farmers with seeds, farm loans and technical assistance plus market solutions including the use of our processing plant which adds value to the products, garnering farmers a higher price at market. Opportunity’s profit sharing and ownership model produces multiple impacts: increased income, asset accumulation, job creation and access to new markets – all dynamic economic indicators that create a sustainable, cycle of development. Highlights include:
COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE AND LEADERSHIP PROGRAM
Dedicated to helping families with a strong desire to help themselves and their neighbors, Opportunity’s Community Infrastructure projects finished 2012 strong by completing the largest community-led infrastructure project to date – the repairing of the La Laguna road. This was the first project that included Opportunity International, the community and the local municipality.
“Before I didn’t have any savings, but now I have some for my family in a time of need.”
When Christina Guatemala first became a member of an Opportunity ASODENIC Trust Group in Jinotega, she had a tiny business making and selling tortillas and tamales to support her two children. Christina’s Trust Group motivated her to take a risk and expand. With careful savings and a second loan of $330, she opened a small store in the front of her home.
Today, as she sits in her pulperia, or store, Christina is living proof of the incredible change that is possible in the lives of the poor with access to credit. She now makes almost twice as much as she used to and has also managed to put aside $22 in savings, something she says is very important to her as a mother. “Before, I didn’t have any savings,” she explains, “but now I have some for my family in a time of need.”
Her loan officer calls her an inspiration to the rest of her Trust Group. “The other members see her life and are encouraged because she has done so well,” she says. The Trust Group is very supportive. “When someone doesn’t have the money to repay their loan, we don’t wait for them to get it from somewhere, we pay it for them,” Christina says.
For Christina, the pulperia is the tool she will use to fulfill her dreams. “I want my kids to be somebody in the future,” she says. “I want them to get a good education and be special.”
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