Economic Empowerment for 130 Women in Nicaragua

by Self-Help International
Meet Maribel
Meet Maribel

Why I care and why you should too.   

Imagine standing in an overcrowded bus aisle without any air conditioning on a humid 95-degree day. The bus is made to sit 40, but there’s 75 people struggling like you to get to work, so you reluctantly chose to pay and climb on, rather than wait for a bus that may not come by this stop again. The route over the unpaved mud-covered roads makes for a bumpy trip, so you tighten your grip, clinging to your basket filled of baked goods to sell (making sure you don’t lose any potential profits).

You’re tired. Because your commute takes over an hour, you reflect on your morning—how you woke up early to get your children dressed. You feel remorseful. A few days earlier, you had to make the tough decision to send them to school with a new school uniform, knowing that because of the cost, it meant you’d have to feed them less nutritious meals this month. But you justified this, knowing they’d be fed something, and didn’t want them to be made fun of by their peers at school. 

Tired. Uncertain. Making sacrifices. This is an average morning for women like Maribel. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it shouldn’t—having to choose between necessities leaves mothers uncertain they made the best choice they could. No one wants to feel that way. 

Often times, I meet people who want to help—offering to purchase their textbooks, notebooks, or other school supplies. And although this is a wonderful deed, one has to wonder why the children don’t already have them? Why can’t the mothers afford to buy them? 

I spent three months working with mothers and their families in Nicaragua, soaking it all in, in order to understand how I could help these communities. Giving fifty dollars to support one woman jump start her business goes a long way. Women like Maribel know their family’s needs, have a vision and business plan, and have darn good homemade recipes for their business (in Maribel’s case, it’s her amazing tamales).

When a group of 15 women come together to the training center in Ochomogo, they bring hope for a brighter future, encourage one another and serve as role models for their daughters. Micro-credit loans empower women so that they don’t have to sacrifice, wondering if they picked the right necessity. Mothers can have both, and as they watch their daughters grow, know that they will have options too. We’re working to ensure that fifteen more women will break the cycle of poverty and become leaders in communities. It’s about sustainability, and lending a hand to women who have to make tough choices everyday.

This is why I care – and why I’m writing to you now, to ask you to join in our mission to give opportunities to those who have none.  Help us issue loans to the fifteen women in Ochomogo who want to build a brighter future for their families.

Check out our new micro-project at:

  • $50 will offer an initial startup loan to a woman to create a small business. 
  • $140 will sponsor business training for one woman in Ochomogo to learn how to start her business. 
  • $20 / month covers all training & loans for one woman for 12 months

If you want to learn more or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me by email at or by phone at (319) 352-4040.


Jacqueline Steinkamp 
SHI Communications & Development Officer

Women of Ochomogo ready to join the program
Women of Ochomogo ready to join the program
Ochomogo women eager to join the program
Ochomogo women eager to join the program

About 32 miles by motorcycle from Self-Help’s Nicaragua office, lies a small and vibrant community called Las Azucenas. In a small and quiet neighborhood, accessed only by walking down a mud-covered and gravely path, lives a young woman with an idea way ahead of her time. Her name is Jering. At the age of 17, not even having finished high school yet, she sells Avon products and cosmetics after school hours and during the weekends. When she’s not doing homework, Jering is constructing ways to grow her new business of selling clothing with a loan through Self-Help’s micro-credit program.

By inquiring and conversing with other women, she has taught herself how to be successful in the clothing business.  In order to start selling stylish clothes, she has to first take a bus from her small community to the bus terminal in San Carlos (30 minutes away). She then takes a bus to Managua (over 8 hours) to select the clothing. Once she arrives by bus, she has to pay for a taxi to take her to the chain of stores located in the heart of the city to go shopping. If she does not take the 2am bus to get back to her home in San Carlos, she will have to find a place to spend the night in Managua until there is another bus the following morning.

Although she is capable of receiving a hefty profit with this business, transportation is extremely costly. The price for a one-way bus ticket is 150 Córdobas ($5), and a taxi is roughly 120 Córdobas each way ($4). She will have to spend 500 - 600 Córdobas ($18 - $20 dollars) in transportation costs alone for her trip. Because of your financial support, she will be able to make that first initial voyage to Managua. With the money she will receive from selling clothes, she will be able to pay her loan back quickly and increase production to match the current demand in communities.

You may be wondering where Jering learned to have such an ambitious and innovative nature. I was able to find that answer with just a quick visit to her home. The family owns an outdoor oven that not only serves as a way to bake, but also as a mechanism to dry and store firewood during the rainy seasons, and as a personal clothing and shoe dryer.

Yes, you read that right:
a shoe dryer.
The family does a lot with very little.

Instead of trying to use her earnings towards materialistic items, Jering is saving all of her money for her education. Having a father who works tediously as a farmer, and a mother who walks the entire town twice a week to sell baked goods, she wants to obtain a bachelor's degree. She admires her parents' strength, and sees education as a new path forward out of such backbreaking work.

Living with her two parents, two sisters, and an older brother, Jering assists her family with household chores and tends to the animals in their backyard. Like Jering, her mother is a beneficiary of Self-Help’s micro-credit program. Her mother taught her how to sell cosmetics and earns a sufficient salary selling sweet bread in order to purchase school uniforms and supplies for her other children.

Empowered women empower women. 

Jering and her mother are prime examples of the magnitude of the effects of Self-Help’s mission. Self-Help lends a hand to help women and their families get on their feet and start their dream businesses. The women learn important and necessary business skills through several trainings from Self-Help staff. Workshops are also provided to build women’s self-esteem. Most importantly, women learn sustainable practices to ensure the success of their business.  The success of this training speaks for itself—Self-Help’s micro-credit program has a success rate of almost 90%  with the women’s first loan and the program has been thriving since 2011.

Fifty dollars doesn’t just buy a few bus tickets. It provides hope. It provides a way to lift these families out of poverty so that their children will not have to choose between healthy meals and clean uniforms.Jering is the future of women in Nicaragua. She inspires young girls and proves that girls are never too young to start their dreams.

Join us in empowering more women like Jering! Make a donation now, or mark your calendar to make a gift on Wednesday, September 21during the GlobalGiving Match Day! Details on the matching funds are available here

Jering's oven used as a dryer during rainy seasons

Early in the morning, the sun beams its light into small wooden crevices on the right side of a little house in a small town called Azucena. The doors are opened up on both sides, welcoming the faint breeze that passes through the clay-dusted streets. This is where you’ll find Adelina, sitting in her wooden chair from 8 am each morning until dusk at 5pm.  She is one of the beneficiaries of Self-Help’s Micro-Credit Program for women. With Self-Help’s assistance, Adelina entered the program with one sewing machine in October of 2013, with the dream that one day she’d be able to have her own business and make personalized clothing for her community.

Three years later, Adelina now works with 5 machines and has 3 other women working for her business. In a typical day, she can sew 3-5 articles of clothing a day, making shirts, skirts, uniforms, and unique personalized clothing at the requests of her neighbors.  She successfully meets the demand for her products in her town, and now also for neighboring communities. With the money she earns, she continues to buy new stylish fabrics.  At the age of 60, she works Monday through Saturday to support her family as a single mother.  Currently, her youngest daughter studies in a local high school, exceeding Adelina’s education level (4th grade).

Through the training from the women’s Micro-Credit Program Officer, Adelina has been able to learn additional skills, from financial literacy to practical classes such as how to start up a kitchen garden; how to add value to raw produce such as turning hot peppers into hot sauce, fruits into marmalades, and vegetables into pickles; how to build an improved oven; and how to bake a variety of breads including funeral bread. Adelina attended 8 trainings, with each session lasting 4 hours. After successfully completing all of the trainings and acquiring the skills for her business, she is now part of the La Amistad group, one of several newly formed women’s micro-credit groups in the community of Las Azucenas.   

Like Adelina, there are over 135 other women that have been given the opportunity to jump start their business. Self-Help International empowers women to make their dreams become a reality. They are able to build self-esteem through their training program and build community relations.  When one woman receives a loan, the surrounding community is positively impacted. One business may create employment opportunities for other women in the neighborhood. Additionally, Self-Help provides support throughout the process, and follows up with the women to ensure they are able to maintain their successful business structure.  The organization is able to provide these loans at an interest rate of only 2%, allowing the viability of the women’s businesses to remain successful through all seasons of the year.

Andrea, Alyssa & Queensley taste-test & approve!
Andrea, Alyssa & Queensley taste-test & approve!

Last week, Susan Cornforth a staff member from Self-Help's Iowa office, led the Wartburg College May Term Experiential Leadership Course to Nicaragua, where she and the students had the opportunity to visit with women active in the microcredit program in Las Azucenas, Nicaragua. Here is an excerpt from her journal from the week:

On Tuesday, we went to Magdalena’s house to see the oven that she built using funds from the Self-Help microcredit program. She bakes bread and cookies, then sells them in the local community.  

She took her time explaining to us how this new oven works. She likes that it doesn’t heat up the house like her old one did because it’s outside now, and that the firewood that fuels it is positioned in a way that means the oven is more efficient, so she doesn't have to buy or find as much. She also likes that this new oven is safer because the design reduces the amount of smoke and fumes she and her family are exposed to from the fire itself. Then she showed us how the racks are welded into a barrel that forms the actual baking cavity, and how the barrel is supported and covered by an adobe-style plaster made from mud and compost.

Magdalena told us all about how Self-Help’s training program has taught her business practices like budgeting, managing her costs vs. income, and figuring out what people will buy. She has also learned some marketing skills – she very carefully washed her hands in front of our group, then handed out warm, fresh sample cookies to each of us. We all found them so delicious that we bought bags of them from her right away!

Our next stop in the village was to visit Magdalena's sister, Bernarda. Bernarda also bakes bread and cookies, although her cookies and sweet treats are different from her sister's, an excellent marketing decision since they sell their products in the same small village! I asked Magdalena how she and her sister decided what each of them would bake since they serve the same customers in the same community, and she shared that her mother was a well-known baker in the area, which inspired their baking businesses. The two sisters agreed to split up the best of her recipes, rather than compete directly with one another, so they each specialize in different recipes and both find they have high demand!

Bernarda just joined the microcredit program in February, and she told us she is so thankful to have her own oven so she can actually bring in some income to support her family. Before her oven was built, Bernarda had to rent the oven of another person in the village, and by the time she paid for a day with that oven plus transportation to San Carlos, the larger town nearby where she used to sell her goods, there was very little income left for her family. 

But, now that she has her own oven and doesn't have to pay rent anymore, she is able to use the proceeds from her business to support her 5 children, including one who attends college in San Carlos every day.  My first question was whether it was difficult to repay her loan for the oven, but she said no, it is very easy to make her loan payments out of her income AND support her family at the same time.  Soon, she will be finished repaying her loan and able to invest all of her proceeds into the family!

Bernarda was working on a new batch of goodies, so she invited one of the students in our group to work alongside her. Kourtney got to learn a little about making pastries, and got a delicious treat to take along with her too.

On Wednesday, we went to another village to build a new oven for a new microcredit participant. While it was very hot, the work was so rewarding, as the woman and her family members pitched in to help in the process. Usually it takes two days to complete and oven, but with about 15 people working together, the job went fast and we built it in only 5 hours!  

It was such an interesting and engaging experience to meet these women, one well-established, one halfway through her first loan, and one just starting out, and to see the clear contrast in knowledge between the ones who have had access to the training SHI provides and the one who has only had her first class but is all excited to get her business going!  

These women work so hard to support their families.  It is very rewarding for me to be part of the work SHI does to help them lift themselves out of poverty.  Thank you for all of your support, which gives these women these lifechanging opportunities!

Magdalena & husband with their new oven in March
Magdalena & husband with their new oven in March
Bernarda teaching Kortney how to bake bread
Bernarda teaching Kortney how to bake bread
Sharing skills & starting new friendships
Sharing skills & starting new friendships
Learning from Magdalena
Learning from Magdalena
Helping construct a new oven
Helping construct a new oven


Migdalia bakes breads to diversify her business
Migdalia bakes breads to diversify her business

Doña Migdalia is a 51-year-old married mother of three from the community of Aldea del Mañana. Like many women in rural Nicaragua, she wanted to help support her family financially. So Migdalia decided to use her back garden area to plant fruit trees including mandarin, lime, orange, and guava, so she could sell the harvest in the local markets.  She also grows garden vegetables such as tomatoes, hot peppers, and sweet peppers.

To sell her produce, Doña Migdalia traveled to the Masaya market, which is about 50 miles from her community. However, since the produce she grows is relatively common in the region, she wasn’t able to sell them for very high prices.  When she went to the market, she incurred fees for transportation each way, as well as purchasing a midday meal while she was selling her produce. 

 “I usually took a big basket of around 450 mandarins with me to the market, and I got paid 200 córdobas ($7.40) per basket.  From that money, I had still to pay my meal and the transportation fees for myself and each basket I took with me,” Migdalia shared.

Doña Migdalia says that before the training workshops, she had never thought about all the expenses that went into operating her business selling market vegetables, and she really didn’t know whether her business was operating at a profit or a loss. She had never factored her expenses into the income she earned from her sales to find out.   

But after I became a member of the micro-credit program and got trained in business management, making a business plan, and basic bookkeeping among other skills developed, I realized that I was wrong and that I should change my strategy on selling my products.

Now, I add value to some of my products like the hot sauce I make from the hot peppers in my garden.  I plant the seed, harvest the pepper and then prepare it and bottle it to sell it for a better price. And now I sell the fruits and vegetables by unit in my own community instead of in bulk at the market. For example, now I sell each mandarin at 2 córdobas each ($ 0.07 each) and multiplying that by 450 per basket, I get 900 córdobas ($33.33) per basket instead of 200 córdobas ($7.40) per basket.

“It is better than what I was earning before I realized this issue, plus now I don’t have to pay any extra expenses for my meal and transportation to Masaya.  Even better, I can be home taking care of my house, children, husband and any other things like bottling and preparing the hot sauce [instead of traveling all day to Masaya].  Last batch I made 80 bottles of hot sauce, and sold them for 25 córdobas ($ 0.92) each bottle, so in total I earned 2,000 córdobas ($74.00) which is great income to keep.”

Doña Migdalia also shared that some days during the week, she bakes bread which is sold in her own community along with the rest of the other products she sells, so now she earns more profits and spends less money by selling locally. Plus, during the weekends, she has the time to help another lady to sell her products in the nearby Rivas market. 

The lady pays me 200 córdobas ($7.40) every time I go with her, plus she covers the transportations fees and meal, which is great for me because I am earning extra money to keep supporting my family needs, and am also using that income to re-invest in my business by purchasing and planting more fruits trees to have more varieties of fruits.

Doña Migdalia is really thankful with Self-Help International because the training helped her to learn new skills and manage in a better way her business. “Thank you for give me the change of being part of you and become a more powerful woman,” she said. “I am really happy to be part of your team and I hope to keep growing with your program.”

Thank you for your generous support, which is empowering women like Migdalia.  When you donate to this project, you fund free business management and bookkeeping training workshops that help make it a little easier for hardworking mothers like Migdalia to provide for their families. 



Yolanda (L) issues a micro-loan to Migdalia (R)
Yolanda (L) issues a micro-loan to Migdalia (R)



About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

Self-Help International

Location: Waverly, IA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Nora Tobin
Waverly, IA United States
$15,525 raised of $18,000 goal
62 donations
$2,475 to go
Donate Now
Donating through GlobalGiving is safe, secure, and easy with many payment options to choose from. Learn more.
Add Project to Favorites

Help raise money for this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page for this project.

Start a Fundraiser

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence


Woman Holding a Gift Card
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.