Economic Empowerment for 130 Women in Nicaragua

by Self-Help International

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)


Self-Help International’s micro-credit program serves several communities of Rio San Juan and Rivas, Nicaragua, empowering hardworking women with the opportunity to improve their skills, knowledge, education and quality of life. All 125 women we serve live in remote rural areas, and most live nearly 200 miles away from the capital city, Managua. Most of the men in these rural communities are farmers and agricultural laborers, so the woman usually stay home taking care of the house and children. The micro–credit program, started in 2005, has provided women with the chance to grow their self-esteem and learn new skills, and to use those skills to generate income and help their husbands with home finances, particularly between harvests when family finances may run low.

Doña Heliodora, from the community of Las Azucenas, was one of the first member of the micro-credit program in her village. She is married with 8 children. When she first learned about the benefits she and her family could gain by becoming members, she immediately agreed to start working with Self-Help International and started looking for more women in her community to start a micro-credit group.

Doña Heliodora used her initial $50 micro-loan to start a bakery business, and to build her own improved oven after learning how to make one from Self-Help International. She started making bread, cakes, and pizza, once a week, and for Christmas, she also roasted chickens to sell for the holiday dinner.

This small business allows Heliodora help her husband support the need of their and the education of her children. Six of the children are grown up, married and have left the house. The two youngest children are still dependents. With the profits earned from her baking business, Heliodora has been able to send one son to study at the university in Managua, a pipe dream for most rural women. Her youngest son is in high school in Las Azucenas and he helps his mother in the bakery business as well as with home upkeep.

Doña Heliodora states, “I have been working with Self-Help International through the micro-credit program for 8 years now and I am very happy to be part of this program because I have been able to get several loans; build an improved oven which means now I am saving more wood, money and time efforts; grow my bakery business by selling the products; and be able to earn some money to purchase several things needed in my house; as well as to help my husband with the school expenses for my children.”

Under the leadership of micro-credit officer Yolanda Fletes, there has been an increased emphasis on training for women and youth to ensure long-term empowerment for those who are committed to helping themselves. In order to join the micro-credit program, women must meet basic requirements, such as demonstrating commitment to working, being honest and responsible, having an entrepreneurial vision, and a willingness to accept changes and learn new skills.

When asked about the program’s shift to emphasizing not only loans, but skills training for women and youth, Heliodora responded, “Since my son and I started getting trainings and classes to learn new skills, things got a lot better and it makes me feel so happy and thankful for Self-Help International and it staff.”

Heliodora and her son have attended several trainings, including:  

  1. Self - esteem and Leadership
  2. Business Management and Entreprenuership
  3. Business Plan (Marketing, Finances, Organization, quality of products, value added, etc.)
  4. Business creativity and diversification

With all those training and skills, I realized I needed to do more for my bakery business, and decided that my next loan would be for a small shelter to use as a small shop where I can present all my bakery products and to welcome my clients.”

Heliodora’s business and capital has grown so she has increased her baking once a week to three times a week. “I always keep clean my space following the instruction and advice taught by the Self-Help International staff regarding hygiene and quality of the products. Now, I have more clients, and even one day I had a visit from a doctor from our local Health Post Center asking me to make a meal for him and the rest of the staff for special activities in my house! When I heard this I was so excited that immediately I agreed to do so. Even though it was total different from what I was doing as a bakery business, I knew I could handle it, and said to myself ‘well, I guess this is going to be a new way to earn money: working in my house while I still have time to continue my bakery business and attend my family.’ I said to myself, ‘Oh goodness! All this is happening because I am really following up all the good advice I have been getting from the micro-credit officer and Self-Help International staff.’”

A couple months later, Heliodora’s son who graduated from university called Heliodora from Managua to tell her there was a person who was looking for a partner to start a business in Rio San Juan, the region where Heliodora lives. The business was to sell used electro-domestic supplies such as toasters, microwaves, and refrigerators with a low price so they would be affordable for the rural people who live in small villages and need this type of equipment to make life easier. Heliodora recounts, “I thought about it and I realized we don’t have here any shop selling these type of products and so I decided to do it. The equipments are in good shape and mostly new, since those are the things people from the city usually purchase on credit in major stores but can’t afford all the payments on. So, the company takes them away from those people and puts them in storage. Somehow, they found out that by selling the products to other people for lower price, they can at least get back their investment and also give chance to other people to buy the items affordably. So I said yes, that is what we need here: technology and chance for better in our life! Now, I am selling things like; TV’s, stove, refrigerator, freezer, toaster, electric fan, microwaves, iron, laundry machine, which is giving me a good profit.”

I have been able to do all these types of business – baking, preparing meals, selling home goods – out of my own house thanks to the support of the Self-Help International, who are the people of good heart that are always here to help me out by providing not only loans but skill and self-esteem classes to grow as a human being, mother, wife, a positive member of this society. I am doing all my best to manage the three small business with the support of my two sons and husband whenever he has the chance. The four of us are more than happy to be able to work at home, share our positive attitude with other people and reach our dream working in our daily duties. I know the other women involved in this program have the same feelings like me: they may have a different type of business, but the main thing is we all know now that nothing is impossible if we have confidence in ourselves and in the organization that is helping us. Thank you so much to all of you!  …by the way, I almost forgot that I also learned with you how to save money from my incomes and also how my son found a great job in the San Carlos Social Security office! I am so proud of him!  But my son, my husband and I wouldn’t have been able to reach this goal without all your support, care and interest for my personal and family growing. Now, I am an empowered woman that is not afraid to confront any type of challenge and change to improve our lives. THANKS!”



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Organization Information

Self-Help International

Location: Waverly, IA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Nora Tobin
Waverly, IA United States
$14,305 raised of $18,000 goal
57 donations
$3,695 to go
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