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