|Maria and her store in Rio Azul.
Written by Tatum Bergen and Ana Leticia Bernal Bernal
Some things in life are beyond our control, like the society we grow up in, the tools we have access to, the beliefs our communities hold.
Maria, a mother of six children in Rio Azul, a remote community in the Ixil region of Guatemala, knew this well. She was in charge of the home and taking care of her children, while her husband, Diego, worked hard as a bricklayer to provide for their family. Without ever being taught financial literacy, week after week she struggled to break even, sometimes even falling short. They couldn’t get ahead of Diego’s paycheque.
Worry and despair started to overtake her. She recalls always wondering if she could cover her family’s needs, buy enough food, and make the payments for school fees on her husband’s salary. She knew something had to change, but she didn’t know what.
This feeling of helplessness reached beyond their finances to Maria’s heart. Being undervalued for much of her life, she isolated herself from her community and church because she felt as though she didn’t have anything to offer, incapable of making an impact.
The belief that women should stay at home—a pervasive belief in many rural Guatemalan communities—didn’t help the situation. Men in the region do not see women as being capable of properly managing family finances and resources. Consequently, they are never given the opportunity to learn healthy habits for spending, saving, or investing. Without the ability to support her family financially, Maria knew that her daughters would likely have the same future.
If her community could embrace equity by recognizing that women have different social circumstances–like a lack of financial training–that leads to them not knowing how to manage finances well, maybe times could change. Simply giving women the opportunity to handle finances wouldn’t necessarily lead to equality. Maria, and women like her, would need to be given tools to learn and understand.
That’s one of the reasons why FH Canada reached out to local leaders in Rio Azul to begin a partnership that would help the community overcome their challenges and create sustainable livelihoods for families like Maria’s.
So, in 2014, Maria joined the Weaving Dreams self-management group started by FH called, “Las Margaritas Unidas de la Aldea Rio Azul” (The United Daisies of Rio Azul), which had the vision of improving women’s abilities to save and generate income.
As time passed, Maria’s participation in the group grew and, as she learned about responsible financial management, she started to set aside a little bit of her family’s money each week to contribute to group savings. All the while receiving lessons about good entrepreneurship and how to plan a business from start to finish. Through the group, FH taught her how to set individual goals, conduct self-assessments, and establish practical strategies for her goals. Around her, women with new business plans were receiving technical support on business development like customer service, distribution, pricing, and promotion. Her peers were saving money and accessing loans to develop and expand their businesses, helping raise their household income and increase their food security.
After five years, Maria decided that it was high time to take a chance. She was equipped with knowledge and tools from her Weaving Dreams group to make wise decisions, had built up her savings, and was surrounded by a community of women entrepreneurs to support her. She would start her own business.
It was a big decision, and there was risk. She had been saving for years, but didn’t quite have enough to kickstart her business. So, for the first time since joining, she took out a loan to help stock her store which she called, “Seidy Store.”
Even though she felt hesitant and afraid her products wouldn’t sell, she remembered the wisdom from her Weaving Dreams group to start small with something manageable. What was something everyone in her community needed with all the walking they had to do to get to the nearest city centre? Shoes!
Her shoe store was a hit! There was so much demand for more products that when she had repaid her first loan, Maria took out a second and, when it was repaid, a third! She expanded her products to women’s sweaters, baby clothes, coats, and gift bags.
|Maria proudly displays the wares on her storefront in Rio Azul.
Her hard work turned to success, and Maria’s new business allowed her to supplement her family’s monthly income with an additional 600 Quetzal ($104 CAD) to meet their needs.
Where once she felt barriers on all sides, she is equipped to overcome them through the help of her Weaving Dreams group, FH and its loyal supporters, and her family working alongside her.
Today, Maria and Diego work together as a team to supply their family’s needs and pay for their children’s education. In their community in Rio Azul, times are changing. They are learning from FH training how they can take hold of their own futures and implement changes that will affect future generations. Women, too, are taking hold of the freedom to participate in leadership and assert their rights, and many women are beginning to open their own businesses, just like Maria.
“In other times, I would not have had the courage to start my business, but thanks to FH that taught us that no matter the circumstances, if I want to, I can achieve anything,” Maria says with a confident smile.
|Maria and two of her daughters.
Maria looks back at the great changes that have happened these last eight years—all so unexpected. She no longer feels helpless about her circumstances. She is proud and happy of the woman she has become—a woman able to contribute to her family and to her community’s development. Surrounded by women who support her, she has shed her fear of expressing her opinion because she now knows her worth.
In the future, Maria says, she wants to see her business grow by purchasing her own land for a permanent shop in the community centre. She hopes, too, that everyone in her community can participate in FH training so they can create job opportunities for the next generation. She knows, herself, that change is possible when you are open to new ideas, and when you take the risk to embrace equity.
Maria’s story of transformation was made possible because donors like you decided to partner with Rio Azul. If you’d like to help more women like Maria, consider visiting our Gift Guide to give a Community Savings Kickstart or Launch a Family Business!