Expanding Her Horizon, Changing Her Future

Heliodora in her kitchen

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.

Heliodora shows her earnings

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 and other micro-credit participants

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.”

Heliodora shows off her fresh baked bread

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!”