It’s Never Too Late: Teresa Learns Better Business Basics

By Yolanda Fletes – Micro-Credit Program Officer

72-year-old Teresa is from the community of Ochomogo, Nicaragua.  She is a single mother of 12 children, but only her youngest daughter is still living at home. 

 Teresa had her children when she was very young and had to figure out how to provide for them. In order to have a steady job, she began making bread, nacatamales (prepared with corn, pork, and vegetables) and tamales (prepared with corn).

Teresa and her bread

Even though most of Teresa’s children have grown up and left, she continues to work.  In addition to still providing for her youngest biological daughter, Teresa also supports her disabled foster son that she adopted because he was going to be given away.  Her son is 19 years old, and he helps Teresa at home and accompanies her when they go out to sell Teresa’s products in the community.

Recently, Teresa began working with Self-Help International’s micro-credit program, and this is what she wanted to say about her experience:

“I decided to join the micro-credit program because I saw how the other women in the program were progressing in their life and business,” Teresa said.  “Although I’m older, I can’t read or write, so I thought maybe I wouldn’t be able to join the program.”

“When I made my request to Self-Help International’s Nicaragua staff, they told me, ‘Teresa, we want you to learn and put your new knowledge and skills into use. The only requirement is that you’re ready to learn,’” Teresa said.  “I realized it wouldn’t be as complicated as I thought, and here I am – I’m in the micro-credit program. Self-Help helped me with the loans, and I’m able to pay little by little with minimum interest.”

“It’s been difficult  to achieve everything proposed in the trainings,” Teresa said.  “For example, in the middle of last October, my micro-credit group learned about business plans. For an assignment, we were asked to develop our own business plan and describe our expenses and income in detail.

Preparing a Business Plan

In order to do this, I asked my daughter to help me develop my business plan because I can’t read or write. When my daughter and I arrived at the training center for the session, I told the Yolanda, the Program Officer; Lucia, the Programs Administrator; and Jorge, the Country Director, that I was quite concerned because I couldn’t read or write and that I didn’t want to let them down.  I told them that I wanted to continue to learn from the program and that I would work hard and do the things the staff suggested.

Teresa and her business plan

When Lucia began to review the assignment of the previous training, I saw in my detail of expenses that I spent more to make my products than I earned selling them,”  Teresa said.

“Because I was losing instead of earning, Lucia took the time to explain to me what is a business profit and what is not.  For each one of my supplies, we put down details like their prices and the amount. With the help of the other women in the training, I realized that I was basically working for free.

Lucia and the other women in the micro-credit program told me, ‘Teresa, to make a profit you need to look for places to reduce costs and you have to include the cost of your labor.  The money you were receiving before wasn’t profit. The money was reimbursement for the products you purchased to make the nacatamales and bread,’” Teresa said.

“At that moment, I realized the business mistakes I’d been making for over 50 years,” Teresa said.  “It all made sense. I felt like I was working so hard but not really seeing progress in my life. Since learning about expenses and profits two months ago, I’ve noticed a big difference.

The advice from Self-Help and my friends was to reduce expenses.  I was spending a lot more than I should have been. I was doing things like buying meat and vegetables from the most expensive shops instead of buying them from friends and family like other women in the program.

 

For example, some of the women in my program need pork for their businesses.  If one of their family members is butchering a pig around the same time they need the meat, then the women get the meat from their family.  These women don’t have to pay transportation costs to go look for meat to purchase several kilometers away because they’re getting it from a nearby source.  This was one of my mistakes. I was unnecessarily spending money on transportation to go shopping for supplies,” Teresa said.

Saving Money, Earning Profits

“Now that I understand how to improve the administration of my business, I’m applying it practically and the methods are working for me.  Since the lesson on expenses and profits, I have earned $15.62 USD every time I make nacatamales, which I do twice a month. This is a lot of money for me, and I was never able to make this kind of money before.

Teresa by her oven

Even though I don’t know how to read or write, I now realize that I just need to follow the micro-credit program’s recommendations to improve my business and my life in general.  I’m very happy and excited to continue with this program because I’m finding out that it’s never too late in life to learn new things,” Teresa said.

“I want to thank all of the people with Self-Help International that are supporting the women here in Nicaragua because we need this kind of knowledge to make progress in our lives.  I’d really like to keep attending these kinds of trainings so that I can continue to improve my business. As I said before, I’ll practice all of the things I learn at the trainings. Now, I even look to reduce the costs of things like firewood and add those things into the cost of production to see if I can make more of a profit.

“Now that I’m making a profit, the micro-credit program has been teaching me how to save my money.  I’m saving money every week, and we’re going to see how much money I’ve saved by the end of this year.  I want to reinvest this saved money into my business to make it more efficient. My nacatamales and bread are known in my community for their high quality, so as long as I have the good health and strength, I’ll continue making them.  Again, I want to thank you for all of your support and I’m looking forward to all the other things I’ll learn with this program,” Teresa said.

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