Maria del Socorro's eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as she told our group about the micro loan she used to buy a pig and several chickens. She raises her stock behind the family's house in the Laurel Galan section of San Francisco Libre.
This community, about two hours from the capital city of Managua, was one of the stops last week as we toured projects supported by Episcopal Relief & Development in Nicaragua. The micro loan program is facilitated by our partner, CEPAD (Consejo de Iglesias Evangelicas Pro-Alianza Denominacional), the Council of Protestant Churches of Nicaragua.
The pig is growing fast, gaining weight and becoming more marketable by the month. Soon Maria will sell it, probably for another family's Christmas feast, and she will make a tidy profit. Meanwhile, the chickens produce eggs regularly, giving the family a sustainable source of protein for breakfast.
Down the road about 60 yards from Maria's house, we met Argentina Castillo and her daughter Aleyda Rivera Castillo. Argentina was stirring away at a bubbling concoction that would become a delicious candy called Caramelo Leche. It tastes a little like a praline, sweet with a delicate texture. In the United States we might call it artisanal fudge. For Argentina and Aleyda, it's called extra money for their family. It’s a small business they enjoy, and also one that got its start with the help of a micro loan.
The women are proud of what they have been able to accomplish, and the loans are paid back on time and in full. CEPAD provides training for the community banking committee, and the program participants, all of whom are women, contribute to the funding.
The casual observer might see little in the Laurel Galan community but challenges, and there certainly are those. But there is also a work ethic, entrepreneurship, strong family bonds and a will to improve one's life. Our group was privileged to see it firsthand.
Mike Smith is a Major Gifts Officer with Episcopal Relief & Development.
Photos, from top: Maria with the products of her micro loan: eggs and a piglet, which she'll sell at a profit; Argentina, another loan program participant, and her daughter, Aleyda, make candy to sell.