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Diego Ramírez Xicay
Maria and her shop at home
Maria has more visitors to her home since she opened a small shop inside. She sells everyday necessities like cooking oil, canned goods, coffee and sugar as well as savory snacks and lollipops. Neighbors stop by regularly to purchase a few items, and some of her best customers are other Trickle Up participants living nearby. This is a new source of income for Maria’s family and helps provide a more steady flow of cash to supplement her husband’s work as a wage laborer. With their combined incomes, she and her husband are now better able to support their four children with their combined incomes. Although Maria never went to school and cannot read or write, she remembers the transactions that occur throughout the day and tells her husband, who writes it down to help her keep track.
Maria lives in a remote community outside of Cahabón, in northern Guatemala. The road into the region is unpaved and difficult to traverse without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. The car only takes visitors so far. To visit her home requires a steady 30-minute uphill climb through the rich, green vegetation that suggests fertile soil but actually is very difficult land to cultivate. Most families in this area can generate no more than 6 to 9 months worth of corn—the local staple food.
Her home is small with one room and is very simple. The floors are mud and the walls are made of wooden slats. She only has a very narrow area surrounding the home where she keeps her birds--the only asset she owned at the start of the program.
In the past, like so many of the women in this poor community, Maria did not have a way to generate cash to purchase food she cannot grow. Her husband works as a laborer and travels for a week at a time to find work in the fields of landowners on the other side of the mountain. He returns each week with his earnings, but Maria had to make do in his absence and of course he can only find work as a laborer certain times of the year, making for a very tenuous existence.
Maria and her husband have a small plot of land, but it is located high on the mountain so it’s not very fertile and is difficult to farm. They raise corn, but only enough to support the family for five to six months per year. In the photo above, the family’s stockpile of corn looks big, but the economics of this staple crop is not favorable. One pound of dried corn, once milled, can make 20 tortillas. Each family member consumes six to seven tortillas per meal so although Maria’s husband tried to leave her with 25 pounds of corn each week that he went away for work, that only represented 2 meals per day at best, and didn’t provide capital for other food to accompany it.
Maria is also an active member of her savings group, the Santa Marta Village Savings and Loan group. There with 12 other Trickle Up participants she meets weekly to save. The group follows a set routine designed to encourage complete transparency with every transaction. Each group member is called to the front where the cash box, with three locks, sits, and recordkeepers keep track of the savings made that day. The group leader announces the number of shares in the savings group purchased (“Five shares!”), with each share valued at an amount set by the group, and the transaction is recorded in the individual’s passbook and the ledger. Members applaud each purchase knowing that their colleagues are investing in their future. The total shares purchased are announced at the close of the meeting.
Trickle Up has only worked with Maria for six months but her progress has been strong. She is planning to sell new items in her shop when her current stock decreases a bit more.