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2011 Spring Newsletter

Voices from the Field Newsletter

Trickle Up's Central America program is located in Guatemala and Nicaragua.

 In October 2010, USAID awarded Trickle Up a grant for a two-year program to promote “inclusive development” in Guatemala – that is, development projects that include people with disabilities.

A Note from Guatemala: Microenterprise Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Left: Community visits by Trickle Up staff and partners to the field allow us to train and support our participants in their new microenterprises. Right: Antonio Cua, a Trickle Up participant, works with our partner organization ADISA creating handicrafts, which double as physical therapy for improving his motor skills.

For the past two years, I have been Trickle Up's Regional Representative in Central America, running our program from our field office in northern Guatemala. I came to this position with over ten years' experience with both international NGOs such as CARE and Mercy Corps and a variety of Guatemalan NGOs. Prior to joining Trickle Up, I had some experience working with people with disabilities, but I have greatly valued the opportunity to do more.

In October 2010, USAID awarded Trickle Up a grant for a two-year program to promote “inclusive development” in Guatemala – that is, development projects that include people with disabilities. At the start of the project, I contacted Silvia Quan in Guatemala City, a leader in this area of disability work and a member of the Disability Rights Fund of the United Nations.  As I introduced the program to her—which we were calling “Microenterprise Opportunities for the Differently Abled”—one of the first things Silvia said to me was, “You must call things by their name. If I am blind and lost my vision many years ago, I don’t have different abilities, I have a disability. It is important not to use euphemisms." I was so taken with what she said, and with her strength and assertiveness, that I immediately decided to change the name of the program to “Microenterprise Opportunities for People with Disabilities.”

Antonio Cuo, a Trickle Up participant in Guatemala.Trickle Up values the capacity of the extreme poor to lift themselves out of poverty; our program provides them an injection of capital, training and savings support to start or expand livelihood activities. At Trickle Up, experience has shown us that people with disabilities (PWDs) bear a similar stigma of marginalization to the extreme poor, and are similarly able to benefit from the Trickle Up program. Indeed, poverty and disability are intricately linked, and are often both a cause and consequence of one another. Poverty can lead to disability through malnourishment, poor access to health services, poor sanitation, and often unsafe living and working conditions. Conversely, having a disability can trap an individual in poverty by limiting his or her access to education, employment, public services, and even marriage. Thus, PWD are disproportionately represented among the very poor. The World Bank estimates that one out of every five people living below the $1.25 extreme poverty line has a disability. According to Handicap International, on average only 0.5 percent of microfinance clients are people with disabilities. In contrast, as of 2010, 12 percent of the people Trickle Up serves are people affected by disability, meaning that 3,500 people affected by disabilities have started or expanded microenterprises through our programs in West Africa, India and Central America in the last 4 years alone.[1] In 2009, Trickle Up was honored to receive InterAction’s first-ever Disability Inclusion Award for our outstanding contribution to the humanitarian and development community.

Returning to our USAID-funded project, though, I’d like to fast-forward to the third week of February this year, when we organized a meeting of the 12 major Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) in Guatemala, in order to exchange experiences and learn from one other. This workshop gave us the opportunity to take into account the perspectives of people with disabilities: 80% of the meeting participants were people with a disability.

We didn’t always agree with one another during the meeting. One recurring question from DPO representatives was why the project included direct support for PWDs, but not for their mothers. The representatives explained that many PWDs have single mothers who must provide for the whole family. I explained that Trickle Up’s approach emphasizes working directly with people with disabilities themselves, providing skills training and opportunities to start or expand their businesses, and that it is this direct approach that enables them to ultimately gain more confidence and independence.

The DPO representatives also wondered why Trickle Up is only providing support to PWDs who are very poor. As with any population, people with disabilities are not a homogenous group—they are represented in all strata of society, from the extreme poor to the better off. Globally, Trickle Up’s approach is to focus on the very poor within each community where we work—this is our area of expertise and has guided our program development over the decades. There is room for organizations to serve PWDs in all strata of society, but we believe we can be most effective by maintaining our focus.

Quote from a participantWe’re glad to be complementing the work of other organizations by providing livelihood development services for this population. As a result of this meeting, we are reshaping our program approach to take into account feedback from the DPO representatives. We’ve come to understand that in order for our program to be effective, we need to provide solid training to our implementing partner organizations on issues related to extreme poverty and the specific needs of people with disabilities within this population. It is important that our partners understand that microenterprise development can not only reduce poverty among PWDs and their families, it can also allow them to become visible, capable members of their communities through business relationships and activities, ultimately fostering greater acceptance of disability. Furthermore, peer collaboration between PWDs and community members, when skillfully incorporated into the program, can also help to eliminate stigma and raise self-esteem, while promoting economic and social inclusion.

Years before this USAID-funded program was established, we were working with PWDs in Nicaragua through a partner agency, SOLIDEZ. I had always been impressed with their participants’ determination to take advantage of the support provided by the program.  They learned to value themselves and to believe in themselves. Our “Microenterprise Opportunities for People with Disabilities” program, with its training and savings support, together with the support of our partner agencies, can have a phenomenal impact. It can do more than change a person’s income. It can alter his or her life’s direction...

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The Guatemala program is made possible in part by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

[1] Handicap International. "Good Practices for the Economic Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Developing Countries: Funding Mechanisms for Self-Employment," August 2006 < http://www.handicap-international.org/uploads/media/goodpractices-GB-2coul.PDF>
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