“Now I feel better because I have this support, whereas before I didn’t have this and things were difficult for us. Sometimes I would wash clothes for just Q20 ($2.72), but now I prefer to make and sell chocolate,” Maria told us.
Maria is a young woman from a small community in rural Ixcán, Guatemala, named after January 20, 1993. This unique name honors the day these indigenous families returned to Guatemala after years as refugees in Mexico during the civil war. Maria is one of 20 indigenous young women and people with disabilities from Victoria 20 de enero who joined Trickle Up’s economic and social empowerment program in June 2017 to build sustainable livelihoods and break the intergenerational cycle of extreme poverty.
Maria told us things were difficult for her family before starting the program: “Only my mother is here with me. My dad is in the United States, but we haven’t heard from him since he left us when I was six years old, and now I’m 23.” Maria left school in 8th grade when she became pregnant, and as the father of her child isn’t around, she is responsible for all of the costs of raising her son, now 6 years old.
“As a single mother with a son to care for, I decided to go find work in Mexico, where I learned how to make chocolate. But I didn’t want to go again and leave my son since he is just starting school, so I decided to make my chocolate business here instead.”
“When the Trickle Up project began, they came to interview us and they asked me what I knew how to do. I told them I could make chocolate, so for my business, I invested all Q1000 ($136) of my seed capital in cacao to purchase and resell in another community.”
The seed capital covered 100 lbs. of cacao, plus travel costs. She anticipated doubling her investment by selling the cacao for twice the cost, Q2000 ($272), so she took out a small loan of Q350 to buy another 50 lbs. of cacao. “But when my mom arrived to sell the cacao, she found that the price was just Q1200 ($163). I told her it was best to sell it anyway and at least earn back the seed capital. After I paid back the loan, I still had Q850 ($115) and enough cacao to make chocolate.”
“Selling chocolate is going well for me right now because for every 4 lbs. of chocolate, I earn Q85 ($11.54). My expenditure is around Q40 ($5.43) in total including sugar, cacao, cinnamon, and bags. With the Q45 ($6.11) in profits, I can save in my group and there is always some left to buy something to eat.”
“Yesterday I prepared 4 lbs. to go out and sell today in the afternoon. I can only make 3-4 lbs. of cacao a week. It’s hard for me to grind the cacao since it takes a lot of force and energy, and I have to grind it twice to come out fine. My mom and sister also help me grind; when I get tired, they take a turn for a while.”
“My mom helps me with the business because I’m a single mother and can’t travel far. In addition, when we have our savings group meetings, as I’m the keeper of the savings box, I always have to be at the meetings. I prepare the chocolate, and she sells it – we work together. My mom is happy now that I can support us.”
“You have to look at how to get ahead, to prosper. I'm going to start selling my chocolate in the primary school where my son finished his first year of school.” Maria also makes peanut chocolate and wants to buy vanilla too, but she doesn’t have the resources yet. With the revenue from her chocolate business, she plans to expand her family’s other productive activity, rearing chickens and pigs, because she wants to improve their economic and living conditions.
Even just 5 months into our 18-month program, Maria already notes changes in her life. “Through the coach sharing ideas and my own experiences, I’ve learned,” Maria says.
“At first, I was nervous and didn’t like going to savings group meetings. I felt ashamed to speak in public, but as the keeper of the savings box, I have to speak during the meetings. Young women like me have never spoken in a setting like this before, so we were afraid and embarrassed at first. Since they elected me to this position, now it doesn’t bother me to speak in public, I'm more animated, and I can talk in front of any audience, even to sing a song, because I feel encouraged and enlivened.”
“Even before they gave us the seed capital, we were already saving at each meeting. Right now, having just received the seed capital, I already have in Q510 ($69) in my savings. Before I couldn’t ever save because I spent all I had, but there in the group it’s safe and growing.”
“When the year is over and we distribute the savings and dividends, I would like to go back to school. I would work during the week and go to school in a nearby town on the weekends.”
“I am happy to be in a group of young women because before we didn't hang out together, we were each isolated and alone. And now we always meet up, laugh, joke around, and work together. Every Monday at the meeting, there are jokes, smiles, and joy.”
“I spend my free time in my house with my son, and sometimes I like to listen to music. Since my child always wants to play, we like go out to the field to play and spend some time outside.”
“I feel proud of the work I’m doing now. Next year, I would like to hopefully, God willing, increase my savings and go back to school. My dream is that my son studies, eats well, grows well, and is successful.”
“I can’t thank the Trickle Up program enough. I am very grateful because no one had ever supported me on something like this before. It was difficult for me to care for my son – sometimes we could make ends meet, sometimes we couldn’t, sometimes he’d want something and I couldn’t afford to give it to him. I had times where I was very sad and desperate, depressed. But I overcame it. Now I can buy whatever he wants. I am very grateful to those who supported us with their donation. Thanks to them, I have a little more now, and I can keep growing my business little by little.”
Maria Soledad Montejo Diego of Victoria 20 de enero, Ixcán, Guatemala
Chocolatier, single mother, future scholar