THE POWER OF SAVING
As a child, Vicenta’s parents did not give her the opportunity to attend school, and she spent her childhood doing household chores. Today at age 43, she lives in the community of Sesarb in Tamahú, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. She and her husband have 9 children and are part of the Mayan Q’eqchi’ indigenous group.
She married her husband when she was very young and didn’t work outside her home at all before beginning Trickle Up’s program. Her husband worked as a day laborer, traveling to nearby communities to find work to support their family. Vicenta had never participated in a program like Trickle Up’s before, explaining that others barely took her into account because she lived in such extreme poverty.
She cooked tortillas and beans with herbs and chiles to feed her children. Sometimes they couldn’t afford to buy medicine, so they dealt with health problems by just hoping issues would resolve on their own.
Vicenta remembers thinking: “I would like to have enough money to start a business and make my own money this way, but I can’t, because if I have even a little, I quickly spend it to feed my children. I can’t even save it.”
When possible, Vicenta wove güipiles (traditional Mayan blouses) that she would sell in Chamisun, a neighboring community. “I wanted to have my own money to go out and sell [clothes] to other areas.” Vicenta had dreams and ideas of how she could build her business, hoping that in the future she would have the resources she needed to get her business off the ground. She wanted to grow her income so she could improve the lives of her children and help prepare them for their futures.
In May 2015, Vicenta was selected to participate in Trickle Up’s Inclusive Livelihood Development project in partnership with the municipality of Tamahú. As she began her participation in the project, she was especially inspired to save with her savings group. Vicenta was selected by her group to be on the Administrative Committee as the second accountant, helping the first accountant count the money collected for individual participants’ savings accounts, a social fund, and the repayment of loans. The women of her savings group are adding to their savings little by little, while also participating in training on how to save and build sustainable livelihoods.
With an immense desire to get started and feel useful, she successfully completed the trainings and started planning to sell ground coffee and expand her business weaving and selling güipiles.
Today Vicenta feels very happy because, “I find myself doing things that I like and I’m making the most of my time.” After many months in the project, she has been able to diversify her businesses and currently sells flowers, coffee, güipiles, tamales, and firewood. She grows the flowers, weaves the güipiles, and hand makes the bean and meat tamales, buying the other products from further away locations to sell in her community. She has also enjoyed the experience of belonging to the Administrative Committee and all of the social support and leadership opportunities that entails.
With the $130 in seed capital she received from Trickle Up, Vicenta already has $507 of working capital after just one year, a reflection of her business acumen, determination, and hard work. Today all the members of Vicenta’s household are involved in her microenterprises: her husband helps her buy and sell firewood, and her children help her with the other activities.
She has used her profits to improve her family’s nutrition, purchase clothing, save for the future, diversify her productive activities, and plant 3.5 acres of corn. In previous years, they couldn’t plant anything because they lacked the resources, but this year Vicenta was able to buy enough seeds and equipment to sow and to pay the rent for the land. The harvest of their cornfield alone will be enough to feed them for 7 months of the year.
After her first year, Vicenta had $83 in savings, and she is continuing in the savings group’s second year. She is the second accountant in the Administrative Committee again, reappointed by the other members of the savings group.
Vicenta explains: “Before, I did not know what it was to save. Now I think everyone should save.”
She really means that: recently her husband, her two daughters, and her two daughters-in-law also joined the savings group, which is expanding beyond the original Trickle Up participants to provide more members of the community with access to savings and credit. Vicenta has also improved her self-esteem: smiling, she tells us she already has more friends, and she wants to continue improving the lives of herself and her family.
Vicenta Bol of Sesarb, Guatemala
Mother of nine, ambitious entrepreneur, savings advocate