Monday, August 25, 2008

Baking in Bolivia

In my last posting I blogged about how flipping burgers is the major source of funding for SWAN's microcredit capital. Today's posting is about one lady who has received a loan through SWAN.

When Terry traveled to Bolivia in January to begin the first round of microcredit assistance, she and her Bolivian operative, Sonia, felt that the speediest way of finding an initial pool of elegible women would be to approach LDS bishops in the area and ask them to contact the most needy in their wards, tell them about the opportunity, and let them know about the informational meeting SWAN was holding to explain the microcredit program and requirements.

Elizabeth was one of the women who attended that first meeting. She and her seven children live in a one-room shack in a very poor area of town. (The picture is of Sonia in front of Elizabeth's house.) Elizabeth's husband abandoned her for another woman and offers no support to his children.

Elizabeth filled out all the paperwork to make application for a loan of $300 to purchase an oven, some baking pans, and the supplies to begin a bread bakery. As they read over the application forms, Terry and Sonia felt that Elizabeth’s situation was dire and that she should receive the first microcredit after she completed the self-employment workshop taught in a series of four classes by local representatives of the LDS welfare department.

It should be stated here that these microcredits are available to women of all faiths. The classes are taught by an entity with LDS connections because that was what was available without charge. Terry found other humanitarian organizations that had a similar resource, but all would have charged a per-person fee that would have seriously cut into available loan capital. Similarly, the first class that received instruction was largely LDS because that was an easily reachable demographic. Word of mouth has already spread news of the opportunity, and the second class will have a completely different representation of faiths.

Back to Elizabeth: She took the twelve-hour class and then Sonia went with her to purchase what was needed for her new business. Few people in Bolivia have ovens in their homes, so they purchased a free-standing propane oven. They also bought large baking pans and the necessary supplies.
Because Elizabeth’s house is so small, a neighbor allows her to keep the oven under an awning, which allows her protection from the elements while she’s baking. Each day after school, her children help her do the prep work for the next day’s work, and she rises early to have the bread done in time for her customers’ early meal. Her clientele are the people of her area, which is so poor that there hasn’t been a bakery situated there before.

Elizabeth’s bakery has been able to sustain her family. She is able to feed her children and pay back her loan. In a country with no social safety net, no welfare system at all, that has to be counted as success.

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