Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Heroes: Sonia and Gregoria

I’d like to introduce you to two exceptional women. The first is Sonia. She is the Bolivian director for SWAN (called CISNE down there).

Sonia and her husband Erwin were involved in personal humanitarian outreach before Terry made contact with her, and they joined the efforts of SWAN wholeheartedly. Since Montero was to be the focus of SWAN’s efforts, and because Sonia and Erwin lived fifty miles away in Santa Cruz, they bought a small, run-down house in Montero from which she administers SWAN’s program, returning to their big, comfortable home on weekends.

Sonia, pictured at left with Terry just after delivering a load of bricks, is a marvel at organizing classes, overseeing the microcredit process, watching out for the ladies who are bootstrapping up with the help of SWAN. She is positive and upbeat and, because of the things she has sacrificed to be a part of SWAN, the ladies understand that she is there to serve them.

The other lady I want to introduce you to is Gregoria. You may have met her before when I blogged about her being the first to repay her loan. Her business plan was to travel by bus to Santa Cruz and buy clothing which she would then sell door-to-door at businesses in Montero. She would sell on credit, making the rounds each week to collect payment from her clientele. She has excellent taste and always looks sharp herself, and people began to trust her judgment and would ask her to buy to their order.

When Gregoria paid off her loan, she immediately took out another one and bought a sewing machine, determined to learn to sew so she could make her own clothes and thus cut down her overhead. When Terry told me her plan, I was skeptical. Though I don’t sew much anymore, I’m a pretty good seamstress, and I know it’s not a skill acquired just because you want to. But Gregoria pulled it off.

It hasn’t been easy. When Terry called Gregoria to ask if I could name her in my blog, she reached her at the hospital where she was staying with her young-adult daughter who had just been hit by a car and was hurt pretty bad. There were other setbacks, too. Terry describes them in her recent email from Bolivia:

“I wished you were here with me to visit Gregoria! It was a celebration to see what she has done. Instead of carrying her wares from house to house, she now has a tienda en el mercado where she sews clothing. She does a good job. I didn’t realize that she had purchased a serger! So she sews with a treadle machine in her tienda, because there is no power there yet. The reason is that she uses the shop without renting it. She knows the woman who owns it. But because it is on loan, she doesn’t have the electricity hooked up. Recently, she had electricity hooked up to her home, so she uses the serger at home and the treadle machine at the store.

“She is almost done paying her second loan. She really is the poster child for SWAN. Sonia is having her make me some PJs. I didn’t know that after she took out her first loan, she had a stroke! It took time to rehabilitate, and she still has problems with her left leg, but she works very hard. She said that this past year has been the most trying for her, with her stroke, the death of her mother, the severe accident of her daughter and the political upheaval. Yet she has made the most progress of all of the women we work with. She has two sons that will enter the mission field in several months.”

It does me good to see these two exceptional ladies blazing the trail for their sisters. Life is certainly not easy for them, but they keep on keepin’ on. They’re an example to us all.

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