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In a recent blog post, The McGraw Hill Companies highlights the work Pro Mujer is doing to promote financial literacy and economic empowerment. With support from McGraw-Hill, Pro Mujer has developed a standardized financial literacy curriculum that teaches clients how to make sound financial decisions for their businesses, plan for future life events and be prepared for emergencies. Business training is part of Pro Mujer’s holistic package of services, which includes financial and healthcare services. As author Adam Eisenstein explains, “This education not only helps these clients make sound financial management choices, but also favorably impacts close to one million of their children and other family members.”
McGraw-Hill has been working with Pro Mujer in Peru since 2007, and its most recent grant provides funding for all five countries in which Pro Mujer operates. McGraw-Hill supports organizations that are increasing economic opportunities for impoverished communities traditionally excluded from mainstream banking and loans. To read the post in full, click here.
While we knew it was going to be a short trip, seven members from the Pro Mujer Junior Committee (PMJC) were eager to leave the comfort of our offices in New York City and travel 6,000 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. Though most of us had been volunteering with the PMJC for over a year, this trip was to be our first direct interaction with any of the clients Pro Mujer serves in Latin America.
By the time we arrived at our hostel in León, it was late but we ventured into the streets to sample some local fare. After 9 hours in various forms of transportation, a $1 taquito from a street vendor hit the spot. Early the next morning we boarded a van and drove through the narrow colonial streets of León to the Pro Mujer office in Nicaragua. We received a warm welcome from the Pro Mujer staff, many of whom were former clients, and toured the facility. It couldn’t have been much later than 8:30 am, but the 20 plus staff members were already hard at work. It was great to finally meet the in-country staff that is critical to Pro Mujer’s day-to-day operations.
We left the León office and arrived at our first loan repayment meeting where Pro Mujer clients gather twice monthly to repay loans and receive training and healthcare services. A Pro Mujer staff member led a workshop on domestic violence – a topic that is rarely addressed in rural communities in Latin America. Despite the presence of seven foreign visitors, the group members eagerly participated in the discussion and pledged to take steps to prevent domestic violence in their lives. Once the formal portion of the meeting wrapped up, we had the chance to speak with individual clients and learn about how Pro Mujer’s support had helped them.
The following morning, we boarded our van and headed northwest to visit one of Pro Mujer’s regional offices in the town of Chinandega. We were greeted by an energetic woman that gave us a brief history of the region and pointed out some interesting facts about Chinandega:
- Chinandega is situated between several volcanoes, which make the soil ideal for agriculture.
- The city was home to colonial Nicaragua’s most important Pacific port. Unfortunately, the beautiful port was ransacked by pirates and few ruins remain.
- Pro Mujer’s Chinandega office is home to Nicaragua’s coolest staff members
Our next stop was a semi-rural community outside of Chinandega. A Pro Mujer staff nurse conducted a lecture on the importance of regular Pap smear tests (provided by Pro Mujer) and sexual health. Following the lecture, the group conducted their loan payments and produced a comprehensive account report for the Pro Mujer staff.
Later that day, we met a client who used a $100 loan to build a bread shop in her community which employs 9 people and has paid for two of her kids to attend college. It was amazing to see how $100 can transform the life of a woman in Latin America.
On our way back to New York, our group of seven was buzzing. We had read Pro Mujer’s literature and attended microfinance conferences but never had the opportunity to speak with some of the incredible women that Pro Mujer serves every year. Our plane had barely lifted off from Managua and we were already eagerly planning another trip.
If you would like to join our growing Junior Committee team and get more involved, please contact Jason Wu at email@example.com
On a recent trip to visit Pro Mujer in Nicaragua, I met the clients below. As a photographer, I captured the reality of these women (and men) through raw images.
The clients we met fight and yearn with tenacity unrivaled. They are the powerful that lift themselves out of a life that they have been born into. They are the ones that laugh at those who tell them differently.
Over the past 20 years, Pro Mujer has served more than 1 million clients, reaching over 5 million children and family members with an integrated approach to poverty alleviation including microfinance, training and healthcare.
Second grader Emma and younger sister Alexa, had a lemonade stand together in New York City in 2007. But unlike your normal lemonade stand where proceeds may go to a new toy or candy, Emma and Alexa were raising money for poor women in Latin America through Pro Mujer.
Hear an account of their experience in their own words below:
Why did you decide to do a lemonade stand?
We loved lemonade stands and wanted to have fun with our friends. Our mom told us that we could decide how to use the money we made. We were going to work hard, so we decided to keep some for ourselves. One half we split, the other half we decided to give to charity. My mom let us pick which charity. We picked Pro Mujer.
Why did you want to raise money for Pro Mujer?
Because when my mom told us about it, we wanted to help them. My mom had just been to Pro Mujer in Nicaragua. Just a few days before the lemonade stand, she showed us pictures from her trip and a video on YouTube and told us about the work Pro Mujer does with poor women. They help them take care of their health. That’s really important because most people there are pretty poor, and they probably don’t know very much about their health. If you don’t have health insurance, you can’t go to the doctor or get better so it’s good to teach them how to stay healthy and not sick. So we decided to raise money for them.
Did you talk to customers about why you were raising money?
We did to most of them, but some were in a hurry. But when a customer was not there we shouted things like “Lemonade, part of the money goes to Pro Mujer”, and most people didn’t know what that was so they came and asked us.
What did Pro Mujer use the money for?
We made $25 for Pro Mujer and my mom took it to Nicaragua on her next trip. Gloria Ruiz, Pro Mujer in Nicaragua Director, sent us a nice letter afterward to say thank you. She wrote all of our names in the letter. It made us feel happy to get the letter. We didn’t know that $25 would be such a big deal. She showed us what she used the money for. It was to make puppets to teach women to go to the doctor. That was really cool because we are kids and we love puppets and think it’s a great way to teach people things.
Five years ago, she got a $150 loan from Pro Mujer to start a business. Today, she employs 18 people. Irma Torres, a Pro Mujer client from Teoloyucan, Mexico, runs a water purification business out of her home. With her husband as her business partner, she meets her family’s needs, while providing potable water to her community.
She used to work at a water purification plant. She was underpaid and mistreated by the manager. Her three children suffered too – the older siblings had to go without shoes or milk. Alfonso, Irma’s 9-year old son, suffered from asthma but there was no money for a doctor or medication.
In 2004, Irma left her job and joined Pro Mujer. She started her own water purification business and began to turn her family’s life around. Today, all of Irma’s children wear shoes and get the nutrition they need. Alfonso sees an asthma specialist and hasn’t had an asthma attack in over a year.
The community benefits too. Irma gives her neighbors discounted water, employs community members, and donates water for every community event. In December 2009, Irma’s hard work and concern for her community’s safety was recognized by the Banamex Foundation which awarded her $2,500 and a free course in accounting, finance, and sales. Irma won first place in the category of Urban Social Responsibility. She invested her prize in a conveyor belt that allows her to increase the production of purified water.
The “Banamex’s Microenterprise Award” recognizes the most successful Mexican micro-entrepreneurs. Last year, more than 150 institutions that provide microloans were invited to submit stories of their most successful clients in several different categories. Irma and other four other Pro Mujer clients won awards.
Irma said, “I used to think I wasn’t important. I worked and worked but it didn’t seem to matter. But I do matter! My work matters. I know that now.”