In Nicaragua, Oracio Perez has been working since he was 15 years old. After struggling to find a job, he went to school to learn ceramics, and has made it his life's work for the past 25 years. "It's a family business. Six of us work together," he acknowledges.
Oracio and his family purchase the clay from a local mine. "We are blessed by God because we have a lot of clay around," he admits. To prepare the clay, potters like Oracio put it through a process to become "clay dough" – initially adding water to make it wet and then adding sand to make it malleable.
In Nicaragua, entrepreneur Rommy makes custom wood closets and kitchen furniture using Chilean mahogany and cedar. With five employees already, he is dedicated to using this business opportunity to help support his family - his mother, brother and five year-old daughter.
Before farmer Melkamu Ayana joined MEDA's EDGET (Ethiopians Driving Growth through Entrepreneurship and Trade) project, he used to cultivate his rice crops traditionally by broadcasting.
"I would sow the seed by cultivating the land only once," he admits. "Once I cultivated the land, I would sow the seed through broadcasting."
With this method, the weeds grow faster than the seed. The weeds and the grain grow together, making weeding difficult and time-consuming.
Before the Project: Before beginning my farming business, I had to take on various jobs in order to give my family the best life possible. I was unsatisfied with this fragmented work because nothing resembled a serious profession and I felt very unstable. I liked the idea of agriculture because it is good, honest, and hard work. With the help of my uncle I began growing greenhouse vegetables. In our area I did some small-scale consolidations with other farmers and due to my central location, I naturally became the leader of an informal group of 7.
Before the Project: I used to be a National Champion in academic rowing. When I finished my education, I moved back to the Zaporizhzhya oblast to work as a kindergarten and gym teacher, but I felt that there was no room to grow in this field. When my greatgrandfather moved to Zaporizhzhya years ago, he said he was “bringing his family to abundance” and I feel as though it is the wish of my ancestors for me to work this land! A friend told me about the many opportunities of the Project. I took it as a sign to start cultivating medicinal herbs, which had always been a part of my life as a child, athlete, and caretaker.
“I am successfully managing a working group of 35 experienced embellishers who I link with different buyers and get orders from them,” says the emphatic 45-year-old, Farida Yasmeen.
A year ago, Farida was grappling with life’s misfortunes when she lost her husband in a suicide attack. Every year scores of people lose their lives in heinous attacks on communities leaving those who’re left behind without a sustainable source of income. Soon after, tragedy befell once again and Farida’s two children succumbed to diabetes. In an attempt to pick up the pieces, she migrated from Peshawar a few months ago, and now lives in Kanju Chowk, Mingora.
She is a 27-year-old woman who lives in a remote area within Upper Dir - Batal Bala, a small village situated on a harsh, hilly terrain. Her name is Bakht Bibi, and a perfect life, with no worries of tomorrow, is a distant dream for her and her four children. The 2010 flash floods washed away Bakht Bibi’s only source of income: the medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) she collects in the wild as well as her collection tools. With no money and no means to stand on her feet, she felt helpless.
Ma-ion Akosie is a lead farmer in the far northwest corner of Ghana participating in MEDA’s GROW project. A couple of years ago her husband died, leaving her and her six children to support themselves. This past year she grew nine 50-kg bags of soybeans despite poor rainfall. She is excited because even with a poor growing season, she achieved her best year ever using the right seeds, inputs, and technical assistance. She desires to give her kids the opportunity to become educated and sees her participation in GROW as the best way to achieve that. She is in the process of selling her soybeans and despite already receiving an offer to sell them at a good rate, she is exploring her options with other potential buyers as well.
Anorboy Piremqul presents a cautionary tale of how credit can go wrong if not administered well. As head of a collective farm a decade ago, he signed a group loan for 70 farm members to invest in an irrigation system. A corrupt government official confiscated the property and it was not returned. Anorboy fought in court but was forced to repay the group loan because it was all in his name. After three years and selling off assets like his house and some land, he paid off the sum and was debt free. Much of his income is from agriculture, but he and his family also depend on the migrant remittances that his son sends from Russia.
Samehon Naviev lives in Isfara, Tajikistan with his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and daughter. In addition to farming, he is the accountant for the collective farm in his area and his wife works as a seamstress. Despite these activities, they depend on agriculture for almost three-quarters of their income. Though the land reform process has not yet happened in his area, he has access to land for farming. He shares six hectares between 6 people. They work together to plant and harvest wheat and apricots. If they wanted to turn away from cultivating wheat the group would have to agree to present a letter to the committee and they would decide to accept the petition or not. The state used to help with farming inputs, but does not anymore. There are few people left to work the land because they've all gone to seek employment elsewhere, mainly in Russia. Rising costs of input and labour are making it increasingly difficult for his group to profit from the land.
Trader Ranow Mirzoeva has seen ups and downs in her business over the years. She used to import goods from Uzbekistan into Tajikistan, selling it to retailers and making up to USD 1000 a week. During these years of plenty she learned to drive, becoming one of the first female drivers in her district. She noticed the timesaving benefits of going to and from Uzbekistan with her own truck. However, her livelihood was put at risk when the Tajik-Uzbek border was closed in 2010. Unfavourable relations between the two countries made a huge dent in her income. Life at home isn't easy either. Ranow claims to stay with her husband only for the sake of their children. She says, "He's not successful and has a hard character." Her husband, traditionally the breadwinner in Tajik society, sat at home and didn't provide for his family. This was what motivated her to do something.
Hafiza lives in Kanibadam, Tajikistan with her husband and four children. In what was still Soviet times, she graduated from secondary school and after she was married, went to work on a collective cotton farm with her husband. As her family was growing quickly the support from Soviet Russia was suddenly swept away with the collapse of the USSR. A few years later, things had degenerated to the point where Hafiza and her husband were compensated in apricots, the primary fruit of the region. They were forced to work for a product for which there was no ready market. Those were hard times, as she had many small children to feed in a tiny house. Describing their situation Hafiza says, "It was like slave labour, we had to work hard but weren't getting paid in useable tender."
A woman contracting in the glass bangles sector in Pakistan reports that previously her husband did not want her to even look out the window. After participating in MEDA's Pathways and Pursestrings project, Reshma's success has changed her husband's attitude. Now that he sees the benefit of her work, he is comfortable with her attending the monthly group meetings. Reshma, the glass bangles contractor, observes, "Almost everyone here is of the opinion that women should be locked up at home like show pieces. But one needs to overcome that to move forward. I have left that behind without fear."
Saleem Bukari is a social entrepreneur. But this wasn't always the case. She lives in an isolated and conservative village in Pakistan with her husband and five daughters. For years she made a small income embroidering fabric that her husband sold in the local market. In 2004 Saleem joined a MEDA training course, called Behind the Veil, to become a sales agent. She began bringing the embroidery of her neighbours to the market, which required her to leave her home and travel to Karachi, the nearest large city market where higher value was placed on these products.
The Pathways and Pursestrings project focused on increasing the income women earn from the work they were already doing within their homes. The project was based on the premise that with greater economic resources, women would gain more value within the family and community, improving their status and expanding their control over the income they earned and increasing their participation in family decisions. These results have been achieved. The project's independent evaluation team concluded, "The assumption that improved economic well-being leads to relatively stronger social and even political capital (defined as the power to influence decisions) seems to hold true on this project." Critical to pushing beyond the initial gains experienced by these women will be their ability to build on these successes. Money in their hands provides women the opportunity to take additional steps in creating the social, legal, and cultural changes they want to see.
Marcia is a long-time client of MiCrédito, a local microfinance institution, in the rural area of Teustepe. Marcia has been running a pulperia (small store) based in her home for over 30 years.
Marcia is currently using MiCrédito's debit card and savings account product, offered in partnership with BAC, one of the largest regional banks in Central America. This initiative is part of MEDA's TechnoLinks project which aims to use technology to increase access to financial services for MiCrédito clients in Nicaragua. Marcia has never had a debit card before, so it has taken time for her to become comfortable using the product: "At the beginning I didn't like the card. I liked having money in cash, but now I am used to the card and will go and take out money when I need to buy things."