The Rest Stop
By Enrique Cuesta, Senior Program Officer, Esperanza International
Mrs. Ana Nuez and her family were supported by the vegetable garden that her father planted in El Limón, Samaná. A friend of the family who made trips for foreigners, showed this space as a tourist attraction where, in addition to selling their home-grown produce, they talked about Dominican agriculture and the process of planting and harvesting.
In 2003 his friend gave them the idea of making a “Rest Stop,” where they offered other attractions to tourists. One of Ana's brothers invested his savings to make a place next to his house and so they could grow in a modest but determined way.
In 2006, a friend invited Ana to join a group of women who were going to opt for group loans and training for their business with Esperanza. Her first loan of $125 was approved, and Ana received courses in customer service, how to create handicrafts with coconut, and business administration. With the money she earned through the stop, Ana was able to buy the merchandise they needed to expand their offering of products and services, while paying down the family’s debt.
Today, after 26 loans and more than $ 8,000.00 dollars disbursed, Ana and her family have 3 ranches and are planning to open their 4th. They offer an extensive variety of products to tourists such as Noni Oil, cocoa butter, cacao facial cream, coffee, handmade tobacco, local crafts, mamajuana, moringa tea, among others - all produced by themselves or by their community.
Ana and her family dream of continuing to grow. As a visionary entrepreneur she plans to make a Coconut Tour -showing the process of creating her coconut-based products - and to expand their food services to offer more Dominican cuisine to visiting tourists. Through her business, Ana seeks to continue to help her community prosper and provide better opportunities for study and growth for her children.
Sewing A Brighter Future
By Heather Stevens, Partner, Soap Hope
Inocencia Gómez is a strong woman with a happy spirit and a loving heart. This mother of five children operates a sewing business - creating sheets, curtains, furniture and much more for her community - and sells beauty products on the side. Hard work has brought this woman a life she loves, but she has not always experienced such happiness.
Financially, Inocencia had nothing. "I used to have to buy a lot on credit in the grocery store on the corner," she confesses. Without savings, Inocencia walked long distances knocking on doors hoping to find homes for cleaning or ironing clothes. Finally, Inocencia began her sewing business, but lacked the funds to buy enough cloth.
With the first loan from Esperanza of only $45 dollars, she took the reins of her business and became the author of her own success. The capital enabled Inocencia to buy whole rolls of cloth for the first time, which greatly increased the efficiency of her business and the value of her products. Over the course of twelve years and with the help of twenty loans, Inocencia continued working and growing her company. She increased her creditworthiness enough to buy a motorcycle, which allowed her to sell her handicrafts in multiple locations including a nearby beach for tourists. With each loan, Inocencia’s business improved. She bought new equipment and higher quality fabrics, making her business one of the premier sewing operations in her community.
With each improvement came increased profitability, enabling Inocencia to provide a better life for herself and her family. "Now I can buy my food without credit. I'm much better because, with Esperanza, I've remodeled my house. Look at the little kitchen I've started." Inocencia even has enough money to help others in her community, often helping to pay for funerals for those whose families can not afford them. As for her future, Inocencia has high hopes for her and her children. "I always hope to live better than how I live now and to help my children live a better life than I had."
La Jefa (The Boss)
By Kyle Lukianuk, President, Good Returns
Sometimes you come across someone that is so impressive you want to spend every moment you can with them. Not to simply chat or to just be around just for the sake of it - but rather to learn, hanging on every word they say and every action they take. Andrea is that someone. Within moments we realized she was La Jefa, or the boss.
Every month there are conferences around the world that showcase politicians, activists, and business leaders that have incredible stories and experiences that make people want to listen to them for hours. Well, I'd go so far as to say that Andrea's story or her presence could command any stage - and I didn't want to just listen to her for hours, I could have listened for days!
You see, Andrea isn't just a great great grandmother (that's not a typo), active business consultant and owner of a fishing empire, she literally runs her community. And she does it in a way that's powerful and strong, but also entirely humble. You could tell in each interaction she had with a family member, employee, neighbor, or client that they both loved and respected her dearly. Someone doesn't get both of those unless they know how to lead - and lead well.
While sitting down with Andrea I was a bit surprised at how much she had to say. From sharing about her family to telling us about her journey as a business owner, I felt that unique feeling that many interviewers get. It’s that “I feel like I’ve known you for so long” feeling. Her tone was warm but her words were firm, not shying away from the harsher moments of her story.
The greatest moment, for me at least, came at the end as Andrea shared what she is most proud of in her life. She paused for moment, took a look outside at her great grandchildren and that proceeded to tell us her how she is most proud about the fact that she has provided an example for her great grandchildren of the importance of hard work, serving others, and perseverance.
What’s next for Andrea? She plans to go back to school and get a degree. Considering what she’s already accomplished, that should be no problem for Andrea. After all, she is La Jefa.
A Block Party
By Kyle Lukianuk, President, Good Returns
Carmen was our last interview at the end of a long week - a week filled with early mornings at sunrise, action-packed afternoons, late evening dinners and debriefings. Not to mention that every woman we had sat down with up to this point had extraordinary stories to tell, which led us to ask the question… “Is every story we hear going to be powerful and emotional?”
I’m not going to answer that quite yet, at least not until I share more about Carmen.
As you walk into Carmen’s house, the first thing you’ll notice is how meticulously clean it is. The floors? Spotless. The walls? Pristine-ly decorated. The furniture? Rather exquisite. But then we were greeted by Carmen - with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Her smile radiated throughout the room and made everything else seem, well, unnecessary. She was so excited to meet us and even more excited to be hosting us in her home. Her excitement and enthusiasm spread through our team like wildfire and made me feel like this was the first interview of the week!
Before I could explain too much, Carmen grabbed my hand and said “Let me show you my businesses.” Businesses? As in plural? Sure enough she walked us a short way up the street and showed us a block of stores. She said, “These are mine.”
Three separate stores. And big ones, too. One was all about footwear. Any Nike or Adidas shoe you can think of, she sells it. Next door is a colmado, or convenience store, and finally there’s a motorcycle repair shop. Now she doesn’t manage these all herself - her son helps run the stores and her grandchildren help out too. In fact, when I asked to purchase a couple gallon jug of water, her 10 year old grandson jumped in and explained to me that that was his job. He took me around to the spot where they kept the filled jugs - keys in hand - and retrieved one for me. I asked him if I could carry it back to Carmen’s house but he wouldn’t give it up. He insisted he be the one to carry it there.
Now back to Carmen. After getting to witness her entire block of businesses in action, I was eager to learn more. Did she always have these? How has her journey influenced her family? And most importantly, how has the partnership with Esperanza empowered her to do more?