This is the first in a series of posts focusing on the life and work experiences of women who are currently participating in one of Five Talents' programs. The interviews were conducted by local partners, or by Five Talents staff, and then translated and edited for clarity. Click here to read parts two, three and four.
To many of us in the developed world, the notion of a $14 loan at first sounds kind of silly. After all, we can spend that much on a single meal at a chain restaurant – and yet still have to account for a tip. But in places like Tarija, Bolivia, where 25 percent of the population is malnourished and 13 percent lives on just $1 a day, the sum is a small fortune. And it can mean the difference between success and failure for micro-entrepreneurs like Filomena (pictured below), a 63-year-old widow whose sole source of income once came from selling two crates of tomatoes per day at a local market.
How did you maintain or make money before receiving a loan?
I sold only two crates of tomatoes and the money only allowed us to eat and pay for home expenses.
What is your business now?
I continue selling tomatoes, but three crates of tomatoes and also peppers, and [now] I am renting a room.
How did you start this business?
My husband, my family and I suffered a lot living in the country. He was very sad because we didn't have enough to eat. There wasn't a hospital or school for our daughters so when he was still alive he told me that we could go to the city so that I could sell that which I could cultivate on the land. We grew quinoa, potatoes -- all these things, including some cereal and, afterwards, tomatoes.
Who are your clients?
All the people who come to shop at the farmer's market.
Have you hired any employees?
How many loans have you received from Five Talents?
What was the size of your last loan?
100 bolivianos ($14).
How did you hear about the work of Five Talents and the savings group?
It was a surprise. One day I went to church tired of my job and I saw Eva and Sara [of Five Talents partner Semillas de Bendicion (Seeds of Blessings)] and they were teaching something. It seemed that all of the women already knew them because they had gone to a meeting and so they met each other there. I saw how they taught about savings and that all of us could save, and the women were very encouraged. And so I joined a [savings] group.
Why did you want a loan?
I thought that I could save for some emergency. But when the women prayed that I would utilize the money with wisdom and that it be multiplied, I felt that I should invest it in my business, so I bought more crates of tomatoes and peppers from the wholesaler to grow my earnings.
What challenges have you encountered with your business? Successes?
Sometimes there is a frost and tomatoes become very expensive. If I want to buy from a wholesaler, I risk losing my customers. My clients won't buy from me if the price of the tomatoes goes up. So when the tomatoes are more expensive, I prefer to buy another type of vegetable to sell, such as chuño (dried potato). When the price of the tomato goes down, I earn a lot per kilo of tomatoes that I sell. These days it is going very well and my daughters are very happy because now we can buy clothing for them.
Have you made some change in your business for the benefit of your clients? Did you learn something with Five Talents?
Yes, I always keep my stall very clean because it's a place where a lot of people walk. And I am always friendly even with grumpy customers. They yell and sometimes they don't buy anything, but the other people that see this come close to me and buy from me because of my kindness. I also give a tomato or two to my older clients, or to people who buy larger quantities.
What are some of your long term goals for your business?
I have a place close to where I keep my tomato crate, because my stall is very small. When I finish selling a crate, my younger daughter comes and brings another full crate so I can continue selling during the day. I [usually] sell up to three crates per day, and [soon] I hope to sell four per day so that I can have more savings and I can invest it in building another room off of my house to rent.