Despite only having a fifth grade education, Maria found her voice and gained the confidence to lead her community.
Despite her age, Timotea started a business with just $3 and became a role model and mentor to many young women.
Vicenta is a poultry vendor in Southeastern Bolivia. As a member of a Five Talents' savings group she's received training and access to loans to develop her business.
When fire consumed her business, Sofia found a way to rebuild.
Esperanza is a mother of 6 children from Bolivia who sells empanadas and flavored ice in the local market.
When she joined a Five Talents savings group, she committed to saving 30 cents per week, sacrificing slightly more than a dollar of her hard earned income each month.
"When I saw the sisters of the church [come] to save together, I thought it was difficult to save for me because there are many expenses that I have to pay: rent, electricity, water, studies of my children, my business supplies, etc."
When her mentor shared the biblical parable of the Five Talents, however, Esperanza took it as a personal challenge.
"The day when we learned about the talents, I received the challenge of working with what the Lord has given me. "
"I saw that it is possible to start a business with very little money because if we are good servants with what the Lord has put in our hands, then He will entrust more. So I accepted the challenge to use some of the money from the group to invest in my business to grow my earnings."
The following week during their regular meeting, Esperanza borrowed a loan of $7.25 from the group. She used this money to expand her business and began increasing her profit each week, paying back her loan and setting aside more money for her business and for savings.
"I invested the money buying more materials for my business, and I went to sell my raspadillos (flavored ice). I [earned] a lot of money and [learned] how to separate some of our profits for everything, offerings, mercy, business supplies, etc. And I was very happy to do so."
Esperanza has experienced much pain and hardship in her life. Kidnapped as a young woman she was forced into early motherhood. Despite all of the challenges, she is grateful for God's provision and protection. She is glad that she can provide for her children and can serve as an example to other women in her community.
"God has truly been good to me, since I received Him in my heart. I have always seen His love and protection. When I did not know the Lord I suffered problem after problem. . .I had many wounds in my heart. Now everyday I'm happy because the Lord shows me that the good Father is with me. When I'm happy we laugh together. . .When I'm worried, He shows me His word to help me; at all times He is taking care of me and I'm grateful for that."
Help more women and men like Esperanza access mentorship, savings, loans, and business development. Make a gift to Five Talents and offer help, hope, and opportunity to families in need.
If you ask Sabina to describe how her life has changed since joining a savings group, you had better listen up and have a pen handy. The Bolivian woman barely pauses to think before the stories start flowing out of her.
Before joining a savings group, Sabina had knitted clothes for sale in Argentina. But when demand fell and prices dropped, her micro-enterprise no longer made financial sense. She had a strong skill, but where could she focus it? A thought hit her when she learned of a need for a knitting teacher.
"I could never have imagined being a teacher, but I encouraged myself to apply as a knitting teacher in a school, and they accepted me," Sabina said. "Now, I am helping many poor children to knit sweaters and scarves for themselves. I have always spoken like a teacher to other people, and now when people call me 'teacher,' I feel very good and special, and I have even more desire to teach."
Before joining a savings group, Sabina was reluctant to leave her home and talk to others. She lacked confidence. And she had little say in financial affairs at home, where she and her husband have raised seven children.
"I was very quiet and suspicious of people. I was also very timid," Sabina recalled. "I eventually joined a group because of my friend. She always told me that it is important to save for emergencies and to have capital for a business. At first, I didn't want to join the group, but she insisted that I try it, so I joined and began to save small amounts."
A year later, and to her great surprise, Sabina was nominated to be the group's president. "The other women in the savings group [had begun to] put a lot of confidence in me. When I was named president, this made me feel very happy."
With the income generated by her teaching and occasional knitting projects, Sabina continues to build up her savings.
"I am saving a lot because I know that the pre-military fees for my son will be very costly, and also my daughter leaves for her bachelor's degree this year," she said.
Her success in business and her development as a person has also caught the attention of her children and husband.
"Before, I had to depend on my husband," she said. "Now, I also give my opinion in my home, and my husband entrusts more responsibilities to me. I offer more ideas in the house, and I'm finding that I am more patient and happy with my children."
Your support of Five Talents' programs make stories like Sabina's possible. Click here to make a donation of $10, $25 or $50 and provide more women and men access to savings groups, micro-business loans and business skills training.
If you were to ask 56-year-old Celestina about her life during a visit to the marketplace in Tarija, Bolivia, you would not have to wait long to hear about her children.
She'd probably tell you about her daughter Romina's continuing education.
With a twinkle in her eye, she'd no doubt brag about her grandchildren.
Celestina would also be sure to mention the house she has been building, brick by brick, with the profit from her micro-business. "One day," she says, "I will finish building my house."
Celestina's house is a great picture of what happens when a woman or man joins one of Five Talents' programs. When they learn to save money, invest loan capital in a micro-business, and participate in training workshops, their whole household is transformed.
Children are able to attend school. Extended family and friends benefit, as the group member's new knowledge trickles down into the community. Often, the household's living conditions improve as well – there's more food and better shelter.
Over time, an entire family's life begins to change – little by little, brick by brick.
Your donations, prayers and advocacy are the bricks that build the house of transformation.
When Celestina found Five Talents and our partner organization in Bolivia, Seeds of Blessing, she had already launched several micro-enterprises.
Celestina had first sold bread before moving on to corn. For a while, she was earning a decent profit from the micro-enterprise and began using some of that profit to build a house. But then unexpected costs began stealing from her profits. She'd not yet learned to save, and so her work on the house stalled. Worse yet, she no longer had money to invest in her business.
"I was worried because I needed to increase my capital in order to have more profit," Celestina said.
In desperate need of a loan, she turned to Five Talents and Seeds of Blessing.
When someone like Celestina joins a savings group, your donations help to provide loan capital, a safe place to save, and training in core business skills. In Celestina's case, an initial loan of $40 helped her to get the business back on track.
"The group gave me a loan, and with it I bought things that I needed," she said. "Now, I am selling more items, including corn, chilies and peanuts, and with what I earn I can finish building my house."
The impact of your support, however, extends far beyond the direct beneficiary, and this is part of what makes Five Talents unique.
Women like Celestina are not just getting a one-time loan, paying it back and going on with life. They are joining a community whose support and training inevitably trickles down into the lives of family and friends.
One of those in Celestina's life who has been impacted is her daughter Romina.
"I really admire my mom because she works very hard to build the house -- she wants the best for her family," Romina said. "She wakes up early to go to the market to sell, and she goes to bed late because we have to cook the corn and prepare the vegetables."
In fact, it's because of Celestina that Romina decided to join a savings group. She has now become a reliable partner in her mom's business.
"When I had my baby, she supported me a lot. She wants me to continue studying, and learn to be a good mom," she said. "Now, I go with her to the market to sell, and some days she stays at home to rest.
"She has been a good teacher to me. She always tells us that we should save and that we don't need a lot of money to begin a business. I give thanks to God because she is a great mom."
Little by little. Brick by brick. Such is the pace of transformation in towns like Tarija, Bolivia. But that transformation is real – and it extends across generations.
There are individuals like Celestina in every one of our programs.
Some have already been working hard at income-generating activities but need the boost of a low-interest, micro-business loan. Some lack training and support and need mentoring. All have family members and friends who are depending on them.
Little by little, brick by brick, households are being transformed – thanks to friends and supporters like you.
Please prayerfully consider making a donation today and help more women like Celestina.
Eiber, a 30-year-old father of two, loves to play soccer.
He admits, though, at times in the past, he has loved it a little too much.
"All I did was work, and the little free time I had I dedicated to playing soccer with my friends," said Eiber, who designs and manufactures flip-flops with his wife, Marcia. (Read about Eiber's business).
That was before they joined a savings group with Five Talents' partner organization in Tarija, Bolivia, Semillas de Bendicion (Seeds of Blessings). While participating in the group savings program and learning core business skills, Eiber was also challenged to become a better father.
"My brothers' and sisters' families all live in the same house with us, and our children always play together. My nieces and nephews are very, very naughty and often have accidents and do poorly in school," he said.
"One day, Marcia made me reflect [that] I wasn't being a very good husband or father. In fact, no one in my family was – we all had married very young."
Participants in Five Talents' Bolivia program, like Eiber and Marcia, have access to additional workshops designed to strengthen communication and relationships within the home. He remembers how, early on, another family member pushed him to attend the sessions on family life.
"Each week, on the day of the meeting, a family member would always come, room by room, shouting, you are going to become psychologists! Prepare yourself! Let's go!" he recalled.
Slowly, the workshop attendance began paying off. Eiber and Marcia saw their marriage grow stronger and their home life become more stable.
"After each meeting, we left more in love," he said. "At the beginning, this seemed to be very corny and awkward, but, in the end, I learned to be more affectionate with [Marcia]. [And] we have organized ourselves better. Not only do we provide material food in my house, but we also give ourselves psychological food and – the most special – spiritual food.
"Now I know that the greatest of my investments, the greatest of my jobs, is to be a husband [to my wife] and a father to my children."
Earlier this month, we shared the story of Eiber, a savings group member in Tarija, Bolivia.
Both Eiber and his wife, Marcia, take part in Five Talents' micro-savings and training program and have seen some remarkable changes in their lives and marriage.
In our first post, we focused on the couple's participation in training workshops. Here, the 30-year-old Eiber shares in his own words the successes and challenges of growing his sandal-making enterprise:
"Regarding my work, before I got married I was an assistant to my uncle. I remember that no one wanted me to help me [with] capital to form my micro-enterprise. But with the help of God, I was eventually able to obtain a loan. Now that I am a member of a savings group, I can help other people to bring together capital that they need. This makes me very happy.
I make 10 dozen flip-flops (leather sandals) a week because there is so much demand. When I [recently] received a group loan of 280 bolivianos ($40), I used all of it to buy some accessories that I needed for the flip-flops.
This week, a woman came to my workshop and asked me to make 30 dozen flip-flops so that she can take them to Oruro (another department in Bolivia). Since then, other people also have placed orders [to be sent to] the interior of the country.
This is a new experience, and I am excited.
I want to hire three more workers to make more flip-flops and store them for my clients. For this, I will join a rotating savings group that loans more money, because I want to travel to Santa Cruz to buy leather in bulk for the flip-flops.
The most difficult part of my job is making the soles of the flip-flops. I am the only one who does this on my work team, because it [requires] a lot of strength and patience to do it well. If I am not patient to measure with care the leather to the iron, I can lose a lot of money.
I believe that the craftsman is an artist."
Help us empower more craftsmen like Eiber: Make a gift to Five Talents today.
Editor's Note: This article by The Reverend Jeff MacKnight first appeared last week on the official blog of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Father MacKnight, a Five Talents board member, is the Rector at St. Dunstan's Church in Bethesda, MD.
I know we'll never all agree on the hot-topic issues, but I still hope we can act together on basic Christian values, like helping the poorest folks in the world. Five Talents is an Anglican organization that does just that through microfinance services at the grassroots level in the poorest countries of the world.
Five Talents was started at a global meeting of Anglican Church leaders, in response to their deep concern for the poorest of the poor. The founders wanted to guard the dignity of poor people, and assist them by creating jobs and opportunities to rise out of poverty, so in 1998, Five Talents was founded. Its byline says it all: "Fighting Poverty, Creating Jobs, Transforming Lives."
I've been involved with Five Talents for years, and now serve on its Board. St. Dunstan's has supported Five Talents projects in the Dominican Republic, Peru, Indonesia, and South Sudan.
One of the things that excites me about Five Talents is the faith-based organization's focus on transforming not only the financial situation of their clients, but also their social and spiritual well-being.
A great example of this transformation is the story of Carmen in Bolivia. This 35-year-old woman, a single mother, sells cosmetics and, on weekends, works as a kitchen assistant in a restaurant. Carmen is also the treasurer of a Five Talents savings group that calls themselves the "Saving Bees."
Awhile back, Carmen's son, Luis, became very sick. Under normal circumstances, she would not have had any money to pay for medical treatment. As a result, she would have had to borrow money from her business – or from a loan shark. Either one of these options would have set her family back.
Fortunately, she had been saving money every week through the Five Talents savings group. So when Luis became sick, she was able to use some of that savings to pay for a medical procedure.
"If I had not saved money, I don't know what I would have done to get the money," she told staff from Five Talents' partner organization in Bolivia, Semillas de Bendicion (Seeds of Blessing).
But this is only half of the story.
Carmen's spirit was troubled when she first joined the Five Talents program. She rarely smiled and could sometimes act harshly with others.
"She didn't leave her house, and she didn't talk much with her family. The saddest part was that you didn't see her smile – she simply escaped from any activity that could provoke a smile," said Sara, a staff member at Semillas de Bendicion. "But without a doubt she was the best in how she handled numbers, and she was very honest." That's why, last year, her peers elected her to be the group's new treasurer.
Slowly, as Carmen grew into her new role, her outlook began to change. She smiled more often. She began thinking about attending night school. And everyone – including Sara – noticed her gradual transformation.
"Now she is a friend to all of us, and when she sees us, she has a beautiful smile on her face. Moreover, she isn't as harsh with the members of the savings group – she is cordial and friendly, and they always laugh with her. We are happy for her because she is beginning to live with joy."
Carmen's transformation is a gift from God, through Anglicans working together at Five Talents. Through training, savings groups, and microloans, Carmen has lifted herself – and her son Luis – out of grinding poverty.
Matilda, a mother of four, was washing clothes for a living when she joined the Five Talents program in Tarija, Bolivia. Since then, her life has begun to change. She's saving for her children's education. She started a new micro-enterprise. And she's participated in workshops designed to equip her with new skills, such as marketing, accounting and goal-setting.
But we'll stop here and let Matilda tell her own compelling story, which has been translated from Spanish:
On saving money
"My husband and I had many problems saving. For years, we saved our money in a ceramic piggy bank that we kept in our house. It took us two years to save this money – the piggy bank was full of money, and we were happy because we had a lot of plans to invest the money.
One day, though, my sister came to visit me at my house, and I asked her if she could stay for a week so that I could go visit my parents in the country. When I returned, she had a lot of new clothes, shoes, and jewelry. I thought that she had bought all of this with her money, but three days after she left I was cleaning my things and I noticed that my piggy bank had a hole in it. Hardly any money remained. I was very angry – it was two years of savings, and I went to my sister to confirm my suspicions. My sister told me everything – she had robbed me. I was very frustrated because she had spent everything. Since then, I've had a hard time trusting anyone.
One day I was invited to be part of a savings group. I took a risk and joined, saving again, little by little. Everything went very well – it's a very serious and transparent group, so in the following years I continued to save a lot more money. And this year, my husband was very excited about all that we had saved in the group."
On developing a new micro-enterprise
"I had washed clothes for the last 15 years, and my hands were very battered. The doctor told me to stop washing clothes; if I didn't, I would lose my hands. So I was very worried, I didn't know what to do to work because on some occasions my husband's income was not enough. One friend told me that selling cosmetics was a good business, but I needed money for my capital investment. So we used the money that we had collected in the savings group to begin building a shop that I really wanted, and also to start my cosmetics business. Now I earn money and my hands do not suffer, and with the income we can help our children to study."
On establishing goals for herself and her family
"One of the workshops that I most enjoyed in the savings group was when I wrote our savings goals on paper. I had planned to use my money on something a little vain, but after we spoke in the group about making good investments, I changed my goal.
I remember that Sara and Eva [the group facilitators with our partner Semillas de Bendicion, or Seeds of Blessings] asked us to draw pictures with markers to identify our savings goals. The other option was to write them out. I don't know how to write very well. I never had liked to; in fact, I am scared to write. But on this day I wanted to write my savings goal: "I am saving for my children's studies."
I felt very good that day. I and all the other women that shared our goals – we wanted to change our situation, and so we were going to help one another to save. But the best of all is that we understand that saving should be the job of the whole family.
So I took this paper to my house and I spoke with my family that night about what Sara and Eva had said in the workshop, and my family was united even more to save. Then I hung the paper on the wall of our room so that the whole family can remember that we are saving for our children's studies.
This year, the whole family is saving in the savings group to finish building the shop and to continue using our income for our children's studies. My oldest son, Donato, 20, didn't finish studying because he wanted to work to help us. I am very sad because of this, so now when he returns from a trip I want to encourage him to study and finish school. My daughter Margarita, 16, also was working, but now she has quit her job because now she has money so that can study calmly [without worrying]. My younger children also are happy to study and are good students."
Simona, a 55-year-old mother of seven, runs a micro-business selling empanadas and other food in Tarija, Bolivia. She is a member of a savings group organized by Five Talents' local partner in Bolivia, Semillas de Bendicion (Seeds of Blessings). Here, Simona opens up about her life, her husband's health, and her experience participating in a savings group.
"I [was born] in the countryside, near Camargo, a beautiful land where there is a lot of fruit. As I am female and my family is very poor, I didn't go to school. We worked in the field, but I liked to sell vegetables and fruit more than planting and harvesting, so I always went with my parents into the city to sell.
"Later, I got married and had seven sons. My life was very difficult. I wanted my sons to have the opportunity to study, so we went to live in the city, but [there it] was even more difficult. There wasn't enough money, and my husband, who worked as a bricklayer, began to drink.
"One day he had a stroke, and [for a while] he couldn't move. Little by little, he began to recover, but he was still very angry because he couldn't work or do anything. He always sat at the door chewing coca leaf and looking at people angrily.
"Two years ago, I began to sell food and empanadas to earn money. I didn't sell much, and my husband sat by my side angrily watching as people walked by on the street without buying anything.
"However, one day I was invited to join a savings group. Out of curiosity I went. They taught us about saving and lending the money [to one another]. I had never heard of this, so I joined because I wanted to learn new business ideas, and also I wanted a micro-loan.
"The first time when I saw them give all the money that we had collectively saved to another group member, it scared me. I feared that she wouldn't return to the group, but after she returned and re-paid the loan, my mind began to change.
"When it was my turn to receive a loan ($15), I was happy. I bought a crate of oil, and I felt very relieved. My business made a lot of profit.
"Something that I really like [about participating in a savings group] is that we learn each week something good for our family and business. And I learned to pray and to pray for my spouse, and he has started to heal more and more.
"Now, my husband walks better, he moves his right arm a little more, he is friendly, and he helps me cook and sell the food. Last week, we went to our plot of land in the field, and he told me that he was going to stay a week longer to continue working a little more.
"Recently, he also received some glasses that he really needed. He felt very happy because no one had ever given him something so valuable. I continue to pray for my husband and my family, and I give thanks for the help we've received in our businesses."
This article first appeared in April 2014 on the Month of Microfinance website.