Looking Resolutely Toward a New Future
At 30 years old, Sophia has accumulated quite a bit of wisdom to complement the determination that comes naturally to her. She was born and raised in San Martin Porras in the district of Huancavelica, a poor, rural community in the mountains of Peru.
Sophia operates four different microenterprises, each helping her meet the needs of her family. She sells school supplies in the fall. On Mother's Day, an important holiday in Peru, Sophia sells gifts. For All Saints Day, she sells costumes, ribbons and trinkets. At Christmas time, she sells girls' dresses. But at harvest time she returns to the fields. This is the work that Sophia has known for most of her life.
Management of all this work is difficult. "If we're going to a nearby village to sell, we leave at 4 a.m.," Sophia explains. "During the school season, I need to arrive early to get a spot and get my items out to display. I work all day long and return home around 8 or 9 at night. After we close for the night, we buy things until eleven at night to complete the merchandise we'll need for the next day." Her mother takes Sophia's children to school and her 13-year-old daughter helps out as much as she can. On the weekends, Sophia takes her children to the market with her. In spite of her hard work, she cannot always count on success. "Sometimes," she tells me, "there is no business. We just come home with no money."
Sophia supports her entire family on the money she earns. She has two daughters, ages 13 and 2, as well as a son, age 11. She lives with both her parents, who also depend on her. The responsibility can weigh heavily on her. "If their shoes are falling apart, I buy new shoes," she tells me. And she always finds money for school fees. On this point, Sophia has great pride. "I always send them to school," she says.
Sophia has just received her first Credit with Education loan of 400 soles ($128), which she will use toward her school-supply business—her most successful. She joined the program because "The loan officer said it would be easy to get credit and that I do not need collateral," said Sophia. "It's easier this way."
In her credit group, Sophia is learning about preventing childhood illnesses. She talks about the value of this training. "My child got sick in the stomach—it's common because of the water. We tried to cure her with herbs. We cure coughs with herbs. We rubbed her chest, but when she didn't get better, we took her to the hospital. Last year, we had to take the youngest to the hospital because she got very sick. Her tonsils were inflamed and she had bronchitis and stomach infection and was dehydrated."
Growing her businesses to earn money for such emergencies is a primary motivation for Sophia. Sophia says her daughter's medicine cost 100 soles ($32). "That day I had to use up all my money because the baby's health comes first. I was then without money," Sophia explains.
With her new loan, the chance to save money for emergencies, the training she will receive on how to manage her businesses, and the other lifeskills training offered through Credit with Education, Sophia hopes for better times. Living on the margin of survival has taken a toll on everyone in her family. Too often, there was no choice but to look for a handout. "There is a feeding center where they give free lunches," says Sophia as she considers her past. "On bad days, lunch was the only meal we would eat."
But Sophia looks resolutely toward her new future. "I want to have a more stable business with a fixed location. I want a better house. And more than anything else, I want my kids to study. I'd like to give them what they should have and not just what I have."
Sophia's father says he is proud of his daughter's accomplishments and confident that she will achieve her dreams. "She's a support to me," he says. "I can no longer work and she paid for me to have an operation." Sophia chimes in, "I'm happy to be able to support my parents while they're alive on this earth."
Sophia is one of millions of women in some of the poorest countries across the globe moving beyond a subsistence life through Credit with Education…women who are empowered because they can feed and educate their children, save for the future and become self-reliant.