The “Women United for Change” movement is helping women in developing countries transform their lives through the “Women Empowered” program.
Our non-profit partner – Project Concern International – is committed to providing regular updates on the women we’re sponsoring through this program, so we can be part of their on-going journey.
Please read below for some important background on this program and some initial success stories.
Why is PCI Already Supporting Women in Guatemala?
Guatemala is the most populated country in Central America, and roughly 54% of its population lives in poverty. In many rural areas, such as the Western Highlands, food supplies are unstable, education and employment opportunities very limited, and those affected most are women and children.
In the most remote and isolated communities, the majority of women still give birth at home; many women die or lose their babies as a result.
Women in urban centers face additional challenges re: quality of life and employment opportunities; many have migrated to unplanned settlements on the outskirts of Guatemala City where living conditions are even more precarious.
History of the “Women Empowered” Program in Guatemala
For over 40 years, Project Concern International has been working as an aid agency, providing health and disaster relief services, as well as other programs that support advances in agriculture and income for people in Guatemala.
In 2012, PCI introduced their “Women Empowered” program in Guatemala, providing training and support to “unleash the possible”. As women take part in this training (generally in groups of 15-20) they learn powerful personal, business and leadership skills.
The women meet weekly (taking turns moderating the meetings) to learn new ideas, discuss issues important to women in their communities, and pool their limited financial resources together to create a collective “loan fund”.
Over a period of 6-9 months, members of the group develop trust, greater self-confidence and save enough money to be divvied into small loans to group members. Loans are used for investing in micro-business or income generating activities (IGAs) and/or meeting the immediate needs of women and their families.
These micro-businesses or IGAs are a result of the training the women receive in the Women Empowered program; they learn basic accounting and budgeting skills, as well as new trade skills they can use to start a small business (such as how to make soap or cultivate vegetables or other agricultural products).
Some women start micro-businesses based on their existing skills or knowledge. For example, women who know how to make huiipiles (traditional blouse worn by Guatemalan women) will take a loan to buy materials and make a limited amount of product to sell for a profit.
As a result of participating in the “Women Empowered” program, women have a greater sense of self-confidence, new skills, and the vision and resolve to continue improving their lives and the lives of their family and community members.
Those that have started micro-businesses generate income that can significantly improve conditions for themselves and their families, while also solving problems or needs within their communities.
To date, there are over 9,800 members taking part in PCI’s Women Empowered groups in Guatemala, surpassing the 2014 goal. Members have saved more than $100,000 USD and granted more than $2,000 USD in small loans to women in need.
How Women United for Change Will Help in Guatemala
Funds raised through the “Women United for Change” movement will be used to support Women Empowered programs in 2 primary areas of Guatemala.
The first is Santa Cruz Barillas in Huehuetenango, which shares a border with Mexico, making it a high transient area. People are susceptible to migration and other types of movement in and out of Guatemala.
This area is remote, but PCI is learning that it’s in the hardest to reach areas where participation and drive among women is the highest. Women in communities of Barillas have little education and the main way to earn a living is through agricultural work and day laboring. This area is mountainous where corn, potato, beans and peas are grown. Coastal regions are heavy areas for coffee production.
There is a big opportunity in Barillas to develop micro businesses or income-producing activities that focus on agriculture and selling local handicrafts. At present, 26 groups have been formed in Barillas, supporting a total of 550 women. Women United for Change will help to grow these numbers in the coming year.
Women United for Change will also be supporting WE groups in a more urban area, called Barrio Mio (my neighborhood) which is in Mixco, Guatemala’s second largest city.
Plans are already in action to form 60 new WE groups (with approximately 15 members per group), supporting 900 women. While “Women Empowered” groups in rural areas help women meet basic financial and living needs, WE groups in urban areas provide additional benefits, as they serve as a ‘safe space’ for women to connect with other women who live in very vulnerable areas. Women in these group create new friendships, a support network and greater awareness of issues (and solutions) facing women in the city.
Measuring the Impact of the Women Empowered Program
PCI has developed a very effective tool (called the “Lives Changed Indices” tool) for measuring the impact of the Women Empowered program.
In addition to creating income-generating businesses and activities, women who take part in the Women Empowered program report a greater sense of trust, connection, confidence and hope.
For example, one measurement showed before the program, only 3.8% of members felt a sense of trust and collaboration between members of the community. At the end, that number had increased to 45.8% among the women.
Before the program, 9% of the women indicated they felt they had the ability to change their lives; by the end of the program, that increased to 67%.
Another assessment conducted by PCI in October of 2013 revealed a remarkable increase in the number of leadership roles women were taking in their households and communities. Many of the group members now felt they could participate equally as decision makers regarding issues that affect their families (and in some cases have even greater decision-making power than their husbands).
Success Stories: Meet the Women of the “New Hope” WE Group
Chocal, Malacatancito, Huehuetenango
One of the first groups formed under PCI’s Women Empowered (WE) pilot Project in Guatemala is “New Hope”, and it’s living up to its name.
Chocal is a community whose inhabitants face ongoing challenges that include drought, lack of economic opportunity and poor health. In response, the group has independently carried out multiple socially-focused activities in their community, using their collective loan fund to help ill community members, organize community social events and bring food and other support to those less fortunate than themselves.
The group is made up of 25 male and female members, varying in age. From 2012 to 2014 members saved an astonishing $2,387, and generated $1,204 in group profits.
The group has completed two “cycles” where profits were distributed among members and new members were allowed to join. Even more impressive, the group has loaned almost three times their savings since they started, as loans are paid back and additional loans are granted.
Faustina Diaz was the first to request a loan from the group. With her loan she was able to purchase several pigs, which she raised and sold during the holiday season. Her success motivated other women in the group, who have created a “Calendar of Productive Activities,” which outlines timelines and members responsible for different income-generating activities. It is a strategic calendar in that it aligns with seasonal production and activities in their community.
Today, several women in the group have become leaders in in the COCODE (a local governing body for their community), adding their voice to issues and decisions that affect them and their families. Nueva Esperanza is now well recognized in their community; their voices, opinions and ideas are heard by all.