Friday, March 6, 2009

Empowerment through Microfinance: Pro Mujer Gives Women in Peru “the confidence to keep moving forward”

Elsa Gómez Mamani sits on the ruins of a stone wall on a cold but sunny morning in a field high on the Andean altiplano. We are in southern Peru, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Elsa wears the traditional full skirts and bowler hat of the Aymara culture, and tells me in halting Spanish about her experience with poverty and entrepreneurship.

Elsa Gómez Mamani in her store. A Pro Mujer Peru client, she uses her
earnings to support her family and build up a personal savings account.
Photograph by Jenna Mulhall-Brereton

Thirty years old, married and the mother of one son, Elsa has lived in Perca, a small rural community, her entire life. Because her mother died when she was just two years old, Elsa and her seven brothers and sisters lived with their father, and had to care for the family’s cows and sheep from an early age. She recalls that it was a difficult childhood. “We often did not have enough money for food.”

When Elsa married, she stayed in the community, tending the cows and goats she and her husband kept outside of their small mud brick home. Together they sold the milk, cheese and wool from their livestock in the central plaza of a town several miles away. Although she had left her father’s home, Elsa’s adult life was not that different from her childhood. But two years ago, she decided to make a change.

Elsa had heard of Pro Mujer in Peru, a microfinance institution (MFI) based in Puno, an urban community about an hour’s bus ride from her village. When representatives from Pro Mujer visited Perca, Elsa did not hesitate to become a client, and encouraged other women to do the same. As a result, she became one of the founders of her communal bank - a group of 20 women who guarantee each other’s microloans, and who come together every two weeks to make payments and encourage each other’s ventures. Most of the women in Elsa’s bank use their loans of US$100-$300 to purchase livestock or raw materials for making traditional crafts. Elsa, however, saw a need for a store in their isolated community and opened one in the front room of her house.

Click here to read the rest of Elsa's story