Elvira, 23, lives with her parents and brother. Her father works on their small plot of land and supplements the income they make from their meager harvests by performing wage labor in the community, and occasionally at the palm plantation.
Her mother takes care of the home and children: Elvira, who helps around the house cleaning in the kitchen, doing small home repairs, and carrying water, and her 20-year-old brother who helps at home by collecting firewood. Elvira has long contributed to the household with her food stall: every three days, she sells tamales, tacos, or pies in the community.
However, the combined wages from Elvira and her father are not enough to adequately support the family and this lack of resources has affected the family’s health and education. As Elvira noted, “Sometimes when my mom gets sick, we do not have enough to buy her medicine or enough money to buy my brother supplies for school.” Elvira left school after graduating from sixth grade in 2007, but her brother is still enrolled in school, attending high school in the provincial capital of Ixcán.
Even with their meager income, they have an advantage over other families in that there are only 4 people living in the household. Most girls in their community, Santa Cruz el Nacimiento, have married and started their own families by the age of 23, but Elvira prefers to live at home with her parents.
With her $75 seed grant, Elvira decided to sell clothes in her community. Since August 2015, she has been selling blouses, pants, bras, and children’s clothing.
Her customers often ask for specific products; for example, there were many requests for children’s t-shirts to celebrate Independence Day on September 15, and Elvira sold out of these quickly. When our team visited her in June, she had only one of these t-shirts left, which was already set aside for a neighbor.
In the first quarter, Elvira made $180 of profit from selling clothes. In the second quarter, she generated $59 in profits, but she is still owed approximately $100 from customers who bought clothes on credit. She has invested some of her capital in planting a crop of beans, diversifying her income with both short-term and medium-term activities to increase her resilience in case of disasters or market fluctuations. Her family has already harvested eight bushels of beans, which they have stored while they wait for the price of beans to rise. They expect to be able to sell each bag for about $44 within one to two months.
Elvira is disciplined with her money, and she hasn’t yet spent any of the money she made selling clothes “so that this brings me forward, so that it helps me,” she says. She can see her income increase and hopes that as her sales grow she can stock up on more products. Elvira tells us that her customers prefer to buy from her because she is more patient and reserved. Some of the other vendors get upset when customers touch their products and do not buy anything, but Elvira doesn’t.
She admits that at the beginning she was very worried about how she would manage her seed capital and about going to her neighbors’ homes to sell clothes. She now says: “I believe the fear has left me… [My community] is also seeing that I am changing, they guide and advise me so that my sales grow.” Elvira feels she has improved her self-esteem and ease in speaking to others. Our team attests to this, saying that at the beginning she did not answer any questions, but now she not only answers confidently, she continues to talk and add to the conversation.
Elvira likes to save because she sees her money generating interest and, with it in the savings group, she can’t spend it. Previously she spent whatever money she had immediately. Initially she was part of the administrative committee of the savings group and in charge of the lockbox, but she didn’t feel comfortable with the responsibility. She gets along well with the other members, always attends meetings, and saves, but she rarely gives her opinion in meetings.
After almost a year of saving, she has $27.50 in her account. She uses loans from the group, once obtaining a $25 loan to invest in her business and cover health care costs. Elvira has also participated in the livelihoods training and sexual and reproductive health training. She says she has learned that “we have to love [ourselves], I should take care of my body and not let myself be fooled [by men].”
Elvira looks forward to a better future and she wants to be able to help her parents improve their home. Elvira’s parents used to have store worth around $1,500, but unfortunately they lost that business and about $875 in products in a fire. Her mom told us: “My daughter is changing with her business. I am supporting her; she has to know how to handle the money to see the profits and grow her business. She has to reinvest her profits.”
After just one year, Elvira’s business has been extremely successful. She significantly increased her working capital from the $75 starting seed capital from Trickle Up to $450. She intends to continue working and diversify her income.
During the lean season, she didn’t sell much and had few products in stock. Nevertheless, she loaned $375 to her brother, who is interning at the Lachúa Lake National Park. Her brother will return the money with interest, and with the resulting capital she plans to begin selling clothes again and open a store in the next few months. There are other stores in the community, but customers complain about the lack of friendliness of the owners. Because Elvira is known for her patience and kindness, she and her family hope their store will draw more customers. Elvira’s mother said: “I’ve noticed changes in Elvira, with her seed capital, she now has her own money.”
Elvira decided not to continue in the savings group because she didn’t feel comfortable: her fellow members pestered her when she didn’t want to give her opinion. Elvira is the oldest member of the group, and also the most reserved, so she preferred to stop participating in the meetings. However, she continues to say hi to the girls of the savings group and knows when they hold meetings. While in the group, Elvira accrued $27.50 in savings and borrowed $50 to buy more clothes for her business.
Elvira feels proud of her accomplishments: “With my productive activity, I can support my brother so he can continue with his studies.” In turn, her brother also helps with her business; a few months ago, he bought a motorcycle and now drives his sister to other towns to sell her products.
Over the next year, Elvira’s family is excited to watch her business expand, and to help Elvira grow more confident and self-assured in her new role as a breadwinner in the family. With a diverse, sustainable livelihood, Elvira can now lift her entire family out of extreme poverty.
Elvira Xo Xol of Santa Cruz el Nacimiento, Guatemala
Becoming independent, building her business, gaining confidence