MANY PATHS TO A BRIGHTER FUTURE
Margarita lives in a remote community outside of Cahabón, in northern Guatemala. The road into the region is unpaved and difficult to traverse without a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
The car only takes visitors so far. To visit her home requires a steady 30-minute uphill climb through the rich, green vegetation that suggests fertile soil but actually is very difficult land to cultivate. Most families in this area can generate no more than 6 to 9 months worth of corn—the local staple food. Margarita is happy to finally be helping her family of nine to move forward. With support from Trickle Up and partner Ademaq’k, she is saving regularly and managing several livelihood activities that have helped her family find a steadier source of income and made their lives less volatile.
Her home is large but only has one room and is very simple. The floors are mud and the walls are made of wooden slats. She only has a very narrow area surrounding the home where she kept her pig—the one asset she owned at the start of the program. A few ducks milled around nearby and her husband pointed out a small plot of land on a small plateau just below their home, which represented most of their small patch of land.
Before she was selected by Trickle Up partner Ademaq’k to participate in Trickle Up’s program, Margarita reported that she hadn’t contributed any income to the household in the previous 12 months and her husband was the sole supporter of her large family.
He worked primarily as a laborer, leaving the family for a week at a time to walk two to three hours across the mountain in search of work. There he found work harvesting cardamom, coffee or corn for local landowners. As he was gone for a week at a time, Margarita used whatever money he left to purchase food and other essentials, but sometimes found it difficult to make that money last for the week. If the money or food ran out early, her family would have to survive until he returned with his earnings.
When she signed up for the program, Margarita worked with the Ademaq’k fieldworker to decide what livelihood activity to pursue.
They looked carefully at the activities her husband was engaged in and what she could realistically pursue given she had a large household to maintain. She decided to sell tamales, and received an installment of capital roughly equal to $100, which she used to buy tomatoes, corn and red dye in quantity. Because making tamales is so time consuming and labor-intensive, many families now prefer to buy them, and as it’s a staple food in this area, Margarita had identified a good livelihood opportunity. She woke at 3 a.m. each morning and made 60 tamales per day, then climbed up and down the nearby hills visiting households to sell all of her tamales each day.
After her activity started and she generated some profits, Margarita was able to purchase shares in her savings group, a group that consists of other Trickle Up participants in her area.
Remarkably, although she began saving relatively recently, she has purchased five shares at 20 Quetzales each, for a total of about $13. Given that these funds can only be withdrawn as a loan (with interest rates set by, and paid to, the savings group itself), this is a great accomplishment for a woman with such a large household to help support. A mere 6 months earlier, as the program began, she reported that she had no formal savings and what little money she kept in her house would only cover household expenses for a few days.
Her tamale business went well, however when the rainy season came Margarita found it difficult to carry her young child on her back as she climbed the muddy paths, so she needed to find an alternative. So because she had saved some of her profits, and used the rest to purchase essentials for her family, including food, Margarita used the second installment of her grant (nearly $45) to purchase four chickens. At the start of the program, Margarita indicated that she’d consumed eggs, cheese or cream only 4 times the previous month. Her hope was that the chickens would provide additional protein for the family. But to keep money coming to the household more regularly, Margarita purchased yarn to make ‘morales’ or shoulder bags. These are knit bags that are used commonly by teachers and women going to market. It was work she could do in the home, and people passing by her house on the way to market would stop to make a purchase. This enabled her to stay with her children, and off the muddy paths, while ensuring that income still flowed to her family. When the rains dry up, she’ll resume her more lucrative tamale business as well.
These new activities are helping her family and there’s reason for hope in the future.
Margarita meets with her savings group regularly and values that safety net very much. Her husband and now her eldest son work as laborers, and some of their income can also bolster the savings. Margarita’s husband also planted cocoa on their 2 cuerdas of land (400 square meters) three years ago, but the plants won’t yield their full potential for another 2 years. But by that time the family should be well placed, with their other livelihood activities and their savings and loan activities well underway, to invest the capital wisely.