Susie Crippen & Trickle Up in Guatemala II: Meeting Inspiring Women

In the fall of 2012, Trickle Up had the pleasure of welcoming fashion designer Susie Crippen to Guatemala to see our program first-hand. This three part series is of Susie’s journey to the Central American country to learn more about what it means to live in ultrapoverty and how Trickle Up betters the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable every day. In Susie’s own words: “Starting a business changes you. It opens a world of accomplishment, curiosity and confidence like nothing else. I know this first hand from having done so at J Brand. The most rewarding part of my trip was to see that familiar glow on the more than 40 woman who had participated in the Trickle Up program and were continuing to grow their businesses and work their way out of poverty.”
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Susie Crippen: From the moment our plane touched down in Guatemala I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country. It’s hard to believe that this place was the setting of a 36 year civil war. Our guide Michael Felix who is Trickle Up’s program director for Central America explains that during the war over 200,000 people lost their lives in poor and rural communities.

Today, almost 1/3 of Guatemala’s population lives in extreme poverty, on $1.25 a day or less. Trickle Up works with the poorest and most marginalized among them. Our first stop today is a small village where we’ll visit a Trickle Up participant Hortencia. She lives here in this house with her husband and 5 children. Just a few months ago she joined the Trickle Up program, which provides training, business planning, seed capital grants, and saving services to people living in ultra poverty. Trickle Up granted Hortencia the equivalent of 100 USD to start a business selling vegetables in the market.

Local Trickle Up staff member Hermelinda translates Hortencia’s story.

Hermelinda: Before… she would only help her husband when he would plant sweet potato.. and a few things to eat, nothing else. When she received the seed capital, she began to buy beans, bananas, chile, things that she can sell in the market. And she’s… working, because she wants to have a better house for her kids. She says that she wants her house to at least be made of wood.

Susie: Hortencia’s husband explains that before, every penny that he was able to make went to paying off the debt that they had accumulated at the store.

Hermelinda: He says that now, when they go sell at the market, they buy things they need for the house there, but there’s no longer debt.

Susie: It kind of leaves you speechless. She didn’t use to be able to participate in any of the conversations about what to do, and now she has an active part in making sure her children grow up strong and healthy and making sure everybody eats. You could just feel the future in that house.

The next stop on our journey is to another small village to visit Trickle Up participant Magdalena. Magdalena was born without legs, and though she does own a wheelchair, the conditions of this remote, rugged hillside make it impossible for her to use. Because of this and the stigma associated with disability in her community, Magdelena has been unable to work for most of her life, which caused many problems in her family. She was seen as a burden which they could not afford to bear. Michael explains that people with disabilities are more likely to be among the world’s poorest. A quarter of Trickle Up’s participants in Guatemala are people with disabilities like Magdalena.

Michael: So with the capital that she has, what Trickle Up has given to her, what she’s able to do with that is basically use her talent for weaving, and use that talent, use that money to create some savings.

Susie: And how much does each one of these cost to make, and how much profit does she make?

Michael: How much does the thread cost?

Magdelena: 60 – 65 Quetzales ($8)

Translator: She plans to sell them for 200 Quetzales ($25)

Michael: So that would be, you know, she’d be making 15 – 20 dollars from this particular piece of clothing.

Susie: That’s a good profit margin.

Michael: But it’s a lot of work.

Susie: Can you show us a little bit of how you weave?

Michael: What are your goals and dreams for your life in the future? What are you thinking?

Magdelena (via translator): She says that, ‘”n the future I want to equip my house, because we don’t have many things and if I sell these things, then I can equip the house in order for the family to live better.”

Susie: She has these obstacles in her life on a physical level but she’s working through them, she’s not letting them stop her, she’s still creating a business for herself, she’s thinking about her future, she’s thinking about how she can improve her life improve her station, and that’s really extraordinary.

The stories that I’ve heard are truly inspiring and it’s amazing to see how quickly the Trickle Up program can help someone start a business and begin to change their own life.

I’m excited for our next stop though. We will be meeting a group of women who were participants in the program four years ago. I’m really interested to see the long term effects of the Trickle Up program

Susie to a small baby: You are super cute.”Nowhere is this better witnessed than with Delfina’s savings group “Las Azucenas”. At the heart of the success of Trickle Up’s programs are savings groups just like this one. By coming together, these women save more than they could alone.

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