Raquel is taking a gender and development class at Wellesley, and she had mentioned that for her final project, she was thinking about researching microfinance. I told her about Abigail, and she asked me to interview her about Pro Mujer. It was a hot Thursday when I went to go see Abigail. She was sitting on that same black bench, but she wasn’t painting. It was just so hot. I sat next to her and asked her if I could interview her, to which she agreed. I also asked her if she wanted a Fresca grapefruit soda. At first, she told me not to spend money on her. I insisted, and I told her I was going to need one for myself as well. I ran home and scribbled Raquel’s questions in my notebook, then snatched two ice-cold cans of Fresca from the grocery store’s fridge. I came back to sit with Abigail, and I knew this would be a great interview, despite the sweltering heat.
As I sat next to her, I noticed that her phone wouldn’t stop ringing. It was her 22-year old daughter, who was calling to ask her mom about the “menu” they were to come up with for dinner when Abigail went home. The phone calls died down, and Abigail said that we needed to get to work. “Hablemos un poco” (Let’s chat for a bit). Here we go.
Which microfinance organizations have you worked with?
I have worked with Pro Mujer and with León 2000. I worked with Pro Mujer first. It was the only organization that came to my town. I didn’t know of any others organizations at the time. I worked at first with Pro Mujer in 1998 because I wanted to learn about artisanry. They came and trained myself and other women on 18 different painting techniques, such as mixing, and using acetate and plaster. Pro Mujer also trained me on small-business management and entrepreneurial administration. My boss ended up nominating me along with three women to lead a group of 14 women. The women ended up electing me each year as their coordinator, and I named my group Artesanas Reales. I received prizes for my leadership position.
I worked for 6 years on my own, and then I joined León 2000, another private microfinance organization, to work with other women and to save even more money. With them, I achieved my goal of saving money after two years.
Why do you think the women of your group re-elected you?
I worked hard and we paid things on time. Every 15 days, we would get together and I would collect the money they owed. We would pay it back to Pro Mujer over a 6-month period. We would not only get together to get things done, but we would also have a good time. We would have small parties where we would dance and everyone would bring food. It was a good time.
Was there ever tension within the group?
Toward the end, yes. Some women would start to feel bitter toward me. At one point, I was offered the chance to do a training outside of the country, but too many women in the group were jealous of the opportunity presented toward me, so I decided not to go. I left Pro Mujer, and the group fell apart after that.
What was the interest rate of the loan you took with Pro Mujer, and how long did you have to pay it back?
With Pro Mujer, we had a choice of paying back our loans over a 4-month period or 6-month period. I preferred the 6-month period because that gave us more time. Pro Mujer charged us a 2% interest rate. If we paid back the loan in time, we would get reimbursed 1% of the loan. If we didn’t, they would take another 1% of the loan. I sold pottery from my house, and sometimes we would go sell at different craft fairs in places like Managua.
What were the conditions of loans from León 200?
The interest rate was higher: 3%. It had the same fiscal reward system as Pro Mujer. I never had a problem paying it back, though. I like to excel in everything I do, and I managed to save. They wanted to elect me to a leadership position, but I didn’t want to. My goal was to save money.
Who do these organizations lend Money to? Men, women, individuals, or groups?
Mostly groups of women, so that we can work and support one another. There was one man in our groups, each from Pro Mujer and León 2000. There wasn’t any tension between themselves and the women. They integrated themselves just fine.
What are the requirements of receiving a loan? How difficult is it to get a loan?
After Pro Mujer trained us for a week, they came to our homes and asked us about what we would like to sell. I showed them an inventory of goods that showed how much money I needed and what I planned to do with it. I received a loan, but this wasn’t the case for some women. They didn’t have an adequate investment plan.
How did your groups promote trust between their members?
La Caja Chica (The small box). [Financial] problems were solved thanks to the caja chica. We would all pitch in, say, $2 every two weeks, and if anyone got sick or anything, then we would all take out the money to help cover that person’s emergency costs. No one ever really got sick though, because we knew that if we didn’t spend money on emergencies, we would get the money returned to us.
How did receiving loans impact your life?
My time with Pro Mujer was unforgettable. I was able to be a leader and I was able to visit beautiful places. I benefited economically, morally, and physically. The loans allowed me to de-stress and to feel happy. Receiving the loans was great for my health and self-esteem. Microfinance is important.
How have the loans affected your relationship with your family?
I’m separated from my husband, but he has helped support my children’s educations. I have 3 daughters and one son. One is married and the rest are studying. I’ve lived my life, so my priority is that my children can continue to go to school. My husband has always supported me. We talk on the phone every day, even though we are separated, and we have a good relationship. I’m glad he helps my daughter with University costs in Managua.
As we finished up the interview, she said “Una mujer capacitada tiene que valorarse” (A trained woman needs to value herself), because if she doesn’t know onw will value her. We ended up chatting for over an hour, and after this interview, I felt inspired to interview other women to see what their experiences with microfinance have been like. In Abigail’s case, she has been fortunate enough to have had a stable family situation before and after undergoing training with Pro Mujer. This isn’t the case for all women. As you can see, microfinance not only brings economic benefits, but it can also bost self-esteem. I hope to do further research on microfinance and its effect on women’s self esteem. I’m happy that Abigail’s experience has been a great one, and that Pro Mujer has undoubtedly opened doors for her as a woman and as a leader.