Off the North Coast of Honduras in the Caribbean Sea, the department of Las Islas de Bahia, or the Bay Islands, is the most visited department in Honduras. The Bay Islands are made up of three islands, Utila, Roatan and Guanaja, of which Roatan attracts the greatest number of foreign and national tourists. Hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive every year to enjoy the island’s pristine beaches, lush interior and spectacular dive sites along the world’s second largest barrier reef. Docking cruise ships brought in 470,000 tourists in the first 6 months of 2011 (1). Illustrating the island’s popularity, Roatan was recently named one of the world’s top 10 summer trip destinations by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
In the 20th century, the island of Roatan has been transformed by the acceleration of the tourism industry over the last few decades. Many people from the mainland have migrated to the island in search of better job opportunities as a result of the booming tourism sector. The Adelante Foundation plays an important role on the island by providing microcredit to small businesses since many people do not find the opportunities for employment that they had expected. The saturation of the job market is compounded by the high cost of living experienced by islanders. The cost of basic household necessities, such as food, water, and energy are more expensive on Roatan compared to the mainland. Migrants also face the disadvantage of not owning land on Roatan, spending much of their income renting and saving what little they can in order to eventually purchase land at prices significantly higher than on the mainland.
During a recent field trip to Roatan, I got to know the island beyond its tourist trail. I met over 30 clients from 12 different communities across the island. Except for two clients I met in Punta Gorda, the clients I spoke with had migrated from the mainland, primarily from the departments of Colon and Atlantida. Natalia Guardado came to Roatan 18 years ago from the town of Jutiapa, Atlantida. Natalia spent years earning money washing and ironing clothes, while raising her 9 children as a single mother. Four years ago, Natalia was able to invest in a comedor or small restaurant in Coxen Hole, and is currently on her third loan cycle of L 7 500 or $375.00 with the Adelante Foundation. Little by little, Natalia impressively saved money in order to purchase a small plot of land and build a house. Last year, Natalia completed the construction of her home, and confirms the profits gained from her micro enterprise enabled her to finally accomplish her goal.
Rebeca Guerrero, who recently withdrew her first microloan for L 4000 or $200.00 from the Adelante Foundation, has encountered obstacles building her life on Roatan. Rebeca moved to Roatan 8 years ago, and started a workshop altering clothes and making dresses. In June of this year, Rebeca developed a new product to sell: hand crafted ¨Roatan¨ handbags. However, she was unable to find a source of credit, explaining, ¨the town hall was offering loans so I went there, but they told me I could not use my sewing machine for collateral, they said I needed to own land to receive the loan¨. Similar to many residents of Roatan, Rebeca is still renting a space for both her workshop and her home. For that reason, she was excited to hear about the Adelante Foundation’s loan program offering non-collateralized loans. With microcredit she was able to get her new innovation off the ground, buying enough material to produce 120 bags for the upcoming tourism season.
Having met so many inspiring women on Roatan, I will have to write again about my recent field experiences on the island. I encourage readers who visit the island of Roatan to patronize locally owned businesses. Residents of the island do benefit from the tourism industry, but they also face many challenges. By offering microloans, the Adelante Foundation provides the women of Roatan with more opportunities to improve their quality of life.