As La Ceiba geared up for its annual Carnival celebrating its patron saint, Isidore the Laborer, I decided to refresh my perceptions of the area by getting out into the field again. During the Carnival, thousands of foreign and national tourists arrive to partake in the festive celebrations. La Ceiba is known as the ¨tourism capital of Honduras¨ given its proximity to beaches, white-water rivers, and national parks. Moreover, the city’s nightlife district or Zona Viva holds the reputation as the best in the country. Although La Ceiba is rich in culture, nightlife, and natural beauty, many people who inhabit the city and the surrounding countryside are poor and lack opportunities to improve their quality of life.
I joined an Adelante Credit Officer to visit microloan recipients outside of La Ceiba in the municipality of El Porvenir. La Ceiba’s early growth was propelled by the Standard Fruit Company, which exported fruit crops from the city’s port. Agricultural exports continue to be an important feature of the economic landscape around La Ceiba, and El Porvenir is notable for its vast pineapple plantations. The town also shares a shoreline with the Caribbean Sea, which attracts tourists, especially during Holy Week. Without grocery stores, markets or commercial centers, many residents depend on La Ceiba’s city center for many goods and services, but with the spread of micro-entrepreneurs, this is changing.
Vilma has been a client with Adelante for four years, and is currently paying off a loan for L 13,000 or $684. This energetic mother of four has three different business ventures: a small restaurant, convenience store, and merchandise stall. Vilma has big plans for her micro businesses and hopes to bring better prices and a greater diversity of goods to her community. In the future, Vilma would like to turn her small convenience store into a bodega or small supermarket and move it across the street to another piece of land she owns. With the extra space, Vilma and her eldest daughter would like to start an internet cafe. She also plans to use her next loan from Adelante to invest in more sandals and used clothes for her merchandise stall. Vilma’s entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring and exemplifies how microcredit helps spur greater economic activity in rural villages.
Farther along the highway and not far from the popular wildlife reserve Cuero y Salado, another client, Francisca, also illustrates the impact of microfinance. Over the years, Francisca has succeeded in educating each of her four children, ages 15 to 23, thanks to the income earned from her micro enterprise. This is an impressive feat considering she is a single mother. On her property, Francisca runs a snack stall, and her two sons, who both graduated as mechanics, have a car and bike workshop. Her youngest child is still in secondary school, and her oldest is a teacher at a local primary school. Not only has Francisca earned a living in her rural village, but she has also helped her children to achieve an education and contribute to the local development of their community.
While La Ceiba is revered for its extravagant Carnival, natural splendor, and relaxed attitude, we must not forget the plight of the rural poor. That’s why Adelante was founded in La Ceiba in 1999 and began disbursing its first microloans in 2000. At present, the branch office in La Ceiba is helping more than 1,335 clients work their way out of poverty through small business loans. Over the years, Adelante has given hope to thousands of women across Honduras, and it all started in La Ceiba over a decade ago.