The Intibucá branch office located in the highland town of La Esperanza has been offering mircocredit to the women of La Paz, a neighboring department, since 2008. The Adelante Credit Officer responsible for loan pool in the area, Rosa Mejía, is based out of Marcala, La Paz, traveling to the branch office weekly. Marcala is renowned for its coffee trade, with many families dedicated to producing the highly demanded bean. Coffee aside, the department is one of the poorest in Honduras. Surprisingly many coffee producing families, whether independent or part of cooperative, still live in extreme poverty.
On a recent visit to Marcala, the distances Credit Officers travel to follow-up with their clients and attend bi-monthly assembly meetings became very apparent with a trip to San Pedro de Tutule. This town is located about an hour’s drive from Marcala. Adelante Credit Officer, Rosa, spent her younger years living in Tutule, so the commute is worthwhile since she has family and friends in town. In the center of town, there is an attractive central park and an interesting Catholic church, while the surrounding hilly landscape is doted with the pine and plantain trees. Plantains are an important staple of the Central America diet, especially crucial to poor families since the starchy fruit is inexpensive and very filling. Rosa tells me that many families grow plantains to sell in nearby El Salvador.
In Tutule, Cecilia has a comedor or small restaurant located in the center of town. Cecilia has been a client with Adelante since 2009 when she received her first loan just L. 4,000 or $211. Since becoming a client, Cecilia has seen her business grow tremendously and recently, she took out an Individual Loan for L. 15,000 or $789. With this loan, Cecilia invested in a microwave, and she hopes that in the future, she can obtain another Individual Loan in order to start a small convenience store. A single mother, Cecilia uses the income she earns from her restaurant to support her 3 year old daughter. As a micro-entrepreneur, Cecilia feels confident that her daughter will enjoy an improved quality of life.
Adelante’s Individual Loan program rewards AA clients like Cecilia with the opportunity to secure larger loans, anywhere from $600 to $5,000. Women who consistently attend assembly meetings, invest diligently in their small businesses, and have an excellent repayment record are considered AA clients. Loan amounts are large enough that it would not be fair to the solidarity group to vouch for such a big loan. Even still, recipients of individual loans must solicit a small group loan in order to maintain their standing in the solidarity group. Loans over $2,000 are collateralized like a traditional loan, but in Cecilia’s case, her collateral is based on trust given her proven dedication to her micro enterprise.
Another client I met in Tutule, Norma, is the recipient of Adelante’s largest Individual Loan in the Marcala area. Norma has been a client for two years and she and her husband run a mechanical workshop out in front of their home. After successfully paying back her first Individual Loan for L. 20,000 or $1,053, Norma solicited a loan for L. 50,000 or $2,632. Given the convenient location of her workshop and the lack of gas stations in the area, Norma’s business venture necessitates major purchases of equipment, gasoline, lubricants and other items for vehicle maintenance. Thanks to her micro business, Norma has succeeded in providing an education for each of her five children, ages 6 to 25. Currently, she has two teenagers studying in secondary school and a third who just entered university in Comayagua. The examples of Cecilia and Norma illustrate why it is important to reach out to distant communities like Tutule. The need for microfinance is immense in rural Honduras and there are so many women eager to improve their standard of living through the hard work and discipline it takes to become a successful small business entrepreneur.