What women want in Bolivia

13 April 2011 at 09:22 2 comments

Clara Vreeken, KF 14, Bolivia

Clara volunteers as Kiva Fellow in Bolivia. She works for the micro finance institutions IMPRO, Pro Mujer and Emprender. She visited a lot of borrowers, of whom many women.

Francisca has to fight hard taking care for her large family and has a heart of gold by inviting me at her home. Rosa was beaten by her ex husband and became stronger by having her own shoe business. Not only women have hard times surviving in Bolivia, also men suffer. Read the story of Carlos the taxi driver who almost died. And what happens with women who do not show up on repayment meetings?

Heart of Gold
As a Kiva follower I have to verify the borrower information of two Bolivian field partners: Emprender and Pro Mujer. The latter micro finance institution lends mainly to groups of women. These women pay their loan back every 15 days or every month at one of the offices of Pro Mujer. I scheduled my interviews with the dates that they were coming to the office.

When I verified the data of the communal bank ‘Corazon de Oro’ – Heart of Gold -, I interviewed the leader of this group, Francisca. Francisca makes macramé decorations on blankets. After having explained that she used her loan to buy land for her family, she invited me to have a look at her house.

Francisca shows her self made blankets at the office of Pro Mujer

So we went by minibus – not made for tall Dutch women like me – to the furthest part of the town. As you can see on this video Francisca makes macramé decorations on blankets. She learned how to make the decorations already when she was 8 years old.

Francisca has 11 children from the age of 11 to 36. Six children have already been married. Five are still single and live with Francisca in her little house. Her husband works in Cochabamba – around six hours away from La Paz – in construction. Francisca and her husband see each other once every month.

Francisca tells me that in the near future she would like to borrow more from Pro Mujer/Kiva, because she would like to build a better house on her land. Now her house is made of clay and she would like to build a house with bricks and cement. In this way she wants to improve the way of living for her and her family.

Overcoming the beating by having her own business
Rosa is a woman who borrows money via Kiva’s field partner IMPRO. She used a Kiva loan to buy the materials needed to manufacture women’s shoes. When Rodrigo, the loan officer, and I visited her just after Carnival, she told me that she had sold a lot during the Carnival period. Normally she makes 36 pairs of shoes in a week and sells 24 pairs. During the week of Carnival she sold 625 pairs. 

Rosa and one of her sons

Rosa is a single mother of three children aged 7, 9 and 11. She told me that her ex-husband used to beat her. She says: “When I got my own shoe business, I felt stronger and decided to get a divorce”. Rosa and her children are now living in one big rented room and Rosa makes her shoes in a tent outside her house. She was able to buy a sewing machine, which makes the work easier. Her wish is to get her own house where she can have her shoe business. Rosa dreams about exporting her shoes to Peru or Argentina.

Have a look at the tent where she makes the shoes and at her room where she has her sewing machine, by clicking here.

Dying because of your car
Not only women are struggling for their live in Bolivia. The capital La Paz can also be very dangerous for men, especially for taxi drivers.

For a borrower verification at Emprender I interviewed the taxi driver Carlos. He told me that he almost died one year ago. He was working late when three young people enter his car. They wanted to go to a remote place in La Paz. When he almost arrived they grabbed Carlos by his neck, tried to kill him and threw him out of the car.

Carlos the taxi driver

Fortunately, Carlos did not die and woke up in the street some hours later. He went to the police. For a certain amount of money they wanted to help searching his car. The police found the car: it was totally stripped. With the Kiva loan Carlos bought the missing parts. I asked if he was not afraid that it would happen again. He answered: “Yes, I’m still afraid, but I don’t work in the evening or night anymore.”

When one group member does not repay the loan
The last client I had to find for the borrower verification of ten clients for Pro Mujer was Wilma. She is the president of the ‘Hormiguitas’ – ‘Ants’ – group. She did not show up twice when this group had to repay the loan at Pro Mujer’s office. The first time she had sent the money with someone else of the group. The second time she didn’t send any money. The group did not have enough money to stand in for Wilma’s repayment, so we all went to find her at her new job and to collect the money.

Pro Mujer’s group ‘Hormiguitas’ looking for Wilma (in yellow) at her work

Wilma told me that she had a hard time surviving as a single mother. She wanted to buy a stall where she could sell vegetables on Fridays and Saturdays. However, the selling lady did not want to sell it anymore when Wilma came with the money from Kiva. Wilma got the opportunity to enter as cleaner in a hospital/kindergarten, where they also take care of her 3 years old child. The father of her son left her when their son was born. Because she could not buy the stall she decided to use the loan to buy a TV and DVD.

As she did not get permission from her work to go to the office of Pro Mujer, she could not attend the repayment meetings. Fortunately she had the money with her when we came to visit her at her work. As nobody wanted to return to the office and bring Wilma’s money, I offered to do it. In this way the group members could return to their businesses. But I don’t think Wilma will be part of the Hormiguitas group again when they will get a new Kiva loan.

What do you think of these stories? What do women want in Bolivia?

Are you interested to lend money to women in Bolivia? Then click here for loans from women who borrow via IMPRO, Pro Mujer and Emprender.

Entry filed under: Bolivia, Emprender, IMPRO, KF14 (Kiva Fellows 14th Class), Pro Mujer Bolivia. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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  • […] What women want in Bolivia Country: Bolivia / Fellow: Clara Vreeken (KF14) Clara introduces us to four borrowers in La Paz: Francisca with her macramé-embellished blankets, Rosa with her beautiful hand-made shoes, Carlos the cab driver, and Wilma who is struggling to pay back her loan. […]

  • 2. Mahi  |  13 April 2011 at 10:22

    Thanks for the post!

    Interesting to hear about these problems. Can I ask, what’s the education system like in the areas you are in? Specifically is it free and also for what ages is it available. And also, can you access internet anywhere close by and if so, could you possibly give a rough estimate on usage costs? I ask as I’m interested in the opportunities for the next generation in Bolivia. Apologies for taking the topic away from women.

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