Women making a crust and then some in Nicaragua

Women making a crust and then some in Nicaragua

By Adam Mooney

In many places 'bread' colloquially means income. In Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, it literally means that and so much more to women in the innovative 'Pan Vida Esperanza' (Bread Life Hope) program.  It focuses on marginalised women who have been exploited and involved in violence, often due to human trafficking, criminal gang activity or simple lack of opportunity. One of Good Shepherd's several microenterprise programs in Central America, the Bread Life Hope program, gives hope, connectedness and economic options to women where previously there was none.

“I have been able to learn about baking, decorative cake making and general catering and today have a technical qualification recognised by the government, whilst having fun and a few laughs,” said one client at a graduation ceremony at Good Shepherd's headquarters in Managua.

“More than that however, we are all stronger and have more control.  We were encouraged to choose an activity we were interested in, formed a cooperative group and borrowed money to buy the ovens, fridges, equipment and ingredients. Working together with our teacher and sharing insights amongst ourselves, we learned how to bake the most tasty and popular premium bread, cakes and other things, to sell from our houses or in the street,” she said.

The baking is selling like hot cakes.  Although the economic gains through additional income were most welcome, something else happened.  Another women said: “Having extra income to pay for education, health and clothes for my children was so important.  However the best thing for me was the way I connected with other women in the group, working together and sharing not only skills and techniques, but hopes and aspirations too.  Just having someone to talk to was rare in my life. My trust in others, and confidence was low after what had happened in the past.  This lifted my spirits to know that there are good people in equally bad situations in my group that want to connect, to talk and experience a relationship as well as earn income.”

Evaluation interviews with the women in the group scheme found that income had lifted, confidence was boosted and self respect and respect by others, often by husbands, children and neighbours, increased. Some women valued it so much that they travelled by bus for up one hour to participate in the microenterprise group. Individual discussions highlighted that underlying trauma and unresolved abuse was still an issue women had to deal with.  Being part of this program highlighted other options and gave the women a sense of solidarity and hope.

Good Shepherd is applying its own global strength based community development approach to our work to boost economic justice for marginalised women in 73 countries.  We are bringing the best of what is working from many places by sharing knowledge and using this to design new programs and extend existing ones.  Good Shepherd Microfinance from Australia was delighted to be part of this process, with Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, and participated in a four day workshop to learn and share our insights.

After speaking with the Sisters and program staff in Managua, it is clear they believe that 'one person is worth the whole world', as Good Shepherd Foundress St Mary Euphrasia said.  Finally, the last word which best sums up the impact goes to another client who said 'Bread, life and hope are essential ingredients for us all.'

Adam Mooney, CEO of Good Shepherd Microfinance, recently visited Latin America where microfinance programs from nine countries came together for a workshop. Pan Vida Esperanza is one of the inspiring microfinance programs he witnessed on the trip.

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