Microcredit Borrower Stories

Read some of the inspiring true stories of microcredit borrowers from around the world…

Ana Ruiz from Nicaragua

Before receiving a $100 microloan to expand her tortilla business, Ana Ruiz of Nicaragua lived in a scrap wood shack with her eight children. She had no furniture except for her worktable and her children never had shoes or attended school. After her second loan she was able to send her four oldest to school and buy eight plastic chairs so the children wouldn’t have to sit in the dirt. Before her microloan, her children were malnourished. “The little ones run around now,” she says. “They go to sleep early because they are tired from playing around, not because they are weak.”

Gonuguntla Mariamma from India

Gonuguntla Mariamma was born into a poor family in rural Andhra Pradesh, India. Her family’s livelihood depended on agricultural labor, which depended on the unpredictable monsoon rains.

When Mariamma was eight years old her mother died due to ill health and an improper diet. Mariamma had to look after the household and couldn’t attend school. To make matters worse, she was married off to a relative when she was 10. She had to become a wife and take on added responsibility. Her husband’s family was large, consisting of eight members.

They owned two acres of dry land that was not cultivable, so the only option was to work as laborers. Each of them worked in the fields. As her family grew to five children, it became extremely difficult to run the household. She could not educate her children. She married the girls and sent the boys to work in the fields. Mariamma felt there should be some other path for sustenance, so after difficult days in the fields she began to take up sewing. She approached the local Mahila Mandal (Women’s Association) in her neighborhood, learned to sew and bought a sewing machine.

At this point, SHARE was conducting its projection meeting in that village. Initially Mariamma was a little hesitant, but knew she had to take this opportunity because all her life she wanted to do something but did not have the chance. Mariamma took intensive training from SHARE on their methodology and loan procedures and she practiced her signature. This was a wonderful experience for her because she had not gone to school or written on a slate.

She took her first loan of $80 and bought a buffalo. She took a seasonal loan of $40 and bought grass and fodder. Mariamma was happy to see money flowing into her household. She gained confidence and the desire to earn more. She dreamed big now. Mariamma knew she could handle more buffaloes. She took her second loan and bought another buffalo. Now she owned two. She took her third loan, bought another buffalo and two goats. Unfortunately one buffalo died. But this did not dishearten her. With the income that she earned from her productive assets, she revived the dry land that her husband possessed and planted oranges.

Today Mariamma is a proud owner of 4 buffaloes, one calf, and 17 goats. She has a telephone and a television. She can sign her name, count money, and read a little. She is thrilled because she was instrumental in reviving her wasteland and has 30 bags of rice for her family. Her future looks bright to her now.

Janèt Dèval from Haiti

Janèt Dèval, a client of Fonkoze, a microcredit institution in Haiti, has been a credit client for more than two years and comes regularly to all meetings. She has also been a part of every literacy program available and is about to start the newest module on developing business skills. Not only could she not read or write when she started, but she has had an extra challenge: Janèt has only a fraction of her hearing due to an injury when she was 20 years old.

In Janet’s words:

My husband didn’t want me to send my five children to school because his parents didn’t send him to school. From the beginning, he said he would not pay and he has never given even one goud, but I always knew it was important. For a long time I have gone to Port-au-Prince to buy goods to sell in Hinche, and I put all my money into paying for school for my children.

When I found out that Fonkoze gave literacy classes for market women, I was so happy. I never went to school even one day. I didn’t know anything about school. I started right away with basic literacy and I have tried to never miss a class.

I couldn’t write my name and I didn’t understand anything, but I kept going even when my husband got angry. My kids pushed me and encouraged me and they helped me practice my letters. The monitor, Christa, told me to keep writing every day even when I didn’t understand.

I can write my name now, and I write it everywhere. Imagine, I used to go to Port-au-Prince to buy and I couldn’t read the bags and I felt lost. I couldn’t keep track of what I bought. The drivers sometimes would take my boxes off the truck and give them to someone else, but I didn’t know until I got all the way home. Now, I can’t lose anything. Now I write my name on every box and I know what I buy.

I finished Alfa Baz and Alfa Pos and then I went to the Health Program, too. I still don’t know many things, so I want to keep going. I take my notebook to my school and I write in it because one day I hope to read and understand everything. I bought two books in the market and my kids help me read them.

I work hard in the market so that I can repay my loans, keep going to school and so that my kids have that chance, too. If my parents would have sent me to school, I would have thrown a party for them to say thank you.

Alice Pallewela from Sri Lanka

When Alice Pallewela of Sri Lanka needed money to support her family, she turned to what she knew–candy and her credit union. This unlikely combination changed her life and her village’s perception of its credit union.

After Pallewela married, her husband, a government employee, transferred to Yodagama, which was once an ancient village during the time when kings ruled Sri Lanka. Today, this tiny hamlet, in the Ratnapura District, attracts Sri Lankans from the south, who have settled in Yodagama under the government’s agricultural colony scheme.

“Not everyone can be a farmer. Some have to be artisans and microentrepreneurs. I knew I needed to start my own business to supplement my husband’s small salary,” explained Pallewela.

After she decided to go into business for herself, Pallewela needed to choose what type of business. She said that choice was easy. It had to be candy. “I’ve always loved sweets. I especially enjoy the traditional preparations done during the festival seasons.”

It proved to be the right niche; the closest candy seller was 50 miles away.

After six months of data collection, Pallewela said she decided to sell only a few kinds of candy, those that could be produced using locally available raw materials.

She now needed to purchase some equipment. Pallewela’s credit union granted her request for a loan–US$100. “The credit union was there for me from the beginning, offering me both technical advice and the credit necessary to build my candy business.”

Pallewela’s business now draws enough profit for her to save regularly, allowing her credit union to lend to other microentrepreneurs. In fact, since first helping Pallewela, the credit union’s membership has grown; nothing is more powerful than word-of-mouth endorsements.

As for Pallewela’s business, she now employs six young women, all of whom have become partners, and her product is recognized as one of good quality in the market. “I own a business–something many only dream of doing. But I no longer have to dream thanks to my credit union.”

The information was provided by Wansa Abayawickrama of SANASA. Bob Lestina, World Council of Credit Unions program officer, provided the pictures. Karen Kaplan, World Council of Credit Unions communications officer wrote the story.

Alemnesh Geressu from Ethiopia

Alemnesh Geressu is one member of the Women’s Poverty Lending Program of CRS/Ethiopia (operated in collaboration with the local counterpart, Meki Vicariate, 110 km southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). Alemnesh lives with her husband, a poor farmer with no land, and their six children. For years, Alemnesh subsisted through petty trade, gaining a small profit, most of which she had to pay back to local money-lenders, paying around 10 percent or more per month.

Alemnesh received her first loan from CRS in 1995. She expanded her work by selling grain in the local marketplace, where she buys at a lower price from nearby farmers. In addition, she is involved in growing vegetables and plowing a plot of land, provided by the Meki Vicariate, with the other members of her solidarity group.

She says that there has been a real change in her attitude on how to tackle her financial problems and she has observed an improvement in her living condition after joining the program. “Before joining the program,” she says, “I had a problem with paying back the interest to the money lender. Now, after receiving the loan from the association, I only pay the principal and interest at a commercial rate that is ten times less than I used to pay to the local money lenders.” Almenesh’s income has increased and she has started increasing her monthly savings. She now has enough money to buy things for her family and is sending two of her children to school. “I have now more confidence and skills in myself and I wish the program could accommodate more women to improve their lives.”

Altagracia Damian from the Dominican Republic

Altagracia Damian started a tiny ceramics business in the Dominican Republic. She believes that development, whether personal or professional, is the result of human and economic resources. When she started her business in 1987, she had only 16 cents in her pocket.

After a few years of minimal operation, Altagracia went to ADEMI for a loan. She received $80 which she used to purchase clay and glazes. Since then, she has received a total of eight loans from ADEMI.

Although Altagracia herself doesn’t draw a fixed salary, she now has seven employees working in her business. She says that thanks to the support of ADEMI, she has been able to climb out of extreme poverty and manage a growing business, while paying for her children’s education.

Flora Matiasi from Malawi

More than one-third of the borrowers in FINCA’s village banking program in Malawi are the sole supporters of their family. Flora Matiasi and her six children live in a one-room hut. In the past, Flora struggled to feed her children and their future was precarious. With the increased income from her growing business, she has been able to feed them regularly and pay their school fees.

Flora sells “mandazi” or oil cakes, a donut-like confection. With her loans from the local FINCA village bank, she has been able to buy raw materials in bulk at a better price. As a result she is able to produce, sell and earn more. So far, Flora has accumulated $540 in savings, nearly ten times the amount if her first FINCA loan. Saving is a crucial feature of the FINCA plan; village bankers’ are required to save regularly, a practice which builds financial responsibility and independence. Saving enables families to plan for the future, to cover emergencies, which might otherwise sink them deeper into poverty.

Julia Sairitupac from Peru

Julia Sairitupac was born in the district of Santiago, 330 kilometers south of Lima, Peru. She was married at fourteen to a twenty-eight-year-old man. When she was eighteen, she moved to Lima with their first daughter. After her last child was born, her husband left Julia with no income. She had to leave Lima, as she could not pay the rent for the apartment where the family lived. In 1985, she moved with her children to “Sarita Colonia,” a small village of 350 families, in the marginal urban zone in the south of Lima.

One of her daughters gave Julia the idea to initiate a business selling fruit juice and “salchipapas” (French fries with fried hot dogs) on the street. For several years the business was very slow because she had no capital with which to expand. In 1990 SEDES arrived in Sarita Colonia and Julia took out her first loan. Her first loans were small, between US$100 and US$200, and she was able to buy herself a liquefier, a juice extractor, and a showcase. She began to sell other delicacies and, with each loan, her business grew.

“I feel that I have begun, for the first time, to leave poverty,” says Julia. “Although my work requires many sacrifices, I want to continue progressing and install my business in my own house, which, with the help of my children, we are already building bit by bit. My dream is to see it completely finished.

“Now I also have the opportunity to meet with other mothers in my community, who have chosen me as president of a mothers’ club. During the mornings I give my time to the club; we already have a ‘popular Dining Room’ and give food to poor families at a very low price.”

Anastacia Abella from the Philippines

Anastacia Abella, known in her neighborhood as Lola (grandmother) Tasya, lives in a squatters’ village in Manila, The Philippines. She and her four adult children inhabit a shelter built from scrap materials. Frequent blackouts in Lola Tasya’s neighborhood make kerosene lamps a necessity. Before she received her first loan of US$133 from Opportunity International, Lola Tasya spent each morning searching through garbage dumps for jars that she made into lamps.

After scrubbing them in cold water, she painted the lids, added wicks, and attached metal handles. She would then sell the few that she could make to earn a very small profit. With her loan, Lola Tasya can afford to buy clean jars from the dump. Before her first loan, she and her family made 150 lamps each day. With clean jars, they make more than 300 lamps per day, which earns them US$30 in profit. The family sells each lamp for 10 to 25 cents, depending on the size.

At age 72, after a lifetime of hard work, Lola Tasya should be enjoying a peaceful retirement. But she knows she must work each day to eat-at least Opportunity International has made that work a little easier. Lola Tasya is proud of her handiwork and her ability to earn her own way-she knows she is a survivor.

Mable Mambwe from Zambia

Mable Mambwe of Zambia has been knitting for her family of eight children since 1981. Although she thought about selling some of the garments she made, she felt guilty about spending any money on yarn – that money, she felt, should go to meet the basic needs of her family.

n Mable learned about Women Finance Trust of Zambia. She took out a small loan and purchased a second-hand knitting machine. A friend volunteered to teach her how to use it. “Since I already knew how to knit with my hands, it was not difficult for me to learn with the machine,” Mable says.

“I made a lot of garments, which were sold. From the sales I managed to pay back the

loan and was able to help my family in terms of food, medical, and school fees. We are a happy family now that our income is able to meet our daily needs.”

A friend had helped Mable pull herself out of poverty, and she wanted to help others. “After the problems I had gone through, and the assistance, I started thinking about assisting other women who had similar problems like mine. I organized a group of women who were not doing anything apart from waiting for their husband’s support and volunteered to train these women in knitting and tailoring with my own resources,” says Mable. The women are now applying for loans from Women Finance Trust to boost their businesses.

Nurajahan from Bangladesh

Nurjahan is a borrower of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Her name means “the light of the world.” Abandoned by her parents at three months of age and raised by a neighbor, Nurjahan was married at twelve only to be abandoned by her husband a year later, while three months pregnant. She returned to the family who had raised her, cooking for them while raising her son.

Before joining Grameen, Nurjahan had never earned more than $37.50 in a year and owned no land. After five years as a borrower with the Grameen Bank, her annual income is $250 (just above the national average) and she owns two goats, one pregnant cow, ten hens, and two-thirds of an acre of land. The land cost $1,000, more than four times the average annual income. Seasonally, she employs two farm-hands to assist with her rice crop. In a country where only 46 percent of the children reach grade five, Nurjahan’s son is now in 8th grade.

Katakana Strzelinska from Poland

Katakana Strzelinska is 24 and lives in a working-class district in Lodz, the traditional textile center of Poland. Many factories have closed, leaving many people unemployed, especially women skilled in sewing. During her school days Katarzyna used to work alongside her mother as a quality controller in a company that made tights. Later she discovered that it was possible to make tights at home out of rejects from Western European factories.

In April 1995 Katarzyna set up her own company with 500zl (US$180) as capital. With this money she bought reject goods to rework. Her mother, grandmother, and aunt all helped with the work. “I had no chance of getting a loan from a bank,” said Katarzyna. “From their point of view, I had nothing to guarantee any loans with. We worked day and night, but we had no chance of any further money to invest in the business for future growth. I found out about Fundusz Mikro from a girlfriend who runs a small shop and had got a loan from them. I decided to try for one too.”

With her first loan of 2,000zl (US$700), she bought raw materials and a secondhand overlook machine to make tights. “My production increased by a factor of two or three,” says Katarzyna. “We produced cheap nylon tights and more expensive ones with lycra and satin. I started to sell to a couple of shops, as well as market stalls. The loan gave me peace of mind because, even if someone had lent me a large sum of money, I would have had to give it all back in one payment. The monthly installments let me plan for my future bills and stocks. I feel so much more secure.”

La Mamn Mole Motuke from Zaire

La Maman Mole Motuke lived in a wrecked car in a suburb of Kinshasa, Zaire with her four children. If she could find something to eat, she would feed two of her children; the next time she found something to eat, her other two children would eat.

When organizers from the Association interviewed her, she said that she knew how to make chikwangue (maniac paste), and she only needed a few dollars to start production. After six months of training in marketing and production techniques, Maman Motuke got her first loan of US$100, and bought production materials.

Today, Maman Motuke and her family no longer live in a broken down car; they rent a house with two bedrooms and a living room. Her four children go to school on a regular basis; they eat regularly and dress well. She currently is saving to buy some land in a suburb farther outside of the city and hopes to build a house.