PCI President and CEO Carrie Hessler-Radelet recently returned from a trip to Guatemala—one of 18 countries where we are working to enhance health, end hunger and overcome hardship. She and a group of PCI donors were able to meet some of the people whose lives have been impacted by our programs. This is Rosalba’s story, as told to Carrie.
While I was in Guatemala, I met Rosalba, the mother of four children. She and her husband had fled El Salvador for an urban slum called Mixco, in Guatemala City, 10 years ago.
Rosalba told of the difficulties they faced when her family first arrived in Guatemala. Their urban slum was home to people from many places, all of whom had migrated to Guatemala City. Many were indigenous people who spoke different languages. Many had fled violence, and there was a high degree of distrust among the citizens of Mixco. When she first arrived, they lived in a tin shack, clinging to the side of a steep ravine. There were no safe water and sanitation facilities or paved roads in her community. When it rained, the raw sewage from the neighbors up the hill ran through her house, turning the floor of her tin shack into a muddy, slippery, smelly mess.
According to Rosalba, nobody in the community spoke to each other. When they met in the streets, they passed without speaking because there was so little trust. She was marginalized, afraid, unemployed and thoroughly alone. The move had seriously affected her husband, who started to spend his evenings in the bar, drinking away the small resources he earned as a day laborer.
And then, five years ago, she found out about a Women Empowered (WE) group that was forming in her neighborhood. That, she said, “changed everything.”
In Rosalba’s words:
“It started slowly because we didn’t trust each other and we didn’t believe we could save money. None of us had any experience with saving or handling money before. But little by little, we learned. And little by little, we saved. We became closer and closer as a group. We began to support each other. We worked together to identify community problems, like the lack of fresh vegetables in the community. Several of us started a small business to bring basic, more nutritious food, including vegetables, into the neighborhoods. It made me realize how lonely and isolated I had been before.”
“My husband and I had become like strangers. He stayed out so late every night and the only time he engaged with me was when he was drunk and he hit me. My WE group became like my family. We talked about our family lives and they gave me strength to realize that this situation was very unhealthy and something had to change. I feared that my home was a bad place to raise my children. I had saved a lot of money, thanks to WE. Finally, I got up the nerve to tell my husband that I was going to leave with the children. That I had enough money to go home to my mother. That I didn’t need him anymore. He was so shocked. That was a turning point.”
“Now, when he comes home, we talk about his day. And he asks about my day: How are the kids doing? What is our strategy for saving money? How are we going to manage the family finances? What can we do together to raise our children to be healthy and strong?
“He sees that I am strong and that I have value. He sees that I can do some things that he can’t do. Now we are equal partners in our marriage. It has made all the difference.”
“I never could have imagined that today I would live in a nice house with a concrete floor. My kids are in school and I help run a business that brings healthy food closer to the families in my community. Before I was a migrant, an outsider, a stranger. Before I was a wife who cowered before her husband and brought no income to the family. Now I am a community leader, an income earner, and equal partner in my marriage. WE has helped me find my voice, my power, my community.”
Rosalba is one of 500,000 women who has been empowered both socially and economically through PCI’s WE initiative, which began in 2005. Today, more than 35,000 WE groups meet in communities around the world. Together, members have saved over $5.1 million, of which $4.3 million has been reinvested in their families and businesses. To learn more, visit www.pciglobal.org.