Making Dream Homes a Beautiful Reality: Meet Maria Concepción, a Micro-Entrepreneur from Nicaragua

15 junio, 2011

Success Stories, The Women of Pro Mujer, Voices from the Field

By Yolanda Bravo, Marketing and Communications Manager for Pro Mujer in Nicaragua

As a non-profit, women’s development and microfinance organization, one of our many goals is to help our clients achieve a better quality of life whether it be through access to financial services, or through education, training or health care. To advance this goal, Pro Mujer in Nicaragua has added a new product to its package of services – home improvement loans.

Through our “My Beautiful House, A Dream Achieved” campaign, this program helps our clients realize their dreams and make much-needed home improvements, expand their homes to alleviate overcrowding (often times multiple generations live under one roof) or build an entirely new home for themselves and their family members.

In keeping with the Pro Mujer model, this supplementary loan is linked to a primary income-generating business loan and complements our other non-financial services which include business and empowerment training, preventive health education and high-quality, low-cost primary health care.

Currently, it is offered in three of our six neighborhood centers – León, Chinandega and Masaya – with plans to expand access to this service to our more than 29,000 clients nationwide. In addition, there are three levels of home loans – one for minor improvements, another for expansion and a third for major construction.

General pre-requisites for all three types of loans include:

  • Client must be in excellent financial standing with no personal late payments to their communal bank association or late payments as a communal bank association to Pro Mujer for at least:
    • 1 loan cycle, which typically runs 4 months, for minor, home improvement loans.
    • 2 loan cycles for home expansion loans.
    • 3 loan cycles for major home construction loans.
  • Client must have an established business for at least 12 months.
  • Client must not have more than 2 loans with other microfinance organizations.
  • The home must not currently be used as collateral for a bank or other organization.

Home Improvement

This loan helps clients finance minor improvements such as converting walls and/or roofs from plastic to brick or establishing links to utilities that provide running water. Loan amounts range from US$250 to $600 and are payable in biweekly or monthly installments for a maximum of 1 year.

  • Additional qualifications include:
    • Home is owned by a client or an immediate family member such as a husband/wife/partner, son or daughter, sister or brother or mother or father.
      • If the home is owned by an immediate family member and not the client, there is a 1-year minimum residency requirement for the client.

Home Expansion

Clients looking to expand the footprint of their homes can use this loan to build additional walls and/or rooms to better accommodate its residents. Minimum and maximum loan amounts range from US$400 to $2,500 and are payable in biweekly or monthly installments of up to two and a half years.

  • Additional qualifications include:
    • If the home is owned by an immediate family member and not the client, there is a 1-year minimum residency requirement for the client and the owner must co-sign the loan.
    • Independent of the client, there must be one or more sources of income in the immediate family residing in the home.

Major Home Construction

This category is geared towards clients who are looking to begin construction on a completely new home or complete construction already in process. Minimum and maximum loan amounts range from US$700 to $5,000 and payable in biweekly monthly installments of up to four years.

  • Additional qualifications include:
    • If the home is owned by an immediate family member and not the client, there is a 1-year minimum residency requirement and there must be 2 co-signers to the loan, one of whom can be outside the immediate family.
    • Independent of the client, there must be one or more sources of income in the immediate family residing in the home.

So far this new product has been very well-received by our clients. Since its launch, 156 clients have taken advantage of this service, benefiting them and their approximately 600 family members as well.

One such client is Maria Concepción, a 38-year old Pro Mujer micro-entrepreneur from the city of Chinandega. She has been with Pro Mujer since the beginning of 2010 and has received and repaid loans in increasingly-responsible amounts over eight loan cycles through her communal bank association “Estrella Lunar” (Moon Star). Below is her story of strength and perseverance as she told it to me.

María Concepción runs a small store out of her home in Chinandega, Nicaragua.

“My life has been tough. My parents were very poor and we lived in a house made of cardboard wrapped in plastic and sustained by four eucalyptus trunks. During my childhood I suffered many humiliations as my parents were strict and wouldn’t let me out or have friends. They scolded me for everything and sometimes we didn’t have enough to eat.

At the age of 16, I went to live with my current husband but we were both very poor. We lived on a plot of land that he owned and built a small house supported by branches and covered with plastic. Shortly thereafter, I had my first child and each day our economic situation became worse. With one child our expenses increased and our (living) space became smaller. Then I had my second child and my husband went to work as a day laborer in the fields and his salary was very little. With the money he earned, we had enough for food and little by little we saved money to buy plastic and we collected sticks to make our home a bit bigger.

Prior to taking out a housing loan with Pro Mujer, Maria Concepción's home used plastic, branches and cardboard for walls.

As our children grew older, we started partitioning the rooms with plastic so that everyone had their own little room even if it was plastic. Our house was already too small for four people. The roof of our house had holes everywhere and when it rained, all of the water would come in. The interior of our house was pure mud and all of our things would float. We slept on chairs and woke up exhausted and completely wet because of all of the water that would come in. One of our neighbors mocked us and humiliated my children and me for the precarious conditions in which we lived.

Given our tough situation, my daughter and I started washing and ironing clothes for other people so we could cover some of our costs. Around that time, I began experiencing strong pains in my back and stomach so I was unable to continue washing and ironing clothes.

One day my mom’s neighbor told me about Pro Mujer. I decided to join because they did not ask me for many prerequisites. I obtained my first loan of C$3,000 córdobas (US$133), but I did it behind my husband’s back because he didn’t like having debts. With that first loan, I set up my store and that’s how I started my own business with the loan that Pro Mujer gave me. I planted four tree trunks in the front of my house, added a sheet of metal to protect me from the sun and rain and started a small convenience store in order to have a bit of money aside from my husband’s salary.

As I finished repaying my first loan, I obtained my second credit to further improve my store. However, now I had to tell my husband because my business was thriving. At first he was upset with me but then he began to attend the training sessions to support me. When I asked for my third credit which was bigger than the previous one, he told me to take it and not to worry. If it became difficult to pay it back, he would help me. And that’s how I received my third loan.

Once I finished my third credit cycle, I applied for a home improvement loan from Pro Mujer and we started to build our house, but this time it wasn’t going to be plastic, but out of bricks and cement. For my family and for me, it was one of the happiest moments of our lives to see our house built, knowing that we weren’t going to get wet when it rained. Also, we had never lived in a house made of concrete.

One of the new walls in Maria Concepción's home.

I believe that the housing loan is a gift that Pro Mujer gives clients because no other institution provides you with two loans solely relying on your word that you will repay. I am grateful to God for having put Pro Mujer in my path, because without the support of Pro Mujer I would have nothing that I have today.

I have also benefited from the training sessions. The health workshops have helped me to learn how I should take care of my health and that of my family’s. These sessions made me aware of the importance of my health. I had not had a Pap smear in a long time, but now that I’m part of Pro Mujer, I began to get them again. They detected lesions and I am currently in treatment. The trainings also helped my husband change his attitude. Now he supports the decisions I make.

My future plans are to continue obtaining more loans with Pro Mujer to improve my home, install tile floors and expand the kitchen. Above all I would like to continue working hard so that my children can continue their studies and one day complete a college education. With my savings I would like to buy a washing machine so I no longer need to do the wash by hand.

I thank Pro Mujer for all the support that it has given me and for believing in me. Thank you for changing my life.”