As both a mom and stepmom, Luisa works hard to not only maintain a business, but to see it grow and expand into new areas so that she can better provide for her family. Two years ago, Luisa started selling rotisserie chicken to go, which gradually turned into a small café restaurant.
Luisa is part of the microloan program with Diaconia, Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s partner in Paraguay. GAiN envisions a world with flourishing communities where people are physically, spiritually and emotionally thriving. Through the program, many women who are living in poverty are given the chance to start or grow their own businesses, become financially independent and free from debt. Women in the program are also put into weekly trust groups with other business owners, where they can encourage and hold each other accountable to pay back their loans.
When Paraguay enforced a strict lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people no longer went out to eat in restaurants and many places began to implement delivery services. Luisa noticed this trend and started selling containers and to-go boxes to the other businesses in her community. Now, her neighbouring small enterprises can purchase the supplies they need from her in bulk.
Luisa is thankful for the support she receives from the other women in her trust group and says it’s nice to be surrounded by other small business owners because they can share advice and support each other.
With her current loan, Luisa will restock her products as delivery services continue to grow. However, her long term goal is to expand her rotisserie chicken business into a buffet restaurant. And while she loves cooking and seeing her business thrive, her true motivation is to sustain her family and provide a better future for their four children.
There’s a common phrase in Paraguay that talks about putting on the jersey when someone needs you or something needs to be done. It means that you are a team player and that people can count on you to come through. Over the past year, Maria has shown that she not only is a team player, but that she seeks out opportunities to empower the women around her — her teammates — in life.
Maria joined a trust group through Diaconía, Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s partner in Paraguay, three years ago to help her thermos decoration business grow. In 2018, she started attending vocational training courses to learn how to decorate sandals and make bead jewelry. Her instructor, Fabiola, recognized her talent and knew about her thermos decoration business, so she invited Maria to learn more about becoming a course instructor.
At the beginning of 2019, Maria started teaching a new course. With the popularity of a loose leaf tea called “tereré,” her thermos decoration quickly became the course with the most demand in the communities. Maria has grown significantly in her self-confidence and independence, as she now drives herself to other cities to offer courses. Recently, she has expanded the courses she offers to include the skills she had previously learned with Diaconía. Last year, she taught a total of ten courses.
With her payment from teaching, she applied what she has learned during her time with Diaconía and invested wisely in her business. She was able to purchase a new embroidery sewing machine to give her thermos products a more detailed and elegant design. As she continues to grow in ability and capacity, Maria never looked around and saw other women as competition. She is always looking for ways to serve and empower the women around her, helping them to learn new skills and ways to improve their businesses. She has also looked for new ways to serve in her church as she grows in her faith through the constant discipleship she receives through Diaconía.
Everyone that meets Maria falls in love with her. She shows up early and prepared. She knows what it means to go above and beyond — to wear the jersey.
We met Maria earlier this year and were encouraged by her story. Like everyone else, her life was impacted by COVID but because of the continued support, Diaconia is slowly restarting operations. At the moment, there are a total of 4,340 Diaconia clients. Smaller loan groups are meeting where possible, or trust group presidents are meeting one-on-one with members. As things are getting back on track, we look forward to sharing more stories of hope like Maria’s.
Mercedes is a woman of many talents. While her main business is selling clothing in her neighborhood, she also makes a variety of traditional Paraguayan foods to sell. Her two children are now grown, but are still living at home and their whole family depends on the income Mercedes generates with her business.
Creating a new income source was the initial reason that Mercedes became an entrepreneur, however, she has a deeper motivation for choosing to sell clothing. “Something I’ve always taught my children is that they should try to dress well,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, you should always try and you deserve the opportunity to dress well.” She also commented that when she does business, she’s not only selling clothes, she’s selling hope to the people in her neighborhood.
Seven years ago, Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s Paraguayan partner, Diaconía gave her the initial push she needed to get her business started. She says that Diaconía has helped her to look further than her current situation and to hope for more. “Diaconía gives us the support we need. The women in my community have a lot of potential, but we need a push and training on how to start a business. Diaconía has been a huge help.”
Mercedes has also learned how to always have a goal in mind, and she is working to one day have her own shop to sell clothes and also make healthy meals to-go. Many of her neighbours work full time and don’t have enough time to sit and have a healthy meal at lunch time. Her dream is to create a menu with healthy options that her neighbors can purchase and take with them on busy days.
Over the years, Mercedes’ trust group has grown together and learned to support and celebrate one another. They even take advantage of their meeting times to have birthday parties, baby showers and fundraisers for group members in need.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO PROVIDE A MICRO-LOAN TO A WOMAN LIKE MERCEDES?
When Benita found out she was sick and began to grow weaker, she could no longer clean houses for a living. She began to sell traditional Paraguayan foods from her home but was just barely making it on the small income she was earning. At the beginning of 2018, she heard of the vocational training courses through Diaconía, Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s partner in Paraguay, and joined right away. Diaconia offers vocational training for impoverished women who are interested in establishing or growing a small business. Throughout the year, there are a variety of different classes for women who are interested in learning how to sew, craft, do hair and makeup and more. Since Benita started attending a vocational training, she has never missed a meeting since.
Throughout the year, she has learned to crochet, embroider cloth purses, decorate sandals and thermoses, and work with beads to make jewelry. Now, in addition to selling food, she takes personal orders for her craft work and sells her products in her community. She has always loved creating things but wasn’t able to allow her creativity to flourish because there wasn’t anyone to teach these trades. With the skills she learned in the courses, she now loves what she does, and the additional income helps her to advance more in life.
She is thankful for what Diaconía and God have done in her life and community. Because of this experience, her neighbourhood is improving economically and is more united. What she has learned and accomplished has created a sense of pride in her own work and has taught her that she can always learn new things.
DO YOU WANT TO HELP WOMEN LIKE BENITA BY GIVING THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN NEW SKILLS THROUGH VOCATIONAL TRAINING? YOU CAN HELP WOMEN IN PARAGUAY BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY.
Irene is a woman of many talents. Though her profession and passion is cosmetology, she began selling perfumes and clothing 22 years ago. She always dreamed of opening her own beauty salon but because of her family’s economic situation she wasn’t able to.
She lives with her husband and their four children, one of which is adopted. When her niece was abandoned at age six, Irene’s mother (the child’s grandmother) took her under her care. However, when the grandmother passed away, Irene began to care for her niece and she became part of the family. Having an additional child was difficult, financially, but Irene’s family persevered and with God’s help and faithfulness they now have more stable finances.
Two years ago, Irene was finally able to fulfill her dream. Due to the support of Diaconia, Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s partner in Paraguay, she was able to open the beauty salon that she always dreamed of having. With her loans that she receives from Diaconia, she buys first-class products and equipment for her salon. Soon, she hopes to purchase products to offer massages since she has also completed several masseuse courses. Other than the financial help she is receiving, Irene would like to complete more training in both cosmetology and massage therapy. Her long-term goal is for her beauty salon business to grow to be self-sustaining so that she will no longer have to sell perfume and clothing on the side.
Not only is Irene working toward expanding her business, she is also a dedicated chaplain of several Diaconia trust groups. Trust groups are made up of about 15 loan recipients who gather regularly to pay back their loans, receive support from their peers and hold each other accountable. Many trust groups also have designated chaplains who provide spiritual support by sharing a Biblical devotional before each meeting, offering prayer and emotional support to group members, and connecting them to the local church.
Through Irene’s partnership with Diaconía she has grown immensely in her faith and is thankful for the support and encouragement she receives. Her love for the Lord is what motivates her to go every week and share His love with other women.
YOU CAN HELP A WOMAN LIKE IRENE BY PROVIDING A MICRO-LOAN TO HELP HER START AND GROW HER OWN BUSINESS. WILL YOU GIVE TO HELP BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY IN PARAGUAY?
Fifteen years ago, Rosalina knew her life was about to drastically change. When her youngest son was born with mental disabilities, she immediately searched for a way to work from home. She had been working in a clothing factory for years and had sufficient experience in clothing design and fabrication to open her own home workshop in her home. She began to specialize in bathing suits and started to sell them to large retail companies in her city.
Now, her three older children work with her, along with one other hired employee. Two of her children have their own workshops as well, and one has been certified from a design institute. She says her youngest knows how to work all the machines and likes being involved, but he’s still too young to legally work alongside the rest of the family.
Thanks to Diaconia, Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s partner in Paraguay, Rosalina was able to receive micro-loans to help grow her business. Diaconia helps impoverished women by offering financial training, vocational training and micro-loans to assist in the start up and growth of a small business.
Rosalina used the loans she received to buy new fabrics and accessories to make more bathing suits. She is currently in the process of launching her new line of suits for children and babies. Her goal for this season is to increase sales and hire someone to market and sell her specific brand. She wants to have her own store instead of selling her products to larger companies. Her other goals are to provide further training for her children and to purchase a printing press to put more designs on the fabrics. As a single mother, Rosalina has not only provided for her family, she has taught her children how to work hard, run a business, and persevere until you succeed.
YOU CAN HELP WOMEN LIKE ROSALINA BY PROVIDING A MICRO-LOAN TO HELP HER START HER OWN BUSINESS. WILL YOU GIVE TO HELP BREAK THE CYCLE OF POVERTY IN PARAGUAY?
Alex P., Paraguay LIFE Team Participant, shares his experience below.
I was expecting to simply do some business workshops and that was it – but God had greater plans.
I felt called to do missions when I was a teenager but never acted upon it. Life got in the way – going to school, finding a job, getting married, buying a house, having kids, etc.
One Sunday, the pastor of my church had a sermon about “rekindling lost dreams” and, immediately, I thought about missions.
When I came across Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s booth at Missions Fest in January 2018, they really got my attention. I searched through the LIFE Team trips and saw that the Paraguay trip needed volunteers with a business background to teach on financial literacy, which is sort of what I already do in my profession! This was a sign that God was calling me there.
So, I went on the trip to Paraguay to serve with Diaconia (GAiN’s in-country partner that provides micro-loans to help women get out of the cycle of poverty). There, I did workshops on financial literacy, how to start a business and managing personal finances.
We also visited several Diaconia Trust Groups – groups of about 15 people, who receive a group loan and help hold each other accountable to pay back their loans. Then we visited some of the local businesses of Diaconia clients. We got to see how the micro-loan program has impacted their lives.
Near the end of our week, we visited Jesus Responde (Global Aid Network’s other partner in Paraguay) and went to a wholistic community centre that partnered with a church to do AWANA Children’s Ministry and spent the day with the children and staff there.
In the middle of the week, I also had an opportunity to lead a devotional for the Diaconia staff. I tried to keep an open mind to whatever God had in store for me. I was busy preparing the business presentations leading up to the trip, so I didn’t have too much time to meditate on it beforehand. I was expecting to simply do some business workshops and that was it – but God had greater plans.
The devotional that I shared with the Diaconia staff was something I didn’t prepare beforehand, perhaps only 30 minutes the night before. After several conversations with the local staff at Diaconia, it became apparent to me that because of the history with the Triple Alliance War and how it has affected the culture in Paraguay, the family unit is broken.
With the current culture in Paraguay right now, it generally accepted as normal for men to not be involved in family life, even being unfaithful to their wives. Some men are not present, leaving the burden to raise families to the women.
I felt that God called me to direct my devotional toward the men, talking about the importance of prioritizing family as a husband and father.
The staff at Diaconia really thanked me for speaking on the topic (even the women too). One lady said to me that no one has ever spoken on that topic like that before, and the men really needed to hear it.
There was great fruit from my devotional, as it even sparked more conversation with our missions team throughout the week! My initial intention was just to direct the devotion towards the men, but God multiplied the fruit by also blessing the women!
I feel that I showed God’s love by serving the people through financial literacy workshops, leading a devotional, listening to people’s stories and speaking into their lives, and spending time with the kids at the community centre.
What impacted me the most was listening to people’s stories about how God has changed their lives through Diaconia, Jesus Responde and the local church. As long as we get out of our own way and say yes to God, He will open up doors and bless you abundantly.
I hope that sharing my experience with my family and friends will inspire them to also serve locally or abroad. I am most definitely thinking of going back! I’ve already made plans to return next year, and in the meantime, starting to learn Spanish.
If you want to go on a mission trip, do it! There is never going to be a perfect time to go. Life will get in the way and you can make up hundreds of excuses not to do it, but if you feel called don’t ignore it. Say yes to Him and He will take care of the rest. You will be glad you did. You may even think “why didn’t I do this sooner?” You will be blessed greater than you can imagine!
JOIN A LIFE TEAM TRIP TO PARAGUAY THIS YEAR!
In the city of San Antonio, Paraguay, resident Maria Liz meets regularly with a group of women – all budding or aspiring entrepreneurs. This group is one of many trust groups formed through Diaconia, Global Aid Network’s in-country partner in Paraguay that provides micro-loans and business training to poverty-stricken women. As recipients of micro-loans, these women gather weekly to encourage and hold each other financially accountable to repay their loans.
This particular group calls themselves Valuable Women.
“I heard about Diaconia through a radio station and called their office and that was how, together with a group of women from my neighbourhood, we were able to receive microloans,” said Maria. “We heard about the vocational trainings offered and I immediately took the opportunity.”
Maria attended a crafts workshop, learning specifically how to make embroidered slippers.
“I learned a lot. It gave me a solid income and I have sold a lot of these slippers since then. I am so grateful to Diaconia for creating a place for opportunity and growth for me and many other women in my community.”
Would you like to help a woman like Maria start her own business? Your one-time or monthly gift can impact multiple women over time!
“I struggled to live. I had no money in my wallet.”
Lucia, a resident of Mariano Roque Alonso, is a mother of two, Eladio, 7, and Mia, 6. Her husband lives with her and the kids, but she still carries the burden to provide for her family.
Before she heard about Diaconia, Lucia worked as a manicurist and struggled to make a living. With no money for training, her opportunity for growth was stunted. Her life changed when she heard about Diaconia through her son’s school, where they were promoting free vocational training. Lucia signed up to learn hairdressing and makeup. During her training, her teacher Lorena saw great potential in Lucia and invited her to work at her hair salon.
Today, Lucia has her own small business that has been growing and thriving. This past year, she was able to purchase a small car, which has helped her to be more effective in her work. Never did she imagine that she would ever drive a car, when all she could do before was yearn for a safer way to transport her little children.
Survival is not the goal for Lucia and her family anymore. While she has a growing client base, she dreams of owning her own hairdressing shop where clients can come to her. “I am so thankful for the opportunities that I have access to thanks to Diaconia. It literally changed me and my family’s lives.”
WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIFE OF A WOMAN LIKE LUCIA?
Maria Carmen, 37, is the mother of three children (a 12-year-old girl, nine-year-old boy and one-year-old boy). Every day she leaves the home before 4 am to collect and recycle trash, leaving her kids with her mother.
When she gets back to the house at around noon, she spends the afternoon cooking food, such as empanadas, milanesas and sandwiches, to sell to her community. Maria doesn’t work out of a building, she goes out on the street to sell her food.
Maria is part of the Diaconia Trust Group called “Jesus Misericordioso”, which means “merciful Jesus.” She learned about this Trust Group through her sister, who was in the group before her and encouraged her to join. Maria Carmen says, “I have been in Diaconia almost four years and I want to continue. I am so thankful for all the help I have received.”
The Diaconia program has helped encourage her to dream big about the future of her business.
“Thanks to [a micro-loan] I am able to grow my business and aim to open my little restaurant locally – that is my dream,” shared Maria Carmen.
The Jesus Misericordioso Trust Group consists of 15 women who live in a squatter zone. Most of them have similar stories to Maria, some of them working through the night collecting and recycling trash.
“[The trust group] has helped me at so many levels,” shares Maria. “I have grown financially and spiritually through our chaplain’s visits. It is really true that we are stronger together.”