Members of ChildFund-supported communities in Ecuador have been working nonstop during the last two weeks to complete orders for St. Valentine’s Day. It’s the peak season for flower production and exports, and we were lucky enough to be visiting Ecuador last week to see the business in action. This country, along with Colombia, is among the main flower exporters, and during these days the local industry in Ecuador estimates exports for about 4,000 metric tons to the United States and about 2,600 metric tons to Europe, approximately 30 percent of its yearly production.
Twelve years ago, the community of Santa Rosa de Patután had no running water, sewage treatment, schools or health center. However, today, after many years of projects and trial-and-error experiences, this village has transformed into a community of dynamic farmers who produce mainly roses and carnations for export to the United States, Europe and Russia.
Jose Manuel Yaule is one of the leaders behind this change. With no education other than what he calls “the university of life,” he began working for his community by building a water system with the help of ChildFund. Today, that is the local water company, a service and business totally run by the community. That was the first step toward his venture into the flower business.
He then began researching with technicians in businesses from surrounding areas and first tried with his own greenhouse as a pilot. Realizing they could actually produce high-quality carnations and roses for exporting, he replicated this model by teaching the business to the whole community.
“I remember back in 1994, seeing children here was very sad: very poor, hungry, no shoes, no school. I was thinking all the time about work opportunities for parents, who were mainly peasants without any hope and lots of alcohol problems,” Jose Manuel says. “Now I see children and I can’t even recognize them… sometimes I think they are from another town: so educated, so well-dressed, so happy and healthy!”
The flower business has indeed brought color, joy and progress to this community. Jose Manuel didn’t have an education, but his five children went to university; two of them graduated, two study music at the conservatory, and one is pursuing a degree in economics.
His dream is for everyone in this community of about 400 families to be a small business owner. Continued water supply, agricultural technical support and financing are keys to making this a reality.
To support the farmers with credit, the community also created in 2008 their own credit union, which has 780 members and assets of about US$1 million, provides loans for land, supply and machinery. The credit union works well under the management and supervision of Monica, a former sponsored girl in the community, who, after finishing university, decided to come back and work for the development of her own village.
This community keeps dreaming and growing, just as the flowers do. Farmers continue to get training and are currently working on producing new varieties of flowers and diversifying their production. Thanks to this work and the support of buyers in the United States every Valentine’s Day, more children keep playing and learning in better schools, while their mothers and fathers continue cultivating the seeds of change and progress in their community.
By Melissa Bonotto, ChildFund Ireland
It’s the end of another week and villagers from the Gondola district in Mozambique are gathered at their usual meeting spot. They each have their meticais – the local currency – and are eager to participate in today’s Village Savings and Loans (VSL) meeting. After the official welcome by the organization’s 23-year-old president Aida, they begin shouting out numbers, adding their money to the pool and cheering — happy to be investing in the future of their community.
Through a partnership with the local KureraWana Association, ChildFund Ireland and ChildFund Mozambique have encouraged VSL groups to invest in early childhood development as part of their new Communities Caring for Children Programme (CCCP). CCCP coordinator, Alberto, says “The community became so excited that they could not wait.” Some VSL groups began saving before the program’s official start date and will soon be able to support childhood development initiatives in the area. With an early start, most VSLs have saving down to a science.
Each group, consisting of about 15 to 25 members, meets weekly to make deposits into a communal fund. Participants must contribute at least one share each week, but they are allowed to give up to five. One share is equal to 20 meticais – or US$1.
Members can borrow up to three times the amount they have contributed but only at the last meeting of the month. Borrowers have three months to pay down their loan, and do so at a 10 percent interest rate. Members follow clearly prescribed guidelines to participate and start each meeting by reciting the rules and penalties so that everyone in attendance understands.
With financial guidance, individuals use these loans to maintain or jumpstart new businesses and community programs. “These groups have been targeted for business management training during the program,” says Jean, a ChildFund Ireland grants officer. “So their loans are managed appropriately and used for viable businesses.”
Each group is supported by a secretary, two cashiers, a “money-box” guard and multiple key guards. All participants, identified by a number, announce how much they have saved for the week. The secretary records the amount in a ledger and members of the group cheer for their fellow banker’s accomplishments.
Beyond entrepreneurship, VSLs also encourage emergency preparation through savings. At every meeting, each participant contributes 5 meticais to a social fund that can be used as a donation to a member in times of need.
As their savings grow, VSL groups will help reshape the economic capacity of their communities and empower individuals to reach financial stability. Group members will start new businesses, providing services their neighborhoods need desperately, as well as support key community initiatives that will benefit the families and children of their community.