by Rachel Turner
Fifteen days after Maria gave birth to her only daughter, her husband abandoned her and their six children with a mountain of debt and no source of income.
“It gave me the opportunity to be brave and rise up for the good of our children,” said Maria, an entrepreneur at heart. She had learned to sew and design from her father and brothers as a young girl after her mother died. When her father married her off to the neighbor boy at seventeen, the new couple decided to design jewelry together and sell it. With Maria managing the business, it grew considerably. However, fourteen years later, her husband took the business and left debts.
Determined to build an independent life, Maria traveled via bus three hours from her home to build a clientele for a new jewelry business. Her neighbors ridiculed her. Others advised her not to go. She pressed on, visiting boutiques and artisan businesses showing samples of her work in a new territory. Her trip was a resounding success. She met a shop owner looking for someone to create new designs out of Colombian beads. Today, she continues to provide products for him.
During that time, she also met America Chiyal from Friendship Bridge and joined a Trust Bank. She obtained a loan to help build her artisan business but also received moral support from the women at her monthly loan repayment meetings. Her confidence began to build. Old clients began looking for her since they valued her integrity and the quality of her work. Little by little, her business grew.
Along with business training, and community support from other businesswomen, Maria also used Friendship Bridge’s Health for Life services, allowing her to receive preventive healthcare for free in her native language through a mobile clinic in her community.
Later she joined Friendship Bridge’s Artisan Market Access program which taught her about expanding her business, quality control, product pricing, and exporting. “I bettered my children’s nutrition so they could be healthy. They attended school, and four of them are now working while two finish school,” said Maria. “Today I employ more than 25 women, I export to the United States, France, and Colombia, and I own property where I will build a house next year.”
Today, Maria employs her two daughters-in-law and works daily with her 16-year-old daughter. Two of her sons also work in the business. “My life is full,” said Maria. “To get up after a failure is difficult. However, today my business is thriving, I feel empowered, and I can make my own decisions and support my community. I’m very grateful.”
Each time you donate to Friendship Bridge, you change the world, one woman at a time. Now is your chance to make an even greater impact! A generous donor is matching donations up to $30,000 until December 9th. Take advantage and make each of your dollars go even further by donating at www.friendshipbridge.org/Maria