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A tough life has not erased the smile from María Rafaela Betancos’ face.
It has not been easy for the 37-year-old mother of three, living far away from her hometown and taking care of a daughter with cerebral palsy in the rural community of Campo Hermoso, in northern Nicaragua.
But, María has reasons to look at the future with hope. She is an entrepreneur by nature, and she only needed a little push to follow her path. COOPAMOV, a Trócaire partner, has supporter her in this.
“I used to work manufacturing car harnesses, but we had to move here because of my husband’s job,” María explains.
“I began doing laundry for other people when we arrived. I was earning around 100 córdobas a week” (around €3). Her situation changed two years ago with a Big Lottery Fund (BLF) funded project.
“After training with COOPAMOV, my neighbour let me set up a table in her shop on Saturdays to sell tajadas (slices of fried bananas). People started coming and they loved the food, that way I kickstarted my client network” she recalls.
“Now during weekdays, I sell chocobananos (frozen bananas covered in chocolate) and jelly. Children love them!”
Weekends are the busiest. “I sell bread, vigorón (cabbage, cassava and pork rind), chop suey, tacos and baho (steamed meat and vegetables). I usually let the people know in advance what I will prepare, so I am sure I am going to sell everything. I usually earn around 50 córdobas a day during the week and around 250 on a good Saturday.”
Step by step María is attracting customers from local business and other communities.
“Now I earn enough money to make timely repayments on my loan to COOPAMOV, to cover my personal expenses and to save a bit of money. I am even paying for a blender to make juices!”
She is also attending dressmaking classes to generate another source of income. Yet money is not the most important thing for María. Instead, that is the change she has seen in her eldest daughter Katia de los Ángeles, 18, who was born with cerebral palsy.
Katia express herself with difficulty and moves slowly. She has been through surgery, and she needs a walker to get around.
Katia’s biggest issue was not her disability, however, but the people surrounding her.
“Katia suffered a lot back in León because the other children bullied her. She used to cry a lot, loose her appetite and refuse to go to school. She used to spend the whole day at home. Watching TV was her only contact with the outside world,” says María.
“That changed when I started my business. Now Katia helps me a lot by recording the orders and by letting me know when the clients are arriving. She also spreads the word among the neighbours when I am going to prepare some of the more complicated dishes. We now go to school together! We both attend classes for adults on Friday at the local school. Katia is even thinking of studying computer science once she finishes secondary school, and she is already searching for a suitable vocational school,” María says with a broad smile.
María’s priority is her family’s future, and she has plans on how to use her savings. “I want to open a small coffee shop here in Campo Hermoso,” she says shyly. “I would like to have a coffee machine, and to sell more food, fry-ups, fruit and juices. I can see my daughter helping me. I hope she can rely less on me so she can live on her own once I am no longer here.”
For María, self-confidence is the key for change.
“We have to believe more in ourselves. Many people leave the community to go to work in other countries because they feel hopeless here”, she says.
“It is true that we are not going to be rich, but we have to believe in our community and create our own opportunities, especially for young people, and I want to be an example.”