A welcome breeze sweeps through the outdoor classroom, providing a moment’s respite from the village’s sticky heat. Overlooking the banks of the Acome River, Claudia, Sandra, Mildred and Angelina pull up their chairs, ready for the latest workshop in La Choza Chula’s enterprise training programme.
These are some of the women I’ll be working with over the next three months. Today is the tenth in a series of workshops designed to help them start up new businesses that will serve both the local community and the steadily increasing number of tourists visiting the village.
Claudia is intent on setting up a mobile phone accessory shop once she finds a suitable location. Sandra’s vision of having a fish shop to supply local families, restaurants and hotels is beginning to take shape. Mildred, who sporadically serves ‘tikukas’ (tortillas filled with meat, cheese or beans) next to the village basketball court, is looking to make this a more frequent and profitable venture. For Angelina, ‘Puntadas Mágicas’ will be a clothes repair shop capable of restoring any garment, no matter in what state it arrives.
Consumer choice is currently very limited in El Paredón, owing to a certain ‘why change a winning formula?’ attitude that persists among small business owners. Local shops stick to a tried and tested blueprint, typically boasting the same product range and displaying the same ‘ofertas’ to the same customers. In part, the workshops are therefore designed to both help these women think more creatively about their businesses and facilitate a richer business landscape that more effectively serves the needs of the community.
There are two principal reasons: firstly, they are generally poorer than men in Guatemalan society. Secondly, research has shown that women are more likely to invest additional earnings in the health and nutritional status of the household and in children’s schooling. This means that the targeting of women has a greater positive impact on child and household poverty reduction, measured in terms of nutrition, consumption and well-being.
While we will continue to work with these women, plans are afoot to provide entrepreneurship and business skills training to final year students in the recently constructed secondary school. The course will consist of both weekly theoretical workshops and practical work, in which students will their develop their own business idea to be implemented on the school site with the aim of providing students with an insight into the workings of the business world and an understanding of the actions and behaviours required to set up and run a successful business.
For now, the focus is on the group of eight women who edge ever closer to starting their business ventures. As today’s workshop concludes, Claudia, Sandra, Mildred and Angelina stroll back to their homes in close proximity, clutching their business plans. Soon, school will be over again and it will be up to them to ensure that their endeavours are successful. If that is the case, each will represent a concrete step towards achieving La Choza Chula’s long-term mission in El Paredón: to alleviate poverty and increase community resilience through strong, sustainable enterprises.
To see the results of the programme, read this blog.