Please read the story of each of the three semifinalists but note that we have suspended online voting.

Growing up in the midst of a difficult family environment, Emily Sumudivila never dreamed God would use her past to build a successful business. She spent approximately seven years of her childhood living in one of the garment districts in the Philippines. It was during that time that Emily first learned to use a sewing machine. And she never stopped. What used to be a childhood hobby sewing bags and accessories to add sparkle to what she was wearing has translated into a profitable business selling curtains and pillowcases to help others add sparkle to their homes. Emily distributes her products to 20 wholesalers, employs 16 seamstresses, provides jobs for 3 family members and continues to sell her products directly to the public.

Approximately 10 years ago, the Center for Community Transformation (CCT), PEER Servants microfinance partner in the Philippines, provided her with her first loan of just under $100. During that time Emily's spiritual life was transformed as she became a follower of Christ through the ministry of CCT. It was also the beginning of economic transformation for Emily and her family as successful repayment of that first loan qualified her for subsequently larger loans. In all, Emily has secured 15 loans with CCT with her current loan exceeding $6,000. She has used the loans to purchase 18 sewing machines, a van to distribute products to more distant locations and a small house in a neighbouring subdivision.

Emily is extremely thankful to God for the way He has blessed her business. To Emily this was the power of God to not only transform her life, but to use her successes to impact the lives of others. She is paying school fees for two students beyond her own children. She also knows that God has given her a persevering spirit and creative mind that has contributed to her success. When her market was flooded with inexpensive imported curtains and pillowcases, she sought out new untapped markets in more distant locations. When she encountered problems with her seamstresses coming to work but not actually working, she came up with the successful idea of giving the workers a sewing machine so they could sew at home and then began to pay them per number of pieces produced rather than per a day worked.

Emily believes that God has poured out His blessing on her, and she wants to bless others as a result of her love for Him. Emily sees the destruction caused by unemployment in the garment industry due to inexpensive imported goods. As a result of her ability to successfully focus on other markets, she dreams of buying 10 more machines to provide the blessing of employment for 10 more families. She is a dreamer of big dreams and one day hopes to have a factory where she provides employment opportunities for 500 people. Seeing the remarkable journey God has taken her in the last 10 years coupled with her perseverance and drive, one can only imagine that her factory will someday be more than just a dream.

As Christians growing up in the former Soviet Union, Victor and Lilea Chifeac were denied access to a university education. As a result, they turned to farming to make a living and to feed their eight children. Ten years ago, they grew cucumbers and tomatoes and were just starting to use a greenhouse and to transport their produce to the district center market. They lacked access to credit and that was limiting the growth in their business. They attended a business training course sponsored by Invest Credit, PEER Servants’ microfinance partner in Moldova. Soon they were qualifying for credit to grow their business and have since received 6 loans totaling approximately $17,500. Now they have four greenhouses that they can use to cultivate crops earlier, thus allowing them to deliver their crops to market earlier when prices are higher. They also have been able to purchase a car to allow them to deliver produce to market more economically.

Victor and Lilea are committed to growing their business. They have continued to buy land for the farm, and added watermelons to the type of crops grown. They have used techniques they learned at the Invest Credit training to improve their own farming techniques. Recently they started selling imported toiletries at their market in the district center to further diversify the types of products they provide to their customers. With their next loan from Invest Credit, they plan to purchase a metal greenhouse with gas heating instead of the typical wood greenhouse with a wood stove. This will allow them to cultivate crops in the colder months and bring them to market even earlier in the season, when their produce will bring prices as much as six times higher than later in the season.

What has been the result of the growth of Victor and Lilea’s business? It has allowed them to make a difference in their family and their community. The farm employs all of their children as well as three other seasonal workers. The Chifeacs have been able to provide their oldest four children with the university education that they were denied, and they hope to provide the same opportunity to their younger children when they grow up. And their generosity has extended beyond their family; they were able to adopt a homeless child from their village and make him part of their family. They have been so blessed by the services provided by Invest Credit that they have referred 10 others to them to receive loans and business training.

The success of the Chifeac’s business has also allowed them to help expand God’s kingdom through their local church. They contributed almost half of the funds required to build the first evangelical church in their village. Victor now pastors the church, which has over 70 members, and Lilea teaches Sunday School. The challenges of farming and being a pastor are difficult for the Chifeacs, but they are excited about what God is doing in and through their business and church.

Living in a war-torn, cyclone-prone country in South Asia isn’t easy. How much more challenging life is for a widow in such a country that has to support three children! This is what Arul Rathi Rajendram has done since her husband died in 2000. The rest of her extended family was in no position to help Arul Rathi, but she refused to feel sorry for herself. Rather she has become a model for her community and a provider for her family.

Arul Rathi came to PEER Servants’ South Asian microfinance partner with the idea of raising livestock. Her doctor had advised her that her previous work as a tailor was having a negative impact on her health, so she needed to find another line of work since she was the sole income provider for her family. The microfinance institution was impressed with her potential. Through a sister organization, they provided extensive training in poultry raising. They also provided an initial loan of about US $135. Now Arul Rathi was equipped to start her business, which she did in 2008. Tragedy struck soon in the form of a cyclone that killed 30 of her chickens, but through timely purchases of animals and feed and two more loans from the microfinance institution, she now not only raises chickens, but has a full small stable of goats and cows worth almost US $1,000. She sells chickens, eggs, and compost to people in her community. She can now provide employment for other family members.

Arul Rathi is continuing to look for ways to improve and expand her business. She plans to buy a freezer so that she can package chicken parts in small 1-pound packets and then sell them directly to her growing client base. Her cow is pregnant, so soon she expects to be able to add milk to the list of products she markets. She now works through a couple of agents to distribute her products into the community, thereby complementing her own retail efforts.

The success of her business has allowed Arul Rathi to provide for her children and to ensure that they all receive a good education. Her income now exceeds $250 in some months – pretty impressive for a man or woman in her part of her country. It is sufficient to allow her to save a little each month to help address the many challenges she faces in her life. It has also provided her with something money cannot buy – self confidence and will power to be able to overcome any further obstacles she may face. Others around have taken note of her success, and she has been able to give them advice to help their businesses as well. She also has taken on the role of Secretary of the Women’s Development Society, through which she has worked to empower women and train them in tailoring. And she hopes her success will breed success; as her oldest son gains more education, she hopes that he will help her to grow the business into an even bigger model for the community.

We regret to inform you that, due to events beyond our control, the online voting has been corrupted and will not be factored into the 2010 Lydia Award voting. We thank God for the amazing stories of these micro-entrepreneurs and thank you for your interest in them and the vote you may have cast. We hope you have enjoyed reading their stories of transformation.