In the spirit of Lydia, PEER Servants sponsors the Annual Lydia Award. It recognizes those micro-entrepreneurs having the greatest impact in their families and communities. Read the stories of this year’s three finalists below and vote online for your favorite through 4 pm ET on Saturday, August 3, 2019. Then mark your calendars to join us that evening (Saturday, August 3, 6-8 pm ET in Room 105, Grace Chapel Adult Learning Center, 2 Militia Drive, Lexington, MA) for our Annual Lydia Award Celebration. It’s a free, fun event with cuisine from the countries of the finalists that will give you more reasons to appreciate these inspiring micro-entrepreneurs and their respective countries. The online voting represents 20% of the overall voting to determine our 2019 Lydia Award recipient, who will be announced at the end of the evening. Please vote, and send this link to your friends to encourage them to vote as well! Then join us in thanking God for the transformation in the lives of these hardworking micro-entrepreneurs and, through them, the lives of many others.
Maria grew up in the Western Highlands of Guatemala and never learned to read or write. At age 15, she moved to Guatemala City, got a job making tortillas, and married. Her life was turned upside down when her husband was tragically killed, leaving her a young widow with three young children. Maria was dedicated to providing for them and even spent some of her many working hours each day sorting through garbage in the City’s huge dump. She saved all she could and was eventually able to open her own tortilla shop. Within one week of opening her business, demand was so high, she hired two women to help her!
Maria is committed to offering the best tortillas around while treating her employees and her clients well. She uses a clay stove top for a higher quality tortilla. She has received a series of micro-loans from Vida Nueva, the microfinance arm of Potter’s House (PEER Servants’ Guatemalan partner), to enhance the work area and client area of her small shop. She has also used the micro-loans to purchase supplies in bulk, enabling her to offer an attractive wage to her employees that are now four in number. Maria saves her clients’ change throughout the year and uses it to purchase beautiful cloth tortilla napkins that she gives to her customers at Christmas!
Now, with a thriving business, Maria can send her children to school, even private school! Two are studying at the university. Imagine – a woman who cannot read or write and her children will be university graduates!
Maria is also concerned about her neighbors – in Guatemala City and back in the Western Highlands. She purchased a truck to transport tortillas to the market, but she also uses it to help neighbors in need. She purchased some land in her hometown and has donated part of it to an organization to build a much-needed health center and library on it.
Maria could have used virtually every excuse to give up on life. Instead, she has allowed God to transform her life and, through her, the lives of many others to live with sufficiency and dignity.
Sri Lanka’s civil war forced more than a million people to leave their homes and livelihoods. Rajinika and her family were among those who lost virtually everything.
In response, the Sri Lankan government provided trainings for women to make handcrafts. Rajanika enrolled in a 10-day course on how to make handbags. By the third day, she was able to stitch and sell five handbags per day.
With the help of PEER Servants’ microfinance partner, HEED, Rajinika was able to qualify for a series of micro-loans to buy her own sewing machine and to purchase materials in bulk to cut down on the cost. She also received HEED training in accounting. As her business grew, she purchased another sewing machine and employed four women, two of them young and yet the primary breadwinners in their families given the impact of the war. Rajinika became well known for her beautiful work, so much so that the Sri Lankan government hired her as a trainer for several courses. She received the Presidential Award for Handcrafts in 2018.
Rajinika and her team now make 600 handbags, 400 purses, and 25 shoulder bags every month and sell them in high-end shops. She has about 1,000 customers and her profits have soared from $10-$20/month to $250-$300/month. Now Rajinika can send her children to school. Her eldest son is very bright and hopes to study IT at the university level and get a very good job in the future.
Rajinika is also a role model for others. She has trained about 40 women, and 20 of them now have their own businesses. In addition, she has taught her skills to women in the villages and even provides school fees for poor village children. She plans to establish a training center for women to learn her trade. The training center would provide employment for ten women and train classes of 50 young people. Rajinika’s dream is that some of these students, with financial help and business training from HEED, will also become entrepreneurs and be able to provide for their families. She is empowering and bringing hope for a brighter future to many others.
Life in Uganda has not been easy for Setty Agamile. Orphaned while still young, his guardian was not able to pay for school fees. So Setty dropped out of school and began working to support himself. He worked in a friend’s field for six months to save less than $100 and used it to open a retail business selling household goods. To make ends meet, Setty had to take his goods from place to place during the day, then use his home as a base to sell in the evenings, using a flashlight to light his selling area.
In 2013, Setty heard that he could grow his business by getting a micro-loan from CAFECC, PEER Servants’ partner in Uganda. After attending all of CAFECC’s training, he took out his first loan for less than $100 to expand his inventory of products and to rent a small permanent space for his shop.
Soon Setty’s business grew, and he added a second shop very near the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), even though it meant moving his products by bicycle over 12 miles between the sites.
Over the years, Setty’s business has steadily grown. CAFECC has walked with Setty each step of the way and made eight larger micro-loans to the aspiring entrepreneur. He is currently repaying a micro-loan of almost $1,000. Now Setty has four employees, has quadrupled his customers, and increased his earnings fivefold. He has purchased land, constructed a building, and is renting out space in it to others. He has diversified his business by adding cosmetics and mobile phones to the products he offers, and by adding a pool table and video stall at one of his locations.
The changes in Setty’s life do not end with his business. Now Setty’s family is well fed. He can afford the education for his children that he was never able to get. Setty is building a new house for them, and for the livestock he has acquired. He is a leader at his church and very well-respected in the community and among other CAFECC clients. And he has a special desire to help the extremely materially poor and encourage others to do so, because when he sees them, he reflects back on his young life as an orphaned boy in Uganda.