Marlenia Urbina

Monte de los Olivos is a difficult place to get to. It’s a small town composed of 24 houses and a community center. The town is located about three miles from the closest paved road. To get there you have to park in Villa Soleada and walk on a dirt road lined by a palm tree farm. After a 10-minute walk through the shady grove, you can find the town of Monte de los Olivos.

Until she moved to Monte, Marlenia Urbina, 42, never lived in what she considers a safe or stable community. Her life is marked by instability and friction with her parents. Two years ago, Marlenia settled down on the small plot of land that is now Monte de los Olivos.

The move to Monte came about after a long struggle. Before living in Monte, Marlenia lived in a community by a riverbank. The land was not hers and the government seized the property where she lived. Marlenia, her husband and her four daughters, were forced to move but had nowhere to go. So, Marlenia and a group of over 30 families went straight to the Mayor’s office. They organized sit-ins and protested in the streets until finally, the Mayor granted the group a few acres of land behind the existing town of Villa Soleada.

In January of 2012 La Ceiba held an interest meeting with all the families in Monte. Marlenia describes her initial reaction to La Ceiba’s loans as that of “disbelief.” “The interests are so low! I couldn’t believe that there was no collateral. We thought it was part of a plan to take our land.” Marlenia tentatively accepted her first loan of L500 ($25).

Marlenia owns and operates her own pulperia, or convenience store, out of her home. The pulperia provides Marlenia with consistent income. It is one of only two pulperias in town. Marlenia depends on her pulperia to pay for the water bill, her daughters school expenses, unexpected expenses like sickness costs, any debts she may have, and whatever is left over Marlenia invests in her home and her pulperia.

Marlenia says that her loans with La Ceiba were initially unsuccessful. She used her loan to help a family member but the family member never paid her back. Marlenia was afraid La Ceiba would not work with her anymore. Eventually, through income from her pulperia and support from her husband, she was able to pay her loan. Marlenia worked her way towards a larger loan of L750 ($37.50). This time Marlenia decided to invest exclusively in her pulperia. Marlenia bought several products to sell including 18 “ristros.” Each ristro has 12 bags of chips. Marlenia sells each bag of chips for L5 (25¢). As a result, Marlenia says that her sales have steadily increased.

In addition to her pulperia, Marlenia is the head of a group of entrepreneurial women in Monte. Together, they develop business ideas and execute them. Their activities include the production of artisanal crafts and hair products. They also work together to find new markets outside of Monte, specifically in the city of El Progreso.

Marlenia says she learned a lot from La Ceiba’s financial literacy class. One of the concepts the class covered was that of savings. Marlenia learned how to organize her finances and save towards a specific project or item. Marlenia is currently saving her money to invest in one of her group’s business ideas.

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