How can we change the lives of the 500 million women living below the poverty line in rural areas? At Social Entrepreneur Corps (SE Corps), and our sister organization, Community Enterprise Solutions (CE Solutions), we believe that empowerment-focused social work can make a difference. And these five female entrepreneurs throughout Latin America prove that by empowering women to become community leaders, entrepreneurs, and educators, we can not only change the lives of women living below the poverty line, but also, the lives of their families and communities.

Today is the International Day of Rural Women. And we want to spotlight five of the inspiring and passionate entrepreneurs that we have the opportunity of working with in Latin America. Each of these five women have empowered their families and inspired their communities through their commitment to global change. And they are living proof that rural women can, and will, change the world.

Yolanda poses with a group of SE Corps interns in the summer of 2014. Photo by Camilo Maldonado.

Yolanda Fray, Bayushig, Ecuador:
Yolanda has been working with Soluciones Comunitarias (SolCom), our sister organization in Latin America, since 2013. She is from the rural community of Bayushig, which is nestled under the Tungurahua Volcano in northern Ecuador. Since starting her work with SolCom in 2013, Yolanda has been working in other under-served and rural communities throughout the north, coordinating village access campaigns and helping to create access to things like reading glasses, water filters, and improved seeds.

Yolanda and her family live mostly off of what they grow and cultivate at their house: vegetables, fruit, milk, and cheese. And each Saturday, Yolanda travels into the city of Riobamba to sell eggs, apples, and pears while she sits on a small wooden box to the side of the market. Her family is often concerned about their land, because when the Tungurahua erupts, the ashes burn their crops and endanger their livestock, putting the family’s finances at risk. Since joining the SolCom Team, Yolanda has had the opportunity to improve her networking and communication skills, and she is able to diversify her household income with the additional money that she brings home.

Field Consultant, Camilo Maldonado, says that “Yolanda has an enormous heart full of love and apples,” speaking to Yolanda’s loving nature and deep love of her homegrown apples. Since she has started her entrepreneurial work with SolCom, we have had the privilege of watching her grow into a more confident leader in the community. And we cannot wait to see what she continues to accomplish as an entrepreneur, community leader, mother, and change leader.

Elizabeth poses behind a table with SolCom solar products. Photo by Olivia Zeydler.

Elizabeth Attilus, Ouanminthe, Haiti:
Elizabeth joined the SolKomYo (our regional partner in Haiti) team in 2012. Before she started, she was working for an organization that supported women artisans. When the CE Solutions team from the United States came to visit Haiti, they met Elizabeth and she started to sell lamps and eyeglasses for the organization. She sold the lamps for one year as a community entrepreneur before Haiti Country Director, Madalina Bouros, asked if she would be interested in joining the SolKomYo team as a regional coordinator.

Eliabeth’s role within SolKomYo is to work with the community entrepreneurs in Ouanminthe, sell SolKomYo products in the store in Ouanaminthe, and participate in other activities, including selling in local markets, visiting schools, and helping out in the office with whatever is needed. Her favorite part of the work is her chance to work with the community because she loves interacting with people. When asked how the work with SolKomYo has impacted her life, Elizabeth replied: “Travay mwen avek SolKomYo ede mwen pou konstwi kay m’ e pou ba petit moun mwen un opòtinite pou etidye.” (Translated from Creole: The work with Solisyon Kominote Yo has allowed me to build my own house and to pay for my children’s education.)

Creating economic opportunities for women in rural areas also empowers families as whole. Since women are more likely to invest their earnings back into their families, through children’s education, for example, the whole family benefits when women earn money. Elizabeth is a great example of the power that rural women have to overcome obstacles and inspire global change.

Luz stands with a group of girls, preparing to give a presentation about SolCom water filters and the importance of clean water at a local school. Photo by Kaylynn Palaio.

Luzcleidy Tito, Batey Santa Maria, Dominican Republic:
Luzcleidy, or Luz, is a Community Advisor with SolCom in the Dominican Republic. She is from southern Batey, and has worked with us for over a year. She began as a traditional Community Advisor, promoting life-changing products and solutions and facilitated two vision campaigns in her home town. Seeing her potential, SolCom decided to begin training Luz a School Water Filter Specialist, promoting high-capacity filters at local schools.

Luzcleidy was already a leader when she joined the team in the Dominican Republic, volunteering with World Vision & a local activist with, as well as on the former Peace Corps initiative, Declaro Mis Derechos. Both movements promote human rights education and fight against discrimination that is all too commonly aimed towards Dominicans of Haitian descent. Luz is an amazing role model, especially for young women in her community, and her work with SolCom and other organizations in the community has inspired and empowered many people around her.

Fran talks to a client at a village access campaign in Leon, Nicaragua. Photo by Alyssa Hopun.

Fran Tercero, Telica, Nicaragua:
Fran is Nicaragua’s longest-running Asesora Comunitaria (or, Community Advisor), having worked with us in the region of León for over three years! She is a mother of two school-age children and lives with them and her husband in a small community outside the municipality of Telica. During the day she takes care of the children, but also tends a SolCom Fixed Sales Point out of her home, doing eye exams and explaining solar lamps as people pass by. She is grateful for the opportunity SolCom has given her to be a resource to her community and to her family!

For mothers with young children, working as an entrepreneur with SolCom provides a unique and flexible work schedule that accommodates their needs. Fran is able to work from home, taking care of her children, while also adding to the household income. She is passionate about her work with SolCom, and works hard to empower community members with access to needed public health technologies.

Juana smiles with her two children, Elmer and Giovanni. Photo by Ines Mazas.

Juana smiles with her two children, Elmer and Giovanni. Photo by Ines Mazas.

Juana Xoch, El Triunfo, Guatemala:
Juana was born in a remote community in the South Western highlands of Guatemala, and after her father was killed during the civil war, she struggled to survive. Illiterate and without access to educational resources, she had no choice but to start working at the age of 8 years old, a fate many of her community members also shared.

But thanks to her perseverance and to a couple of people who saw in her how capable she was, she earned the unexpected opportunity to launch Soluciones Comunitarias in the region of Sololá, Guatemala. And since then, she has been empowered to change her life, and the lives of those around her.

“I feel so much more confident about myself today. Through my work at SolCom, I have learned how to write and speak Spanish, how to speak in public, overcoming my timidity, and even how to use a computer! How could I have imagined this before? When I was young, I couldn’t predict if I was going to have enough to eat the following day, and I felt so vulnerable. Today, I feel that I have the liberty and the ability to do something good in the future, not only for me but for my family and for the members of my community.”

To pay it forward, Juana started a weaving cooperative, generating income and bringing a better life to 15 families in her community. “Together, we are moving upward as a community and will offer to our children a better future.”

All five of these women – Yolanda, Elizabeth, Luz, Fran, and Juana – are beautiful and inspirational examples of how rural women have the power to change the world. We have watched them change their lives, the lives of their family members, and the well-being of their communities. Happy International Day of Rural Women! We hope that you will join us in celebrating all of the passionate, dedicated, and inspiring rural women who are changing the world – one community at a time.

**This blog was compiled and written by Sarah Webb, with contributions from the following team members: Ines Mazas, Olivia Zeydler, Kaylynn Palaio, Alyssa Hopurn, and Camilo Maldonado.