|Women from the microenterprise Nueva Luz y Vida prepare plantain chips in Berlin, Honduras.|
After my experience on the Study Tour, I spent a few more days visiting projects in Honduras with Jose Alfredo Coto, the national project coordinator for Heifer Honduras. On my last day in the country, Jose Alfredo drove us up a dirt road that twisted up and around a mountain in the Department of Copan. After more than an hour of driving, we arrived in the community of Berlin, which rests on the top of the mountain.
The two of us joined six of the 12 women who make up the Nueva Luz y Vida (New Light and Life) microenterprise in a small building divided into two rooms. The group makes tajadas de platano, or plantain chips, and sells them in the communities on the mountainside as a part of the Heifer project "Strengthening Rural Microenterprises in Honduras."
As soon as we sat down to have a conversation the women became animated, making it clear that the group is closely knit as the small room quickly filled with laughter.
"It's better to work in a group," said new member Maria Ester Robles with her daughter, Daniela, clinging to her side. "It's more fun and worth (the effort)." The rest of the Nueva Luz members agreed that working as a group not only made sense economically but was personally rewarding as well.
Nueva Luz y Vida formed about five years ago to find a way to supplement their families' incomes and improve their livelihoods. The group originally though about focusing their microenterprise on pastries and bread, they quickly realized that those kinds of businesses are expensive to begin.
The members eventually decided to make plantain chips because the start-up costs are cheaper and nine of the members had plantain trees. Zoila Alvarado, now the group's president, taught the rest of the group members how to make the chips. Years later, they have perfected and streamlined the process.
"We try to figure out everyone's skills (and use them)," said Zoila. "Who is good at cooking? Who is good at business?"
The cooking takes place in the back room of the small building where we sat down to chat. With each member (wo)manning her own station, the plantains are sliced and cooked in oil, then seasonings (chile limon or BBQ) and salt are added before the chips are placed in a plastic bag. (Note: They are delicious.)
As you can see in the video, space quickly becomes an issue when the women are cooking. To remedy that, a new, more spacious home for the small business has been newly constructed using Heifer funds, and the group will be moving in soon.
Heifer Honduras is also providing technical support to the microenterprise. Even though some of the women have plantain trees, the group sometimes goes through as many as 100 plantains a day, so finding enough raw material for the chips can be difficult. This is the first challenge Nueva Luz and Heifer Honduras are trying to meet, and the first step has been finding a small plot of land (one manzana, or about 1.7 acres) that the women share for growing plantains.
The second challenge is connecting to a larger market. Heifer Honduras and Nueva Luz are working together to assess the local market, and Nueva Luz members are receiving training on branding, barcodes, sanitation standards, legal registration, and organization and administration to prepare the group for reaching more communities. The microenterprise members are also hoping to eventually have access to a car or motorcycles so they will be able to market their product more efficiently.
Both challenges are significant, but so are the success and determination of the Nueva Luz members. You can help support Nueva Luz and other hard-working microenterprises in Honduras through the Honduras umbrella project match. Any gift you give will be doubled by an anonymous donor and will help thousands of families improve their nutrition and income!
Some of the members of Nueva Luz y Vida pose in their future kitchen for cooking plantain chips.