By William Ysaguirre, Freelance Reporter
Some 240 women have received funding to start their own small businesses, through small grants totaling US$340,000 ($790,000) provided under the BA-1 project, “Prevention of Violence against women in Central America”. This was funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Central American Integration System (SICA).
The Women’s Department, within the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, collaborated with the Belize Trade and Investment Development Service (BELTRAIDE) to train 319 women from six clusters: Caye Caulker, Southside Belize City, Bella Vista – which included Stann Creek and Toledo districts, Cayo district, Patchakan – including women of the Corozal and Orange Walk districts, and a Belize River Valley group. Each cluster of women were trained in how develop their business concept and manage the finances of a small businesses in a three-week course at the Belize Training and Employment Centre (BTEC) and at the Small Business Development Centre (SBDCBelize) at the ITVET compound in Belize City last year.
Of these, 240 women qualified to receive seed capital grants to start their own businesses. Many of them had been victims of domestic violence, and now sought the means to support their families, without having to tolerate an abusive spouse.
Ministry of Human Development, Anthony “Boots” Martinez joined IOM representative Marcelo Pisani and SICA Projects Coordinator Jose David Cornejo Sanchez in symbolically presenting a $790,000 cheque to the women, in a ceremony, under the theme “Opportunities, Risks, and Victories: Women carving their own images on Belize’s canvas”, at the Radisson Fort George Hotel on Friday afternoon, March 4.
Minister Martinez applauded the women who succeeded in receiving grants, saying his very presence indicated the high level of significance which his ministry has assigned to the project. He noted it is not normal for the Ministry of Economic Development to work together with the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Alleviation, but he hoped it would not be the last time, and that the two ministries would continue to work together for sustainable, social development.
IOM’s Regional Director for Central America, the Caribbean and North America Marcelo Pisani, affirmed that, “A life free of violence is a human right, but the lack of employment and sustainable income often forces women to a subordinate level, and to tolerate domestic violence.” He said it is an “ethical imperative of the 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, that no one is left behind”. He said he was happy that Belize was joining this regional initiative, which is affecting some 4,000 women with seed capital for a variety of business – in food processing, organic farming and handicrafts, to name but a few. He noted that there is no magic formula for the social empowerment of women who have been victims of violence, even though last year was celebrated as International Women’s Year, on the theme: “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity.
Project beneficiary Elsa Garcia of Santa Elena, Cayo, has been an independent businesswoman for the past 12 years as a small vegetable and fruit vendor, but she now thanked the BA-1 project for now giving her the skills to expand her product line to include basic basket weaving, and also for the training in who to better manage her business finances.
Bertha Cob and Wendy Perez, of the “Mujeres Bonitas” group of 13 women from San Pedro Village, Corozal, also presented samples of their embroidery, which they received equipment and training under the project. They now do hand-made gift items, custom sewing and alterations.
More of the project participants exhibited the wares of their new businesses at a mini-fair. These included Odiola Nah, who has now started her business: “Odiola’s Chicken Products and Meats”. This writer sampled her chicken relleno, which is to die for! Neri Wade now operates her “Spa Mystique” at 36 Regent Street in Belize City, where customers can get her special green grape and honey facials, and with micro-derm abrasion; cell: 605-6746 for appointments. Others included Anselma Garcia who operates her home business for decorative gift items: “Elegant Designs by Selma”. She does most of her marketing through social media and by word of mouth. Dianira Enriquez offers jewelry from Lionfish Souvenirs and Adventures, EV’s Fashions also produces jewelry from Belizean materials.