By World Neighbors
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Mon. Dec. 19, 2022: The Association of Olopenses Women, (AMO), was founded in 2000 in Olopa, in Guatemala’s Chiquimula Department, near the border with Honduras. Remote regions like Olopa are among the poorest in the country, with few opportunities for women to break the cycle of poverty. It is poverty in Olopa and other areas in Guatemala that is the main “push factor” driving migration to Mexico, the US and other countries.
This is especially true in coffee growing region such as Olopa. Coffee prices fluctuate, often making it difficult to turn a profit and even more difficult to plan. The effects of climate change, including drought, have made coffee farming even more precarious for members of the AMO and others.
What makes the AMO special is its model. The organization operates in many ways like a cooperative, with decisions made collectively and all voices heard. While the AMO receives training and other support from international development organization World Neighbors, it is managed by the women themselves. Members determine projects, including training for small businesses and innovations to increase output and profits from diversified produce and livestock.
An example of a small business is the production and sale of rope bags. Women in Olopa have traditionally made rope bags for their families’ use. Through the AMO, with assistance from World Neighbors, they have developed and incorporated different designs for their bags. With training in basic financial and marketing techniques, rope bag production has been successfully commercialized. Women sell their bags in Olopa and surrounding villages. The bag business is producing significant income for a large number of women. Members are even exploring export opportunities and what would be required to achieve that goal.
In addition to starting the rope bag and other small businesses, AMO members have diversified their crops beyond coffee. Women farmers now cultivate avocados, oranges, mangoes and other fruits and vegetables. This varied produce provides healthy food for families, while surplus is sold in local markets.
At the core of the AMO’s success is its savings and credit group. AMO members contribute a small part of their profit each month. The group in turn makes loans to women at very low interest. Capital is used to start businesses, invest in agricultural innovations to improve productivity or even purchase additional land to expand farm output. Increased profits and, with them, increased monthly contributions have allowed the AMO savings and credit groups to amass significant capital. Some form of capital accumulation is the key to sustainable development.
The Association of Olopenses Women has grown beyond its initial base in Olopa. It now works in 37 communities, and has about 700 members, 400 of whom are active. All but 15 are women.
There is no fast and easy means of empowering women and ending systemic poverty in places like rural Guatemala. Real solutions, such as building an organization like the AMO, require time to build trust and relationships. But the women of the AMO prove it can be done. It is the only real path to enable Guatemalans to remain in their communities to build better lives for themselves and their families.