Community Empowerment Network's Blog
by Nicholas Tichy
Community development in areas such as the Brazilian Amazon does not happen overnight. There are many problems that restrict the economic growth of these communities, and they are not easily overcome. Instead, development and empowerment happens bit by bit and is measured by small victories. One such victory is the story of Magarete Lima’s bakery business.
The business began a number of years ago as a very small stand, and experienced a hiatus for a period of three years. However, it would return due to the most fundamental element for any business - demand. Residents of the community of Suruacá, a small community of 100 families, about 5 hours by boat from the nearest city, missed smelling the scent of fresh bread drift from the bakery. Since bread from the nearest city is often stale by the time it makes its infrequent journey to Suruacá, many residents kept asking about the bakery and finally Magarete reopened it.
Over the past 18 months, Djalma, Magarete’s husband, and one of the original participants in our prototype program, has helped oversee and support the development of the bakery. Together, they've built a proper brick building using Djalma's salary as a Community Health agent, as well as the income from the jewelry business CEN helped develop. Djalma used the skills and confidence that he learned in the CEN Prototype Project to help make the bakery a success. He regularly coaches Magarete with management and planning as well as planning for supplies. Djalma’s continuing role watching over the shoulders of potential entrepreneurs in the community shows the value of the soft-skills and being able to harness information.
Still, many obstacles remain. Purchasing habits in the community can be inconsistent, as income can dry up and make items such as bread an unaffordable luxury. For example, in May, the builder didn't pay wages on time and so people did not have money to pay for even their basic obligations like water and electricity service. Additionally, turning a profit with the business is quite difficult at the moment. Whatever profit is made goes toward buying fish for his family to eat since his responsibilities now limit his time for fishing for himself. As of now, the bakery is going through two sacks of wheat a month. They need to produce bread equivalent to one sack of wheat every two days, or about 7 times the volume they do now, to make much profit. However, with the limited income of the community, increased consumption can be difficult.
While there are still many obstacles to overcome, the growth of the bakery is a sign of a larger movement within the communities. CEN is involved in promoting projects such as the bakery, and other endeavors, that contribute to the overall economic activity of the community. Empowerment isn't just providing skills, or perhaps even basic infrastructure - it's also helping eliminate, or at least reduce, barriers to growth. As more money cycles through these new businesses in the community, the hope is that more wealth will remain within the community.They also serve as examples to the rest of the community, fostering an environment of empowerment and self-determination that previously did not exist. Growth will not happen overnight, but every bit is a small step forward.