When she was a girl, every day before school, Violeta Aponte from Peru helped her mother with household chores, mainly by caring for their animals in the yard. In those long hours, Violeta never suspected that her life would change completely.
Violeta, like her five brothers, studied until the fifth grade, but her parents could not afford to educate them beyond that point. Violeta explains: "I was a smart student at school, I got good grades, but at that time our parents did not give us more studies.” The family struggled to get by, which meant each family member needed to contribute as soon as they could.
The family lived in the middle of a dry forest, an ecosystem rich in resources, but with limited opportunities and poverty. Livestock and seasonal agriculture were the main ways of earning an income. Violeta’s father was the main decision maker in the house and the pessimism surrounding their poverty was dragging them all down.
When Violeta became pregnant and her son was born, she cared for him alone. History repeated itself with her second pregnancy and she struggled to make ends meet as a single mother to two young boys. Violeta lived with her parents, a sister and her two children. However, the turning point came when her father died. Violeta had no choice but to be strong. She had to become the breadwinner for her family and inspired them not to give up.
Fast forward several years and Violeta, now 52, is the President of the ‘Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Monte Azul’ which produces carob and honey. She also has one son working in a financial company in the district of La Matanza and another son studying for a technical career.
Not only did Violeta inspire her family, she also inspired all the women in her association, as well as their families. She encouraged them to improve on the traditional business of the production and sale of carob and honey, a popular industry locally. In addition the women make algarrobina, a sweet syrup, similar to chocolate, which derives from the carob tree.
The women entrepreneurs in Violeta’s Association all received business training as part of CARE’s Women in Enterprise Programme, funded by H&M Foundation. They also later received seed funding through the project. Having previously produced their goods in an old unsuitable house, they were able to use the funding to build a new production and storage centre with industrial steel surfaces.
"The community has advanced a lot," says Violeta, but the basic services of water, electricity, sewerage, telephone signal, street lighting and a road that goes directly to the village are still lacking. Violeta dreams of seeing a truck full of jars of carob and honey dispatched in different parts of her region of Piura and throughout Peru.
The Association’s products: "La negrita de Oro" and "La Gotita de Oro" are sold to the local and regional market, through the District Municipality of La Matanza, at fairs, and at the "Pirúa" Store - the first Business Consortium of Women, of which they are part. Their products are becoming more famous and they have won a distinguished award for their algarrobina, which is an energizing and natural tonic source for the prevention of anemia in children.
The women entrepreneurs still face many challenges, including climate change, which is affecting their harvests and limiting the production of carob and the presence bees in the area, but Violeta is determined to keep improving their production centre and business output.
By 2020 CARE Peru will have reached 3,000 women entrepreneurs and their families, like Violeta, in the Piura region, supporting Peruvian women to become economically empowered, enabling them to support and inspire those around them.