The British High Commission Small Grant program, with little or no fanfare, continues weekly to give some gift of much needed equipment to small outfits around the country of Belize, free of charge, without solicitation as far as we can tell; that often speeds up the development or service aspects to small communities.
Another sleeper in the Community Development field in Belize is the BEST program. BEST stands for Belize Enterprise for Sustained Technology, with funds provided by the Inter American Development Bank through the Swedish Trust Account.
Recently, this April, 1999, nine women from La Democracia in the District of Belize ( there are six districts in the nation ), received loans from this Community Financing Service Program. In a process of self help, BEST'S deputy managing director, Michelle Lindo finally authorized the loans to these women. The money is to be used for small women owned busnesses at the small scale village level.
Camille McFadzen, gets to start her bread and bun and panades shop. Irma Ramos, a grocery shop. Aretha Wiltshire starts a clothing shop. Radiance Ramos a grocery shop. Beulah Smith an entertainment center. Stephanie Reyes a chicken rearing business. Cecilia Estrada starts a jewelry shop. Marie August a bookstore and ice cream shop. Marilyn Young also goes into the chicken rearing business.
Before these village women could qualify for the loans in this program, they had to take a course in small business management and produce their own feasibility study for the businesses they envisioned.
The name of this type of financing for women self help, is called Community Banking and started originally in the Cayo District of Belize. Women who are single, or single mothers have a tough time and women in general do not qualify for venture capital on such small scales. Yet, the impact on their families and their communities is very real. These loans are without collateral. I well remember trying to get a $700 Bz loan from the Holy Redeemer Credit Union for my first fishing boat diesel engine and was refused. It cost me nearly 4 years of saving to finally get it, while raising a small young family. But once that first hurdle was passed, the cost efficiencies of that first 7 hp, one cylinder diesel, started the ball rolling for the success of the rest of my life. Three years later, I was startled and shocked when the Royal Bank of Canada gave me an overdraft of $6000 Bz to carry me through my dead Fall offseason for my pioneering tourist venture. I had never seen, or been responsible for so much money in my life, at that time. And tourism was still a dirty word among the port town Belize City intellectuals. They scoffed at the idea, that tourists would come to Belize for the nature.
These nine women in La Democracia call themselves the "Kreole Gal Entrapranars". I wish them the best of luck. They have had to form this association together and the loans are funnelled by BEST through the Association "Creole Gal Entrapranars" to the individuals. They have to pay on their loans to the Association on a weekly basis. The Association then makes the joint payment back to BEST. These are small loans expected to take about four months to pay. If they succeed on their repayment schedule, they then will qualify for expansion and larger loans. A wonderful program indeed, for women entrepreneurs without collateral. Congratulations to BEST, one of the best Community Development Programs in Belize.