Back to Business in Belize
Women in the Belize village of Guinea Grass got another leg up from Heritage University students this winter. In January, five members of the university’s Enactus team traveled to this South American country, taking along donated power tools to help women start up additional small businesses.
This was the second trip in which a delegation of Enactus students traveled to the small town to help residents build sustainable businesses and add to their families’ earning power. The trip was one part checking on the progress of projects that were put in place last year and one part introducing a new opportunity.
In 2013 students assisted in setting up small, back-yard chicken farms for 15 low-income families, and they helped 60 women start crafts businesses based on crocheting bags and purses from cast-off plastic bags. For their return visit, the students spent two weeks working with the women, who have since organized their efforts into the Creando Un Futuro Mejor Women’s Co-op, to help strengthen their existing crafts business.
“We were all so impressed by all the work they have been doing, the improvements in the quality of their products and the expansions they have made to their product lines,” said Lupe Jimenez Rios, a senior majoring in Business Administration.
During this year’s visit, the students helped the women’s co-op find new markets in which to sell their goods. They connected the co-op with two woman-owned gift shops in nearby cities that cater to the tourist market.
“We learned that many of the products these shops are bringing in are from Guatemala where they can be purchased cheaply,” said Jimenez Rios. “The store owners really liked what we are doing and want products that are made locally. They gave the ladies some really great tips on how they can make their products more appealing to tourists.”
The students also introduced a new opportunity to start wood-working businesses. They brought with them donated sanders, drills, saws and other power tools and gave introductory classes on how to use them. They also worked with a local furniture manufacturer in Belize and secured donated scrap wood for the women to use. Jimenez Rios explained that the Heritage team’s initial vision was for the women to build and sell furniture from the scrap lumber, but the women saw another outlet.
“They really took ownership of their businesses and felt that making small decorative items for the tourist market would be a better fit for them,” she said.
Similar to last year’s visit, the team left Guinea Grass having given the people they worked with an introduction to business and the tools for them to build their own success.
“Our entire purpose was to help them get started and let them go,” said Jimenez Rios.
The Enactus team plans to stay in contact with the women in the Creando Un Futuro Mejor Women’s Co-op and provide business consultations throughout the year.