Posted By: John P. Howe, III, M.D. on September 20, 2010

Labels: Honduras , Women’s and Children’s Health

At the top of one of Tegucigalpa's seemingly countless hills, I met some of the most extraordinary and inspiring women. These exceptional women came from very humble circumstances and have built small businesses through their participation in Project HOPE's Village Health Banks micro-lending program.

I had the pleasure of meeting nearly 20 of these women to hear their inspirational stories. A woman named Pradith told me she was one of the original HOPE Village Health Bank members when the program started in Honduras 17 years ago. With her micro-loan, Pradith grew her business from selling fruit and candy on the street to now operating two small buffet-style restaurants and a fried chicken stand.

Two other women I met with shared something in common - both had had their lives changed because of a generous donation to support the Village Health Banks program from HOPE supporters Joe and Teresa Long. The first woman, Mirian, told me how she was able to save the money she made by selling clothes to pay for critical laboratory tests and an MRI scan for her daughter who suffers from epilepsy. Mirian had sought loans from other institutions to fund her business, but had always been turned down because she lived in a high-crime neighborhood. Through HOPE's Village Health Banks, Mirian found an organization that believed in her and gave her the confidence she needed, not to mention a low-interest loan - to help her fulfill her dream.

I then heard the incredible story of Yolanda - another beneficiary of the Long's generosity. Yolanda spends her entire day each Wednesday making tamales. Then beginning at 6 a.m. through 9 p.m. on Thursday, she sells her tamales to federal workers at the congressional offices in Tegucigalpa. Yolanda has five children. The loan she received helped her get her business off the ground. Now, with a gleam in her eye, she told me she can pay her bills and buy the food and medicines her children need to lead healthy lives.

Following my conversations with these exceptional women, I witnessed their dedication to the health of their community at a health fair they organized. More than 200 women and children in the El Carrizal community received eye exams and eyeglasses, breast and cervical cancer screenings, diabetes screenings and blood pressure checks.

The day ended at the HOPE office in Tegucigalpa where Pfizer Fellow Eduardo Heidelberg presented his recommendations on taking the Village Health Banks in Honduras to the next level. HOPE programs around the world have benefited from the knowledge and expertise of Pfizer employees who have graciously lent their talents to enhance the organization. Eduardo's keen insight and first-hand observations will contribute to the success of our Village Health Banks program for years to come.

Over the past 17 years, HOPE's micro-lending program has invested more than $40 million to help improve the lives of more than 24,000 women and their families. If only you could have seen the faces of the women and their families that I saw today. You would agree that this investment is paying dividends in healthier lives and stronger families. Not a bad investment.

Check back for more tomorrow.


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