Tina Petelo

I was born in and spent about my half my life on the island of Tonga, a small developing country located in the Pacific. Like most developing countries, there are huge discrepancies between the upper class and the lower class. I lived on the main island, Tongatapu, which was more industrialized and considered “rich” while the other minor islands were rural and tended to be poor. As a little girl not only did I grow up on the main island I also grew up with privilege--privilege that stemmed from my father’s job as a government official, privilege that came with his more than modest income, privilege that came with being born into that family. Privilege that I did nothing to earn.

My mother on the other hand wasn’t as “lucky” and didn’t have the privileges that I have grown up with. Her mother, my grandma, like these ladies that we are raising money for tonight, supported her family through a business where she sold the baskets and mats that she painstakingly made. And I’m not just talking about small mats, I’m talking about huge classroom size mats made from the bark of mulberry trees through a lengthy process in which the bark had to be soaked, beaten and dried before it could be hand painted with intricate Tongan tribal designs. Even the ink or dye used to paint the mats is hand made by squeezing the juice from the koka bark. It takes a lot of skill and patience to produce even one of these mats. My grandma made and sold whatever she could to support her family, with rough calloused hands as proof of her hard work. Although, at times my grandma struggled to make ends meet she was determined to provide her family the best life that she could provide.

The women in Guatemala that we are raising money for are no different. They want an opportunity to provide a better life for their children and family. I feel lucky to have the privilege to provide these women that opportunity.

Namaste Direct gives women in Guatemala a chance to start or expand their business through microloans. They also provide these women with a business education which allows them to manage and maintain their business’s finances essentially helping them to become self-sufficient. Providing financial education is crucial in empowering them to run successful businesses, giving them a better fight against poverty. Many of you may be familiar with the Peace Corps motto: “Give a man a fish you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime;” Well, in the world of microfinance, we modify that motto slightly: Give a woman a fish, you feed her and her family for a day; teach a woman to fish, you feed her and her family for a lifetime; give a woman a microloan, she opens a seafood stand and benefits her whole community.”

Come to think of it, my grandma would have made a wonderful candidate for the microloan program. Thankfully, she had the resources to jump start her own business; however, some people do not have these resources in their family or community, which is where Namaste Direct comes in. Without my grandma’s business she would not have been able to support my mother and her siblings through their education. Without my mother’s education she would not have been able to land her job as a tele-communicator and meet my dad. And, as you can guess, I would not have been born if they never met. Think of all the kids who might exist or the endless opportunities that might exist for these kids if we empower these women to support their families.

Who knows, maybe somewhere out there in Guatemala there might be a little girl or boy who could be the next leader of their country or the next Nobel prize winner; however, without resources or opportunities it’s just not likely to happen. Namaste Direct and your donations are allowing these women in Guatemala and their families to step into our world, to bask in the endless possibilities our world provides, and finally, to let them experience not just the lucky privilege so many of us have been born with but a sense of truly hard-earned privilege everyone deserves the opportunity to have.