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Field Update: My Trip to India, Part 4

By Mark Lutz

Opportunity's Senior Vice President of Global Philanthropy, Mark Lutz, traveled to India to meet some of our incredible clients. Over the course of two weeks, he is sharing a few of the stories of the powerful moments he experienced and inspiring people he met. Read Part 1 herePart 2 here and Part 3 here

What most intrigued me about Regina's story was her opening remark, “I always wanted my own business.” I can underestimate the sense of independence and empowerment our tiny loans deliver – especially for an ultra-poor woman in a male-dominated culture. (For more on this, see the recent Economist article about Women in India).

In Regina’s case it was making candles. Her $330 loan was enough to buy one mold and enough wax and wick to get started. With her profits, she bought 4 additional molds, quickly discovering that the larger candles were more popular and profitable.

Hers were not decorative wax ornaments or scented decorations in pretty jars like the ones around my house. They’re functional lights to illuminate a table. Though most of the homes in her community now have an electric wire connecting them to the grid, many evenings the power goes out, oftentimes for more than an hour, right about the time her children are trying to complete their homework.

Making the candles is a 3-day process, more efficiently done in large batches. The family helps her in the business. Then her son delivers the finished candles to the market where Regina sells them. In those 3 days, the family makes about $25.

Within 4 months, Regina and her group of 6 borrowers will have paid off their first 1-year loans. She intends to take out a larger one, this time to buy more molds and wax in bulk, at a lower price, enabling her to directly supply local stores and other market vendors. She already has the arrangements made, eagerly anticipating that larger volume to meet the wholesale demand.

But Regina is not waiting for that day to improve her life or the education of her children. With some of the profits from her candle business, she bought a small solar panel that rests on her tile roof, generating enough electricity to power the 5 light bulbs in her house during those unpredictable but invariable blackouts. No longer are her children’s studies interrupted for want of light.

Eight months ago, Regina and her family were among those surviving on less than $1 per day. Not anymore. And who knows what other ripple effects this small investment will create—beyond fulfilling Regina’s dream of owning a business, granting her independence and freedom, engaging her family in productive work, enabling her children to study and grow, and giving her family hope for a brighter future. On behalf of Regina and her family, thank you for your gift of light.

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