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Even on the walls of the desert you can read: "Unity makes strength"

Calama is a Chilean city known as the gateway to the Atacama desert. A barren place that smells of dust, salt and heat. However, it was the destination chosen by Gladys Chacana to rebuild her inner strength. At 73, this woman has something she would never even dared to dream of: a support network that makes life in this place a bit less arid.

All her life she’s give loving and tender care to others, showing the kind of stoicism that distinguishes everyday heroes: people who always think about others before making a decision. For over 18 years she worked as a home care nurse, as a domestic worker and as a fish vendor in Iquique, a town famous for its mussels and beaches. Anything to help her family prosper and lead a happy life.

However, an accident forced her to stop and start working to rise up again. And just as she’d always done, she didn’t hesitate for one second: first one step, then another one… But this time, something happened. This time, someone reached out and offered help to make every step a bit easier. Fondo Esperanza (FE) a Chilean entity that belongs to BBVA Microfinance Foundation, was there to return the “care for others” that she’d always given.

“It thought that nobody (at FE) would want to meet with me because of my age. But Fondo Esperanza, gave me life, gave me hope. I was able to get the money right away and start selling snacks… I felt very supported,” says Gladys. Today, thanks to this financial help, the backing from Banco Comunal (BC) to which the Foundation belongs and her drive to get ahead, she was able to supplement her pension income, and set up a small catering service at home, where she has an oven and prepping space.

Mario Pavón (Fondo Esperanza), Gladys Chacana (entrepreneur), Jeanette Tancara (Banco Comunal) and y John Kloninger (Whole Planet Foundation) - BBVAMF

For the Chilean institution, helping the disadvantaged in the most remote regions of the country has always been a priority. That is why they have allies such as Whole Planet Foundation (WPF), a private nonprofit organization, created by Whole Foods Market, the U.S. grocery store chain, which supports, in collaboration with different microfinance institutions, communities that are related to the production of food.

“Calama is a place we’ve always wanted to be: we’ve always seen the potential in entrepreneur individuals and were convinced that our service could help them grow their businesses, build more support networks and, together, promote social development. However, the barriers to setting up an office in the area were marked by the geographic distance and the high cost of implementation; even if we are a nonprofit, we do need to ensure the institution’s sustainability to offer actual long term opportunities. And here’s were Whole Planet Foundation stepped in, which gave us the chance to collaborate through a contribution to hand out loans to Calama’s entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs that fight every day to get ahead, but which many time struggle to gain access to financing,” said Mario Pavon, General Manager of the institution.

John P. Kloninger, Regional Director, Latin America and North America, WPF travelled all the way to the fringes of the desert to learn firsthand about the reality of people like Gladys, and what the foundation’s support means to entrepreneurial spirits like hers. “This has been an incredible and very productive visit. I’ve had the chance to witness the wonderful work FE is carrying out, getting to all these places where people are unbanked and virtually lack access to any sort of credit,” said Kloninger.

There is one thing that the Glady’s BC is certain about: Unity makes strength. That’s why they’ve chosen this motto to name the group of 25 people that comprise it; because together they’ve built a support network that they can turn to on the harshest days; and the next time someone falls over, there’ll be many helping hands to help them get back on their feet.

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