Training Helps Guatemalan LGBTQI+ Couple Expand Their Business

Marisol and Elena seated at a table in front of their store.

Marisol and Elena used a microenterprise training supported by PADF to expand their business, seen here.

On the streets of the Alioto settlement in Villanueva, a dense municipality in Guatemala, Marisol and Elena work, day in and day out, at the two businesses they co-own. Back in 2018, the couple had a dream to improve their living conditions and economic outlook and received microenterprise training from OTRANS-RN, an organization dedicated to defending the rights of trans individuals and the LGBTQI+ community.

Due to a lack of opportunities and after having been scammed, the couple had left Guatemala and started a business in nearby Honduras. Unfortunately, their business ultimately failed, and they had little choice but to return to Guatemala empty-handed. Marisol pursued an interest in performance and studied theater, which led her to work as a clown to liven up parties. Elena dedicated herself to playing in soccer tournaments, participating to gain any possible income.

Through social media around 2017 and 2018 they learned of training opportunities on technical skills that OTRANS-RN offered through the training institute INTECAP specifically for LGBQTI+ persons, with support from the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF). The opportunity came at the right time for Marisol and Elena, who weren’t making enough with their meager earnings. They enrolled in courses aligned with their interests: Marisol in a course on piñata-making and Elena on how to use Microsoft Excel.

On November 24, 2018, at the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce, Marisol finished her course and gave the closing speech of the training program. Upon completing the program, the couple decided to expand the small diner they had been running since earlier that year and started selling piñatas as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented both challenges and opportunities for Elena and Marisol. They managed to coordinate with the local police department, selling food to the officers. Through this connection they obtained the required authorization to adapt their business to the COVID-19 context and began delivering food to clients. Despite their relationship with the local officials, they continued to face stigma. Some neighbors looked down on them for their sexual orientation and claimed that purchasing from the couple would spread homosexuality.

The director of OTRANS-RN, Stacy Velásquez, recognized their hard work and potential. When the organization started a second phase of microenterprise training, Elena and Marisol were near at the top of the list. Elena and Marisol joined the training and took part in both virtual and in-person activities, allowing them to attend to their business while remaining engaged in the program. Apart from being a couple, Elena and Marisol demonstrated their ability to be great business partners. Both contribute, with one preparing food and cooking, while the other distributes the food and makes piñatas. Through the support provided by PADF and OTRANS-RN, they added improved refrigerators, increased the quality of their kitchen and pastry utensils, improved their advertisements and display cases, and diversified their goods by adding birthday cards and candy.

Elena and Marisol are not the only small business owners in the Alioto neighborhood but, while the competition can be tough, they are optimistic about the future. More than the training and resources, Elena and Marisol are grateful that PADF and OTRANS-RN believed in their dreams, and that they can be happy without having to hide their true selves.

Published on February 28, 2022.

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