I was raised in an area called Villa El Salvador, outside of Lima, Peru, in a land that had been nothing but desert less than half-a-century ago. People like my parents, from rural Peru and from neighboring countries, had built their homes out of whatever materials they could find. It’s a harsh, poor, working class environment that I’ve seen grow to over 400,000 people in my lifetime.
Though gender discrimination existed outside of our home, my own family never limited how big I could dream. When I was seventeen and had just graduated from school, my father brought home a flyer advertising a training program for local teens in the field of welding. The idea of a girl like me taking up any trade, much less a dangerous one such as welding, was unheard of in my country, but with my family’s support I decided to prove to myself and to others that I could do it. The program helped me apprentice with a local welding business where I made metal doors, window frames, model airplanes and toy cars, and I was later offered a job welding and repairing jet engines on real airplanes with the Peruvian Air Force.
I loved the work itself, but I began to realize that I wanted to be my own boss. Using the money I had saved by working, I bought welding equipment and started my own business making doorframes, something people in my area really needed. Despite the joy I found working for myself, I knew I had to expand my business to reach more people if I wanted to do more than just get by financially. With some research, I recognized an untapped need in my community for safe, affordable metal scaffolding for construction sites, and I developed a plan to expand my business.
I approached local banks with my business plan, but they said I was too young and had no collateral. They told me they wouldn’t consider lending money to a girl who “thought” she was a welder. This made me sad and angry, but I continued knocking on bank doors with optimism until every traditional bank had rejected my loan application. It was then that I learned about the microfinance bank, Edificar, a program of CARE, which focused on giving women loans and business skills training to help them realize their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs. I presented my business plan and was trusted with a $10,000 loan, because they believed in my business’s opportunity for growth.
When I first started approaching potential construction clients, many did not take me seriously as a businesswoman. To prove my expertise to each client, I would return to the construction sites with samples of my scaffolding; when people saw that my product was superior to anything being used, they started placing orders and my company became in demand. From the beginning, we offered our products and services at a fair price to people in our district, and in turn I feel we earned the appreciation and respect of our clients.
Within that first year, I was able to pay back my loan. This was one of my proudest moments, because that meant my business was becoming successful and that I really did have the right vision. Paying back the loan was just a beginning to my pursuing other dreams.
I began focusing on another need in my community—building tent structures and dancing floors for events like weddings. We even provided decorations and our own DJ! With this new endeavor, we were able to hire more employees and our sales significantly increased. Today the company has 13 full time workers -- 8 women and 5 men–plus 20 additional workers on weekends. I have recently bought a new business location in Villa El Salvador and I’m building another facility on land nearby.
And now, I am happy to say that other women in my community have started businesses in non-traditional sectors. I see how their lives are changing, just like mine did.
Being a female entrepreneur means I have the freedom and the independence to control my own life. It means I am part of breaking down barriers of gender discrimination. It means I now have the responsibility to help mentor other girls to achieve their dreams. Today when I weld, I am literally holding my future in my hands.