Empowering women in Ecuador by increasing financial independence and building business skills

Maria, a participant of "With These Two Hands," in the shop that she owns and operates.
By Wyatt Clay
April 12, 2017

As I approach the two-year mark since I arrived in Ecuador, I am able to appreciate the projects I have been privileged to be a part of.

In August 2015, I was arrived at my counterpart organization, CENIT (Centro Integral de Niñez y Adolescencia). On my first day at my new job, I was given the responsibility of managing a program called NADENA. 

NADENA is a program with the goal of supporting single mothers or women in situations of vulnerability. Our goal is to provide assistance to women through a dynamic program that includes financial support, vocational training and family planning. 

In this program, I help to manage different types of workshops. To provide financial support, we work with women to create products out of recycled materials that are then sold to offer a supplementary income to the women. The other programs we have are designed to train participants on skills needed to qualify them to work in different professions. One of the most successful programs we have is called With These Two Hands.

Volunteer Wyatt Clay in the workshop where we hold the "With These Two Hands" training course.
Wyatt in the workshop where With These Two Hands trainings are held.

The founder of With These Two Hands is a CENIT volunteer named Cassandra Weller. Cassandra travels back and forth from Australia to Ecuador to organize the course and build the curriculum we now use to train the women. We’ve also had other professional hair stylists from other countries come to teach as well. After these volunteers have developed a strong foundation of the basic techniques with the participants, we work with local educators to continue perfecting the skills needed to become certified professionals. 

With These Two Hands was founded with the goal of helping women gain employment. We do so by training the women and enabling them with the skills they need to become qualified in this specific type of work. With These Two Hands is a program that fits perfectly with our mission in NADENA. We would like to empower women by increasing their financial independence, help them find fulfilling work and give them a sense of pride in what they have accomplished. 

The curriculum in With These Two Hands is dynamic in the way that we teach a multitude of skills. Along with in-depth training on hair styling, I teach a course on financial management, which I believe to be very important. The Peace Corps staff in Ecuador has provided me with a great course about microfinance and financial management. My goal is to teach the women how to create a system where they can make money and how to use or save that money afterwards. I focus a lot on the value of saving, investment and business growth. 

Within our community, the graduation rate is significantly lower than the rest of the metropolitan region. Knowing that, I try to adjust the curriculum and use teaching strategies aimed at students who might have trouble reading and writing. Although we also work with women who have graduated from high school, we believe it’s important to make an inclusive course that doesn’t exclude anyone who would like to participate. 

Our organization uses tools to empower women, offer safe spaces and provide another source of income. A substantial percentage of the women in our community depend on less consistent work to earn money. One example would be working as a street vendor, selling food or other products in different locations around the city. From my perspective, the inconsistent financial income from this type of work creates a different type of poverty. If a family cannot plan for how much money they’ll be making over the course of several months, it’s difficult to create a stable lifestyle. With These Two Hands has also identified one of its missions as preventing women from being forced into sex work and providing an alternate path for women to earn money to provide for their families. 

So far, we’ve had one class of students complete the entire course and graduate with their certificates. Some of them are now using the skills they learned to work in salons around our community and earn a stable income. We are currently halfway through the curriculum with our second class and look forward to seeing new opportunities for them when they graduate this summer. Cassandra is hoping to continue growing the With These Two Hands project in new communities in different countries, and we are proud to say that our organization was where it all began. 

Whether or not the women who complete the With These Two Hands course go on to open their own hair salon is not how we measure the success of the course. Although that is the best type of success story, we find value in teaching the women in our community new skills, seeing new friendships developed and helping them to be creative and realize they can choose how they want to support their families. 

Wyatt Clay

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