Leyli Siles, born deaf into a poor family, opened her own small business with a loan from a Nicaraguan youth employment programme. Credit: UNDP Nicaragua
As a child in Nicaragua, Leyli Siles studied, ran and played hide-and-seek just like any other little girl, even though she was deaf and born into a poor family. But by adolescence she began to feel that her hearing impairment was checking her aspirations.
As the years went by, Siles became despondent as the reality of her exclusion from society sunk in. Although she was able to attend one of Nicaragua’s few schools for special education, in daily life she saw her disability as an obstacle that clearly marked an uncertain future.
But today, Siles, 25, teaches in a special needs school, acts as president of the Association of Deaf Persons of Matagalpa and works as a partner in a handicrafts microenterprise. Together with three friends who are also hearing-impaired, she has set up a store of Nicaraguan-made textiles, including clothing, shoes, handbags and women’s accessories.
Siles and her associates are from Matagalpa, a town located 120 kilometers north of Managua. They are young workers who are struggling to get ahead, and they feel that at last the sun is beginning to shine on their lives. Their sales are increasing, and Siles has many plans for her continuing professional growth.
The four women are beneficiaries of a national youth employment programme supported by the UNDP, the Government of Nicaragua and five other UN agencies. With a US $5.6 million budget, the initiative is working to create jobs for Nicaraguan youth, who face an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent.
As a result of this programme, 200 small businesses have been established in the last three years, directly benefiting 1,500 Nicaraguans between the ages of 15 and 25. New business ventures include small restaurants, bakeries, retail stores and motorcycle repair services. The new business owners receive small loans, as well as technical training and training in starting a business.
Using smiles, sign language and an interpreter, Siles explains that she and her business partners received critical training in how to establish and manage a new business. They then developed a business plan to apply for financing, presented an application, competed with other applicants, and won a loan for their new business, Artesanías Nicaraguita.
With her small business on track, Siles is happy and excited. Artesanías Nicaraguita’s finances are sound: its debts have been met; its monthly loan payments are made on time; and the day will come soon when a profit is made. Siles and her partners have begun the journey out of poverty. Just as importantly, she says that now she feels like a true part of society.