When we first drive to meet Senorita Candelaria Martinez, she is surrounded by children at the elementary school in her neighborhood, where she operates a popular snack shop. "Please, have a freshly made taquito or taco!" she insists.
Candelaria and her husband have lived in Nuevo Laredo for 20 years with their three children. 12 years ago, they both moved to Voluntad 2, a new neighborhood emerging along the border of the city due to the city's rapid growth. At the time, the neighborhood lacked running water and electricity, so she and her husband opened a small store to cater to the needs of their neighbors. At the time, they sold candles for lighting, oil and coal for cooking, ice to preserve food, and clean bottled water.
Business back then was good! Our goods were necessities, and everybody came to us for their needs."
Since those first days in Voluntad 2, however, the neighborhood and its surrounding area have grown rapidly. Today, 14 new neighborhoods surround it, and all are bustling with activity and have access to electricity and running water. Since candles and coal were no longer in demand, Candelaria and her husband decided to take out a loan from Fundación para la Vivienda Progresiva (FVP) to adapt to the new circumstances.
FVP is a microfinance institution that was established in 2002 in order to provide affordable housing loans for clients in Nuevo Laredo. As a result of rapid growth in cities along the U.S.-Mexico border, the government has been unable to keep up with demand for housing and services. Many of FVP's housing loan clients work for maquiladoras, or foreign-owned factories, and use the loans to incrementally improve their housing conditions. Recently, FVP has also expanded to Ciudad Acuña, another town along the border, and in both towns, FVP has begun providing loans for low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs such as Candelaria and her husband.
The couple knew to go to FVP for their loan because they had already successfully obtained a housing loan when they first moved to the neighborhood, and the experience was extremely positive. On the other hand, they had previously taken out a loan with a formal bank before, but Candelaria says that the process was much more difficult. "The employees were cold. We weren't treated warmly like we were at FVP, and the process was much slower and complicated."
With this second FVP loan, they doubled the size of their store and transformed it into a grocery store, which sells fresh produce and canned vegetables, milk and dairy products, school and medical supplies and other items to meet the demands of their growing neighborhood.
Today, while her husband runs the store, Candelaria runs a snack shop at the elementary school a few blocks away, where we first met her, selling freshly prepared hamburgers, tacos, taquitos, and chips to the students during recess and lunchtime. After expanding their store and paying back the initial FVP loan, Candelaria obtained a third loan from FVP to expand the kitchen for her snack shop and buy tables and chairs so that the children could sit down to eat. She has also been able to hire two additional staff to assist her, because demand is so high.
"I was able to buy all of the kitchen equipment with the loan - a sink, a fridge, and a better oven. The shop's kitchen is better than my kitchen at home now!" Candelaria says.
If you find your way to Nuevo Laredo, make sure to visit Voluntad 2 and have lunch at Senorita Martinez' snack shop!