Rising From the Ashes


Microfinance helps a family nearly ruined by a tragic fire.

Reyna Peña’s home in Sabana Perdida, Dominican Republic, is a place of imperfection. Her teacups are chipped. An armchair is missing an arm. Her china cabinet lacks two glass panes. Her glass-topped coffee table is missing its glass top.

But while Reyna, 41, lives in a sea of secondhand items, she fairly glows with joy. Small loans have made these used items useful — and helped Reyna climb out of a valley of despair.

Reyna’s slide into that valley began unexpectedly on Jan. 17, 2005. That’s the day their bakery’s gas tank exploded. One worker was fatally engulfed in flames; five other workers were seriously injured. Two children outside the bakery were killed as well.

Reyna was disconsolate about the accident. What’s more, Reyna and her husband lost their business and the family’s furniture and appliances were taken away. They had no possessions, but a lot of debt — half a million pesos, or $35,000.

Preying on the vulnerable

Reyna was forced to move her family to a home so decrepit that the front yard was a pool of raw sewage covered in green algae. “That’s when I started up with the loan sharks,” Reyna says, adding that loan sharks charge 25 percent interest, don’t allow late payments, and “always carry a gun.”

When the family’s truck stopped working, they fixed it by using $400 from a loan shark. A month later, the truck broke down again.

The rainy season came. The rusted tin roof let water in. The water and the sewage outside attracted mosquitos.

Reyna was at her lowest, beyond asking for help. She prayed, “Oh, God, what is going on?”

And God replied.

Taking a chance

One day, a friend told Reyna about Bethania Encarnacion and World Vision’s FIME loan program. The 33-year-old is a loan officer with FIME, World Vision’s Investment Fund for Microenterprise in the Dominican Republic

Bethania met with Reyna, but was concerned that she was so poor she could not repay a loan. So Bethania recommended a group loan for Reyna and her friends. With her share of the $200, Reyna bought secondhand dishes, utensils, and clothes she’d found on clearance. She displayed these in her house, reselling the items for a small profit.

Bethania was by her side, providing counsel as Reyna paid back her initial loan. Her second loan was for $385, which she used to buy more household items and inexpensive clothing to resell.

Her third loan was for $512, which Reyna used to buy land. The family built a house, and in May 2012, they moved in.

This home has lush vegetation in the front yard. There is no sewage. The roof does not leak. World Vision constructed a bathroom so the family no longer has to use the bathroom at their church. Meanwhile, Reyna is paying off the family’s debt.

New dreams are being born in this home filled with secondhand items — by a woman who deeply understands what it means to be broken but believed in again.

Written by Kari Costanza

Photo © 2013 Abby Stalsbroten / World Vision

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