Forced to flee due to violence and persecution in her country, Maria Cristina arrived in Atlanta on January 2009 as an asylee from Colombia. Before coming to Atlanta, she and her family spent seven years in Costa Rica where they failed to get refugee status. Then, with the help of the International Organization for Migration, the family managed to come to the United States.
She has experience and skills in sewing, crafts and knitting, which she used to start a side business. “I bought a sewing machine for $70 at Walmart but in a month and a half, the little machine exploded!”
Maria Cristina was referred to Refugee Women’s Network (RWN), an agency helping refugee and immigrant women become self-sufficient in their new country. She learned about the microenterprise program and immediately applied for a loan without any hesitation. “These people, without knowing me, gave me $2,000 to buy an industrial machine. I could not believe it” said Maria Cristina. “It was the beginning of a dream coming true.”
On July 2009, she received her first loan from RWN, and many sessions of training and technical assistance. Although she got some contracts for her products, it was still not enough to quit her job as a housekeeper at the Marriott Hotel. Later on, she started experiencing health problems and needed hip surgery. Although she wanted to pursue her passion of knitting and sewing full-time, she could not leave her job because it provided health benefits for her family. Fortunately, she is now fully recovered.
She recently secured a new contract with the City of Decatur to assemble bags with recycled billboard fabrics. Excited and with new dreams, she paid off her first loan and reapplied for a second loan for $2,900 to purchase another industrial machine. She plans to design new products and expand her market. She recently participated in RWN’s Business Planning training, and is ready to visit new sales venues, order business cards, and eventually develop a nice website to promote her products. She has also established relationships with other clients at RWN through the networking club. They plan to work together to expand their product lines.
“Without Refugee Women’s Network, I could not do anything. It is an entity that opened their arms, they gave me not only money, they gave me confidence. There is nothing to pay that back!”
ORR's Microenterprise Development Program funds programs that help refugees develop, expand or maintain their own businesses and become financially independent.