Meet Diana Bernal
The woman in front of the ice cream shop looks slight and shy, but she strides up to greet me with a handshake as I step out of her loan officer’s car, announcing, “Hi, I’m Diana, and I’m the secretary of Mujeres Trabajadoras.”Diana is 29 years old, a single mother of a two-year-old daughter. Until her pregnancy, she was a psychology student. In fact, she says, “Since I was interning in a hospital anyway, I worked right up until the last day.”
Her daughter’s birth put Diana’s studies and work on hold, and she spent the first year in her apartment in central Encarnación taking care of her baby. “But I was bored, and I hated being so shut in. And I was spending money needlessly.”
A year ago, Diana moved back in with her parents and, with help from a loan from Fundación Paraguaya, opened up an ice cream shop next to her mother’s bookstore in a neighborhood on the edge Encarnación, a small and tranquil but fast-growing city that has seen big changes in recent years due to the completion of the Yacyretá hydroelectric dam some 50 miles downstream on the Río Paraná. Although Diana is not among them, many of Fundación Paraguaya’s clients here were displaced by flooding due to the rising waters behind the dam.
When our meeting with her loan committee, held in her mother’s bookstore, is over, Diana leads me to her shop, where she cheerfully scoops out and weighs generous portions of ice cream for me and other customers. With true entrepreneurial spirit, Diana used her social network to find a source of ice cream that was tasty but also inexpensive enough to sell at prices that would sell outside of the city center. It was a smart move; business seems brisk.
“I plan to finish my degree when my daughter goes to school in a few years, but it’s so good to have something to do in the meantime, and to earn some money. And it’s really good to spend this time not just with my daughter, but with my family, too.”