Rosie the Riveter Would Be Proud of Maria Ester Landa

Rosie the Riveter Would Be Proud of Maria Ester Landa

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First she learned to weld toys. Then jet engines. Then she helped put a country back together.

In a world where, too often, tradition still limits women to running the home, Maria and her sister, Elvira, dreamed of doing more. In grade school, Maria and her sister studied auto mechanics at their all-girls Catholic school, where the nuns believed there should be no limits on what girls can learn. One day when Maria and Elvira were in high school, their father noticed a CARE flyer offering free courses in welding and metal design. He thought his teenage daughters might be interested – and they were!

Maria and Elvira knew that learning to weld could be a great opportunity because there were very few welders on their side of town – and certainly none who were women. Maria and Elvira were the only women in the welding class, and they passed with flying colors. They liked the class so much, they signed up for additional CARE courses, where they learned both technical and business skills.

With CARE we didn’t just learn how to weld. We learned how to start a business.

Shortly after graduating, the sisters put their new skills to work, where the rarity of seeing women welders caused quite a stir! They went to work welding door and window frames, making toy airplanes, and eventually welding jet engines for real planes.

Truly an entrepreneur and visionary, Maria developed a plan to start her own company to address an emerging market: weddings and events. Maria knew she could create structures and seating to outfit any venue. But when Maria applied for a traditional bank loan, she was denied. They said she was too young and had no collateral. Maria once more turned to CARE, and received a $10,000 loan through our EDYFICAR microfinance program. She repaid the loan, in full, in just one year.

Today, Maria is the proud owner of three successful businesses. She has been recognized by the Peruvian government for her contribution to the country’s economic development, and was one of 31 women entrepreneurs from around the world chosen to participate in a Fortune 500 mentoring program.

At home in Peru, Maria shares her success to help open doors for women and give back to her community. When an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck the city of Pisco, Peru, in August 2007, 40,000 families lost their homes. Most were forced to live in the streets and open fields under tarps and other makeshift structures. Something had to be done quickly. CARE contracted Maria and Elvira to weld 1,000 family tent frames for earthquake survivors in need of shelter. The sisters also built 100 classroom-sized tents so that children could resume their studies.

“I think a lot about people who were affected by the earthquake,” says Maria. “I don’t have a lot of resources but by making these tents we can provide some comfort to people in their time of need.”

Maria concludes, “We can make big things happen with a lot of little things.”

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Maria Landa