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Published on 17 September 2021

Marlen is a leader in her community, supporting other women to gain financial independence, equality and protect the environment.

Marlen tells us that climate change is destroying livelihoods where she lives in Belén, Lempira. Previously, Marlen’s husband lost half his coffee farm due to strong storms. Her business, making and selling food and clothes, didn’t earn her enough to get by and support her family. She was on the verge of changing her life dramatically and migrating to the US, as many families are forced to do.

Image credits and information i
Credit: Rosamelia Nunez/Christian Aid
Marlen and her colleague installing solar panels
Marlen and her colleague from their business, Belén Solar installing solar panels

Marlen now leads Belén Solar, a women's sustainable energy business. She sees great benefits for her own family, to families who have bought her energy systems, and her co-workers. Through our partner OCDIH and the EU funded Breaking the Barriers programme, she received training to install solar technology. To this day, she has installed 38 systems. She received a loan to support this work, which helped her adapt to the challenges of climate change whilst earning a better living.

Breaking the Barriers programme
Image credits and information i
Credit: Rosamelia Nunez/Christian Aid
Marlen and her colleague from their business testing batteries
Marlen and her colleague from their business, Belén Solar

The benefits of solar

Previously people used firewood for lighting and cooking in their homes which caused many respiratory problems and deforestation, but now they are experiencing the benefits of using solar. Her co-workers are also using these systems, which has not only greatly improved their living environment, but they now also have a salary and are making a profit. The women in Belén Solar work together, reinvesting this profit to grow their business.

Across the women's groups in Honduras, many have seen their wages increase by more than 100%.  For Marlen, amazingly, her income has increased almost five-fold. 

With an increased salary, Marlen has made improvements to her home, and Belén Solar now rent a commercial space for their business.

Image credits and information i
Marlen in the new Belén Solar office Credit: Rosamelia Nunez/Christian Aid
Marlen looking out the window of Belén Solar
Marlen in the new Belén Solar office

Starting Belén Solar was a challenge. In a sector dominated by men, Marlen could not imagine installing panels. But soon she began to understand the technology and processes and started to acquire clients, depositing any profits into the bank.

When I started to install the first one, I did it with fear. By day 6, we were finishing the installation. We turned it on, and it was so wonderful to me. I cried.

- Marlen Lourdes Salguero Hernández.

Life is changing for Marlen and her co-workers. Collectively they cover the accounting, promotions and installations. They are also beginning to change local opinion about women working in the sector. When clients come to the business, they assume that the technicians are men.

But this is steadily changing as Marlen and her women’s group reputation grows. Initially, her clients are astonished and cannot believe that a woman can carry out these tasks, she explains. But she takes the time to show how women are also capable of working in this sector and that men and women are equal.

Women are not the weaker sex. On the contrary, we are the strongest people. We can carry out the work, and we do it in the same way.

- Marlen Lourdes Salguero Hernández.

Through the programme, many women report that they are now more independent and can manage their own businesses and make decisions. This change continues at home, where women have a more equal control over household resources. 

Moving forward, Marlen wants to continue to build this movement, showing other women that they too can become financially independent. She hopes to see women in professions that previously they were excluded from. She understands the challenges first hand and believes that the Belén group will serve as an example to others to show what is achievable.