Women often face the dual challenge of caring for children and being the breadwinner for the household in places where formal jobs are hard to come by. Partners In Health helps women find dignified work and the social support they need to be healthy and economically productive.


Jelen's Story: In Peru, a mother survives multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, starts a small business, and saves her family

Lomile's Story (VIDEO): In Lesotho, a mother adopts five orphans after her own children are grown

Dr. Ruth's Story: In Haiti, PIH's breast cancer clinic is now open

Sori's Story: In the U.S., a community health worker accompanies women living with HIV

Elda's Story: In Mexico, a woman controls her epilepsy 

Stella's Story: Former sex workers living with HIV start a restaurant in Malawi

Ilrick's Story: In Haiti, a woman living with HIV learns to control her disease while becoming a small business owner 

Betania's Story: A mother learns to live with HIV in the Dominican Republic



In Peru, a mother survives multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, starts a small business, and saves her family.


Jelen and her two children walk through the Gamarra district in Lima, Peru.

Jelen is a fighter. As a street vendor, she fights every day against the authorities, the competition, and the street. As a single mother, she fights to give her children the best life she can.

With the help of PIH’s sister organization in Peru, Socios En Salud (SES), she recently fought—and won—one of the most difficult fights of her life: the fight against multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). In doing so, Jelen (pronounced Helen) closed a difficult chapter in her life.

After completing 18 months of treatment, Jelen’s life has begun to return to normal. With help from SES, she has launched her own small business. Every afternoon, she goes out with more motivation than ever to sell her homemade curtains.

“It’s made me stronger,” says Jelen. “To be sick isn’t just about taking medicines. It’s a really long, hard fight, both the treatment and the side effects from the medication. But finally I won.”


With SES microfinance, Jelen starts a new life

Jelen is part of a large group of vendors in Gamarra, a district of Lima that is home to roughly 90,000 people who sell homemade products. The streets are their storefronts. 


Sewing curtains at home and selling them in Lima's shopping district has allowed Jelen to become her own boss.


A now healthy Jelen stands in front of the hills of Lima.

“Now I am happy every day,” says Jelen. “When I’d go out to work while I was in treatment, I didn’t like getting there. I took some of my medications in the mornings and then the other half in the afternoon, which made me feel sick. And that’s how I’d go out to work. All the sounds and background noise were unbearable, but that’s how I’d have to go around offering my products so people would buy from me.”

Now Jelen is motivated to sell curtains, and she has developed tools to improve her family’s financial situation.

“Before I’d sell about 40 to 60 soles a day (US $14 to $20), and now I sell between 80 and 100 ($28-35),” says Jelen. “I’ve gotten better. Now with my sewing machine I can be making things at any time I want and can take orders.”

Her improved health and income have enabled Jelen to live in a more comfortable home and focus on making sure she and her kids are able to buy nutritious food.

Jelen is just one of tens of thousands of Peruvians who sell wares on the street. Almost always, these workers make inadequate incomes, work long hours, and lack access to medical insurance.


Stitching together a small business 

“I’d been working before for a sewing shop,” recounts Jelen. “They’d give me 1,000 shirts to stitch and they’d pay me 1 sol (US $0.35) per shirt. But that would take me a long time. In just four days I’d have to hand back all those shirts. So I’d be up all night sewing, resting only four or five hours, and I wasn’t eating well. All of that made me weak and I think that’s why I got sick.”

Since then, with the loans from SES, she has become independent. And her business is expanding. “My goal this year is to buy a couple more machines, rent a stand, and sell wholesale.” 

Though business was a little slow in late 2011, Jelen recently obtained a third loan for her business, this time with Mi Banco. While SES provided the the first two loans Jelen used to start her business, she is now financially stable enough to obtain a loan from a bank, with SES serving as an intermediary.


Making a long-term investment

After saving up money for the past few years, Jelen has broken a long cycle of poverty. In January 2012, her son began attending a local vocational college with the goal of becoming a police officer.

“I’ve told him we’ll have to save up a lot of money for that. And we’re going to do it,” said Jelen. “One of my goals is to give 100 percent to my son, so that he becomes someone great.”

After a year of coursework, Jelen’s son plans to apply to the Academy of the National Police Force of Peru.

Though Jelen has completed treatment and is increasingly financially stable, SES continues to check in with her every month to see how her business is going and provide technical assistance when needed. 

Learn more about PIH’s work in Peru.