First Lady Laura Bush Visits CRS-Funded Projects in Bulgaria & Zambia

Bulgaria - Laura Bush visits CRS microfinance
First Lady Laura Bush meets with Mariika Kostova Petrova, a client of USTOI, a microfinance institution that provides small loans to entrepreneurs in low-income communities in Bulgaria, including marginalized ethnic groups such as the Roma. White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

First Lady Laura Bush is in Zambia today and paid a visit to Chreso Ministries Clinic, a Lusaka-based program that provides key services to more than 5,700 people living with HIV and AIDS. We are awaiting a report from Hilary Roxe, our Baltimore-based communications officer for Africa, who is currently in Zambia.

But in the meantime, this gives us a chance to catch up on a visit earlier this month by the First Lady to a CRS-funded microfinance project in Bulgaria. Mrs. Bush met with four women who are long-term clients of USTOI (a Bulgarian word meaning “basis” or “foundation”), a microfinance institution that provides small loans to entrepreneurs in low-income communities in Bulgaria, including marginalized ethnic groups such as the Roma.

The four women Mrs. Bush met on June 11 participate in a microfinance project called “Inclusive Business Development of Roma Communities in Bulgaria,” a joint venture of USTOI, CRS and USAID. The four USTOI clients exhibited goods at the library that they trade at the women’s market in Sofia. Mrs. Bush had the opportunity to hear an overview of the program and then met with each of the women to hear their stories.

One of the women is Mariika Kostova Petrova, who sells sportswear, shoes and rugs out of two stalls in the city’s open-air market. Mariika is a widow with three children: two sons and a daughter. One of her sons helps her in the business, while her daughter is currently in Greece for seasonal work.

Mariika says she appreciates the access to credit that USTOI provides,  which enables her to regularly change her stock according to the season. She is currently repaying her seventh loan. She has her eye on the neighboring stall, which she’d like to rent to expand her business.

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