Consecutive years of hyperinflation and financial crisis throughout the 1980s created fertile ground for microenterprise in Peru, says Eduardo Moron, an economist at Pacific University in Lima. Now there are 2.5 million small and micro-firms like Santa Maria Events and Industries, comprising up to 97 percent of all businesses in Peru.
Women's role in Peru's microcredit boom
Today, access to microcredit has grown alongside the economy, which has boomed with record mineral prices. And women have played an important part of that growth. "When you invest in women you get more for your dollar in terms of impact," says Milo Stanojevich, country director for CARE Peru, the global humanitarian organization that gave the Landas their start with training and business advice. "Women tend to invest resources on education, health, food.... Men will say 'we need a road.' "
But few women have pushed outside gender confines as the Landas have. The sisters didn't set out to confront conventions. They attended an all-girls Catholic school where the nuns taught them everything from music to mechanics. When their 1970s-era car broke down, the nuns fixed it themselves. When they needed new wiring, they asked the priests how to install it.
"Women should know how to do everything," says Sabina Marroquin, the director of the Santa Rosa de Lima school who taught Maria and Elvira when they were young. It is a lesson they still impart today: When the school needed new window bars, it called the Landas.
Raised without limits
The sisters say their parents never distinguished between genders. "Our parents taught us that the only difference is the effort you put into something," says Elvira. Their mother, Rosa Elvira Chiroque, constantly scoured for opportunities. One day she found a CARE pamphlet offering training for welding.