December 2003

    The Womens Sewing Cooperative has great news, good news, and troubling news. The Inter-American Foundation gave the women a loan/grant of more than $187,000!! This money enables them to complete the necessary steps for Free Trade Zone status, buy an inventory of cloth, and hire an administrator to continue the teaching. This money will be repaid to a community load fund to help other businesses start or expand.
    Rosa Dávila, a member of the cooperative, obtained a U.S. visa and traveled to California with Becca to represent the women and to speak at Co-op America's Green Festival in San Francisco. After that she joined Mike in San Diego to speak (more on this later). Her speech is very moving and later we include just a portion. This was her first trip out of the country.
    Her trip follows a trip made by Zulema, the president of the cooperative, with Mike to Cancun, Mexico. Zulema, again representing the women, spoke at a Fair Trade Conference that was being held in juxtaposition to the World Trade Organization meeting. Zulema and Rosa spoke with Bená Burda of Maggie's Clean Clothes, who buys most of their large orders. Both Zulema and Rosa were the high points of the conferences. They represented the women and their struggle well.
    The troubling news is that organic cotton cloth is getting to be astronomically expensive and out of their price range. Buying cloth in Nicaragua is difficult in and of itself. The women have always imported the organic cotton cloth and bought other cloth here or from Honduras, but it is getting harder and harder.
    Also, inter-personal relationship skills among the women are - well, hellacious to be truthful. These are broken women& women who've been battered, uneducated, and are desperately poor. They are broken but - baby! They are tough! They have a hard time believing in others - let alone in themselves or each other. Working with them is joyous, maddening, and painful. They do make progress. From where they were to where they are now is miraculous, but a long, long way from where they need or want to be.

    The news of the CDCA and its work is spreading. Sarah spoke to 40 groups from Florida to Massachusetts. In October, November, and December, Pat and Kathy are speaking to groups in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
    In September Mike went to an Organics Fair in Washington, DC, to represent Nicaraguan organic farmers. Following that, he and Zulema went to Cancun (see above), where he represented the coffee cooperative and they, the Women's Sewing Cooperative. They made invaluable contacts.
    As mentioned above, Rosa and Becca represented the women and the CDCA at two gatherings in California in November. Later, Mike, Rosa, and René (vice-president of the coffee cooperative) spoke to the International Rotarian Conference on Poverty in the Americas. At last year' conference, Mike spoke as a representative of a hands-on organization working with poor people as opposed to large organizations like USAID. In his evaluation of their conference he suggested that to begin to understand poverty they should listen to poor people. So they invited 2-3 people to come with him.
    At the writing of this newsletter we don't know how it went but we expect that like all the other conferences mentioned above, it will be a highlight. People need more than facts; they need to be touched before they can feel.

    The Organic Crops Cooperative bought and sold around 43,000 pounds of sesame. This was a result of the contacts Mike made in Washington, DC (mentioned above).
    We are looking for buyers for the expected 50,000 pounds of rustic shade-grown coffee of the coffee cooperative, El Porvenir. In addition to helping market their coffee, we try to help in other ways. Parkway UCC in Winston-Salem, NC, donated enough filtrónes (clay water filters) for every family to have one so that all can have clean water. Others are researching ways to get the cooperative water because in the dry season, they are limited to one gallon per person per day.

    The Concrete Construction Materials Cooperative loses thousands of dollars of business monthly due to taxes. The government cracked down on them to charge the 15% sales tax - which raises their costs by 15%. They are the only concrete business in Ciudad Sandino that charges it, so people go elsewhere.

    The Water Filter Cooperative, that makes the filtrónes, is hurting as well because without non-profits buying the filters their market is low. They need an educational-marketing plan, not just marketing, and someone to carry it out.
    Poor people, who need the filters, can't understand paying $12.50, because that is at least one week's pay just to have clean water. They've always drunk the water available (dirty or no); therefore, they need to understand the importance of clean water or they need someone to give them one.

    The Security Cooperative will be guarding a warehouse housing four containers of sewing machines / equipment that are being donated. They will have to increase their personnel. It's always good to create jobs in an area of 80% unemployment.

    The Women's Clinic has a roof! Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church's delegation (SC) put on the roof. The drop ceiling is in the warehouse section of the clinic, thanks to them and Christ Episcopal Church, Charlotte, NC, who donated part of the money. The delegation worked hard and accomplished much!
    The clinic is seeing well children on Saturday mornings. This program is the result of one preschool receiving a grant. We hope it will expand. We still need a second doctor. Women doctors, especially, are afraid of Nueva Vida because of the gangs.
    We've started training 26 women to be support for battered women in Nueva Vida. Pat is working with a sociologist / therapist from Ciudad Sandino to create this resource group of women.
    Want to help the clinic? - See Alternative Gift ideas.

    Rosa speaks eloquently about her life, the Women's Sewing Cooperative, and the future. This is the beginning of Rosa's speech:
    My name is Rosa Dávila and I am one of the members of a small women's cooperative. I am Nicaraguan - by the grace of God, as we say in my country - but above all else I am a woman. This is important because the women in our cooperative have sweated and struggled so that our cooperative can get ahead. In the year 2000 a small group of women began working with Jubilee House Community's Center for Development in Central America project and Maggie's Organics to start the project of the Cooperative Maquiladora Mujeres de Nueva Vida Internacional. We worked twenty hours a week for two years without earning a salary of any kind and we built our factory with our own hands. During that time, our husbands did not believe in what we were doing, they said we were wasting our time and they laughed at us - some of the women even separated from their partners. Often people ask us - why do we sacrifice so much?
    In Nicaragua the majority of the heads of household - those who feed the children - are the women. There are two reasons for this: one is that some men are irresponsible. The other is that the lack of employment in Nicaragua - at 65% overall - makes it impossible for men to help. So if we as women want to see our children well-fed, if we want to see them educated, then we have to struggle to make that happen ourselves. And it's because of this - because all the co-op's members are mothers and because we all have hopes for a better future for our children - that we have sacrificed so much and that we continue to sacrifice.
    For a copy of Rosa's whole talk, please request it on the rip-off slip and include a stamped self-addressed envelope.

    We give thanks daily for all the generosity and faith that is expressed in the projects of the CDCA.
    We celebrate Thanksgiving here, although it is not a Nicaraguan holiday. It is a US/Canadian holiday that is worth carrying on - to stop and give thanks. We stop now and give special thanks for the following:

To you all - we say Thank You!
    Now we have to mention some special people especially for their day-to-day help and their huge jobs:
    To you - we do not take you for granted - we adore you!

    Our community feels larger than it really is. Our staff is part of us. News about some of our staff:
    Henry (clinic medic) and Henrique (mechanic) are new fathers. César (project director), who has worked with us from the beginning, is still on the Organic Crop Improvement Association's board and travels to the U.S. about once a quarter.
    Becca (Women's Sewing Cooperative coordinator) married Paul (past Woodworking Cooperative organizer) this year in Idaho and then they traveled to Ireland to celebrate with his family. We hosted their Nicaraguan celebration. They "partied" in three countries!
    We have a new staff member, Aurora, who works with Magdalena cooking, cleaning, and keeping up with volunteer needs.
    In the community proper: Coury, Daniel, and Joseph are finishing another school year at the German-Nicaraguan School. Kathy and Pat are currently in the States speaking and visiting with family and friends. Sarah is also back in the States spending some quality time with her mother. Mike has returned from a speaking tour in the States. Kathleen is holding down the fort for all the travelers! We are all anticipating the Christmas visits of Tiff and Jessica.

    The International Training Facility has a water tank! We're often without water in the late afternoon, when volunteers return filthy and now they can shower. It also has a tile walkway on three sides. Nine volunteers in July and August certainly understood the need for the tank! Five volunteers, who worked construction, had to wait for the water to come back before showering. They were from Michigan, Oregon, and Washington.
    In addition to construction workers, we had a medical couple from Minneapolis, who saw patients and improved the clinic through their creative ideas. We hosted a North Carolinian woman who worked with the sewing cooperative and did some research for her studies and a Canadian woman interested in medicine, who worked in the clinic.
    Want to improve the ITF? - See Alternative Gifts.

Reflection:
    Our understanding of the unknown is determined greatly by images fed to us by family, society and culture. For example, the birth of Jesus for most people in the U.S. is associated with a quiet, peaceful night, cute or peaceful nativity scenes, and angels with wings in a starry sky. Yet when a Vietnamese refugee read the story he ignored the birth and imagined political oppression, fleeing the country, and being a refugee. And a poor African woman who knows childbirth will imagine a 13-year-old struggling sweaty and groaning to push out a baby in a mud stable with the oxen and their refuse, nothing to eat, deafening noise, and the fear of soldiers.
    Images - they come from what we know and what we've been taught and are frequently untrue.
    Rosa, Zulema, and René told about their lives. They gave people new images - real images to stay in the hearts and minds of their listeners. Volunteers who make the trip here go home with real images of poverty. We know people who come back over and over, because amidst the wealth in the U.S. the images begin to fade and they need to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see so they can continue to struggle for good.
    Images - they determine what we believe, how we act, and what we excuse.
    Many imagine God as the Great White Father with the long white beard. Or Jesus as the European, passive face, flowing hair, and soft hands. Neither are images described by scriptures of old.
    With such images racism and sexism are excused or even lauded as holy. Hatred is accepted. Violence is expected and passivity is the norm by people professing great faith.
    Yet Jesus was described as a charismatic leader, Jewish in the Arab genetic make-up, a lover of the untouchables, the poor, and women& all who were second, third, and fourth class were lifted up by Jesus and made first.
    God has been described in many images: judge, creator, artist, compassionate, ruler, lamb, lion, and even mother hen!
    Mother hen - what a strange image! And yet maybe today that is the image we should put in stained glass, sculpture it, and pray for the image to spread.
    A mother hen spreading her wings to gather all her chicks to her. A mother hen pecking the head of the chick that takes too much, so all her chicks can eat. The mother hen fiercely protecting those baby chicks from aggressors. The mother hen keeping her chicks safe from others and from each other.
    Images - we imagine them and then make real. Maybe we should change our images, read the stories with eyes of others, listen with our hearts to the histories of the poor& then we make real what is real and a new world can be born.


- Kathleen

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