February 2002

    The Women's Sewing Cooperative is busy sewing t-shirts, as I write. This is their biggest order yet. They have sewn organic t-shirts and hair scrunchies for Maggie's Clean Clothes, but now are working on a rush order of 3,000 shirts for Ethical Threads. And boy! Are we learning!
    Importing cloth with all the paperwork and schmoozing is a nightmare from which we can't wake. We keep searching for local cloth, but the cloth industry went bankrupt during the 80's when good-intentioned first-worlders sent used clothing to Nicaragua.
    Keeping the women working diligently on the rush order is frustrating -- no, it's hair-pulling! They haven't grasped in their souls that they are not just the workers but are also the owners, therefore overtime has to happen.
    Seeing profits shrink as this "fee" is paid and that "fee" is paid, all the while knowing that the fees are just lining already full pockets, is sickening. Becca, a long-time volunteer and now paid staff, is about to give up her Quakerly pacifism and hurt some customs broker.
    Yet we all plug along because as orders are successfully completed, more good people out there place more orders. Fortunately not everyone wants cheap clothes made by the sweat of a poor woman while a rich man gets the profit.

    The Health Clinic continues to adapt to the needs presented to us. In 2001 we added over 2,000 new patients. We began treatment on 140 chronic patients (diabetics, hypertensives, heart, epilepsy, etc.). These people require on-going care and medication. We now allow the option of giving token money donations ($2.17) for a consult, instead of only giving labor. We have started checking addresses to verify that we help people who live around here and not in Managua, where so much more is available.
    For a whole year we've had use of a volunteer nurse from Iowa, Jane. She organized the clinic to allow us to give better care. Yet we discovered that we were still not reaching the poorest of the poor and so we sent a team of Nueva Vida people out to ask why. We are addressing the issues raised as we can.

    In January, a Bucknell University brigade began work on the Women's Center, the second stage of the Health Center complex. They also held free health clinics for some of the poorer Nueva Vida people. Like all our delegations, the brigade worked, visited other places, and played. On one outing to a rural clinic, our bus broke -- really broke. We are going to need around $2,000 to fix it. The rural clinic was held on top of a mountain in a coffee cooperative.

    We continue to help coffee growers sell their organic coffee at fair prices. Last year we "exported" about 20,000 pounds of coffee. An amazing amount was carried by volunteers in their luggage to coffee houses they knew.
    We continue to enable COPROEXNIC, the small grower cooperative, to market their organic sesame, peanuts, and honey. The sesame market in the States bottomed out, so with great help we've been looking in other countries. There are so many people helping our small growers to survive and not sell out.

After seven years of prodding… we have a regular phone line!
In addition to our cell phone number (011-505-883-6634), we now have 011-505-269-7073, a regular land line. Hooray!
2001 Year End Reports are available upon request.

    Our Community is blessed to have so many friends all over the world. Our lives have been enriched by friends. When our heads pound from all the beating we do against brick walls, we receive emails that lift us up.
    We have friends who started out as volunteers, guests, and contributors. It really is amazing how many good -- and I mean good -- people we know.
    We treasure friends. Our kids were so lonely when we moved here -- distant friends were all they had, but they helped sustain them (and us) as they slowly made new friends. To all our friends, we give great thanks!

    The above cooperative we have been helping in selling their coffee is named El Porvenir, meaning "The Future." It is an apt name for this cooperative made up of 252 people who were ex-Sandinistas, ex-Contra, and ex-Guardia (the abusive National Guard during the Somoza dictatorships). El Porvenir grows food crops as well as organic rustic shade grown coffee, which means they left their trees alone and just planted coffee underneath them. They have perhaps the oldest living tree in western Nicaragua (550 years old).
    We believe that cooperatives or worker-owned businesses are The Future, or at least can provide a healthier future than what seems to be in store. I grew up with textile workers in the South, where the textile business flourished as it moved from the North to the South for cheaper labor and for lesser environmental restrictions.… Why? Because the businesses could get more profits and the South needed the work.
    Now the people I loved have lost their jobs as the companies have moved to even cheaper labor and even lesser restrictions.… Why? Again because the businesses can get more profits and the Third World needs the work. Lousy scenarios -- wherever profits can be higher, people and the environment are forgotten.
    But, if workers own their own company it will not move. It will treat its workers fairly because the workers determine the policies. It will not pollute the land because the land is also home.
    We watch on the news the increasing unemployment rate in the States. We hear the patriotic words "buy to keep America strong," but we do not hear "maintain your workers and lower your profits to keep America strong." We hear about Enron and other companies cheating, abusing and using their workers, their communities, their states, while the Bigwigs walk away with billions of dollars. We do not hear of such people being held responsible even as much as a shoplifter would be held accountable.
    Cooperatives cooperate, or die. They keep each other working, investing, and earning, or die and then they all lose. We've seen cooperatives die here in Nicaragua. We've seen what happens when all do not work and invest. We've also seen and experienced how the whole system is set up to defeat the small grower, businessperson, or cooperative. The system is designed to allow the richest/biggest businesses and people to gain, while the small growers and workers sweat and lose.
    But if we truly want a future where workers and growers, you and I, our children and our grandchildren have a chance, then El Porvenir is a good example.

They are:

  1.     A group of people who at one point in history terrorized and fought each other. Now they work hard together for a common purpose.
  2.     A group of people who protect their part of the earth.
  3.     A group of people who truly believe in democracy and jointly determining their future, and
  4.     A group of people who cooperate.
    To support such an endeavor as El Porvenir and to create more endeavors is our goal.
We want to:
enable the women to learn not only to sew, but to learn cooperativism as well;
enable the construction material business to learn not only to make concrete forms, but to learn to form their own business;
enable the successful filtrón business not only to mold clay filters that clean water, but to learn to mold their own futures;
enable growers not only to learn to market their organic crops, but to market a healtheir world; and
create a carpentry business that will not only create furniture, but create a little justice as well.

    Let us learn to pull together like El Porvenir to grow, create, and cooperate; not to kill, destroy and isolate. Let us learn to keep plugging along like El Porvenir, to hang on when the Big Guys are trying to lock us out. Let us learn to help each other like El Porvenir, to create The Future we want, not what the few rich say we have to have.

El Porvenir -- The Future -- but what kind will we choose?

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