The Women's Sewing Cooperative completed their huge order for t-shirts and actually made a profit! Originally the order was for 30,000 shirts to be produced in 30 days for Maggie's Clean Clothes.
First, the cloth got hung up in customs - that sort of set the tone. Professionally made patterns didn't fit the cloth well. Not enough cloth came for the whole order. The cloth (two different kinds that looked alike) had to be kept separate. Machines shipped from the U.S. were missing important parts. These problems should not have been the co-op's responsibility to correct.
Then their own machines broke, re-broke, and broke many times again. They went through four mechanics. People quit; people messed up; people got tired; people got sick. Sarah worked long, long hours fixing patterns and machines, cutting cloth to get the most out of what was there, staying on top of which cloth was which, and just problem-solving. Becca stayed on top of the workers, the production, and the co-op. She encouraged, fussed, pulled her hair, held meetings - lost her voice, and kept the computer working on record-keeping. It would not have happened except for Becca and Sarah.
The women grew in leadership. They learned the hard truth that if they messed up - they had to pay to correct it. The co-op members and other workers came on Sundays to help catch up.
They learned pride. They found themselves dependent on their mechanic (whom we later learned was not very good) and when he decided he had them - he decided to renegotiate his monthly contract. They refused - so he didn't come to work over the weekend. Machines broke and everything came to a halt. He came in late on a Monday morning and when the supervisor, a member of the co-op, told him to get to work he was very rude to her. She fired him then and there! After another very difficult week they hired two good mechanics and boom! production exploded.
The order took longer than 30 days but they did it! Many of the new workers turned in applications to be permanent members of the cooperative!
Since then they've done an Italian order for 1,000 t-shirts and are working on a camisole order for Maggie's Clean Clothes, but as production has slowed down they've lost some good workers. The co-op needs money - a lot of money - to fund an inventory so that a 30-day timeline doesn't have to be a stipulation and they can work steadily. We've written a grant for this with the understanding it will be repaid into a "community bank" to fund more projects.
Other big needs for the women are
1) funds and expertise to get their building cooler and dust and rain-free all at the same time (we have an architect/engineer from Belgium coming - hopefully he can design something).
2) funds to get some additional machines and really fix the ones they have.
3) funds and labor to build a child care center in 2003. Their children suffer, especially the little ones. Older kids do not care for the little siblings like a mama does - so our clinic is seeing more of the little ones with malnutrition due to parasites and with more illnesses. More accidents occur. Ramona missed seven days of work when her 6-year old played with a machete and almost cut his little arm off.
The co-op will eventually pay for the child care center. They will build it and will run it.
COPROEXNIC, the organic grower's cooperative, is floundering. Coffee growers are debating on not picking their coffee because prices are so low.
Honey prices are up, but finding honey is difficult. Some sesame growers have switched to black beans and are having success exporting them (Nicaraguans only eat red beans).
Raul is still their agronomist / manager but now he only works half-time because the co-op has so little business. It is sad to see growers work so hard for so little.
The Filtrón Co-op continues to make wonderful inexpensive clay water filters. For the price, they are the most efficient way to clean water.
Our newest cooperative is a security service. How weird!
Many of you may remember that after our last big robbery in March, we contracted with an insured security firm. If we had something stolen they were insured and would repay us for it.
After a few more small robberies we discovered that they gave us one amount of money (say $100) for the theft but took $200 out of their employees' paychecks! We terminated our contract with them. Their employees who had worked here then came and asked if they could start their own firm, ergo our newest cooperative - five members right now.
To make their job easier, we hope to finish the wall around the cooperatives and the CDCA in 2003.
The Woodworking Co-op is making beautiful mirrors, frames, and furniture. Paul, the volunteer creating the co-op, has a difficult job. When experienced carpenters come to see about joining they feel like they can produce whatever. When it comes out a poor quality, Paul makes them redo it and they get mad and leave… sometimes to come back. The co-op cannot survive on this work style.
The result is that except for Paul, almost all the workers now are learners, so Paul is teaching carpentry instead of design and commercialization. What they do produce is really pretty.
The Concrete Construction Materials Co-op is steadily working but not growing much. Mostly they are paying their own way which is a relief; but they need help continually re administration (books, payroll, materials, and government laws and regulations) which brings me to…
Rodolfo. Rodolfo was hired by a Children's Haven grant (now Winds of Peace). He is the business consultant for all the cooperatives. He is phenomenal, when he is doing well emotionally. He knows how to maneuver though the red tape - the regulations and paperwork. He knows when to push, cajole, and pay and when not to. Unfortunately, when he is not doing well - he is absent and unreachable.
We need him one more year but cannot get a grant for him, because if he misses more work we will fire him - no ifs, ands, or buts. We need funds for his contract.
We also need funds to build all these cooperatives a joint office building. (The building needs one big room, a bathroom, electricity, water, and phone line.)
The Health Center is having more and more patients come each day. As the Ciudad Sandino public health clinic has less and less medicine, equipment, and staff to offer, our clinic is getting inundated. Unfortunately, with Dr. Jorge Flores coming only five afternoons weekly and Sue Klaussen, nurse practitioner, coming two days weekly, we cannot serve a city of 147,000 people!
Our pharmacy shelves have less and less useful medicine. By this time of year most of the donated medicines are used up and our funds are low. We do what we can. We've frozen the number of chronic patients we will treat and we have to say "I'm sorry, we don't have this right now" more than we want.
Danelia, Henry, and Conchita help to take care of people as much as possible when they come. Henry does wound care. He and Danelia do blood pressures, glucose testing, weighing, and nebulizer treatments. Conchita keeps the place clean, orderly, and calm. She has a calming persona.
The construction on the Women's Center has halted as we wait for more funding and volunteer labor. We will start back up in January. We hope by June/July it will open but we need an ob/gyn physician to staff it.
We wish we had better news to report on the state of the Health Center. Maybe the next newsletter will be full of good news as we begin a new year, as we receive loads (knock on wood!) of year-end gifts, and as we start hosting delegations!
Twelve volunteer delegations are confirmed for 2003 (all but one are in the first 6 months!). We have three more interested but with no confirmed dates. The most delegations we have ever had in one year so far were six.
We are busy getting ready for all these people. Currently our three volunteers and some of our staff are slowly making as much progress as money allows on the International Training Facility. We hope to have this building liveable by January 6th.
We are also trying to get a Volunteer Coordinator for at least January through July. Someone who will be enthusiastic while we are just plain worn out. Someone who will help organize the groups and volunteers, help get them moving, help keep them going, and take them to all the wonderful places around here. We think we have a person but are not sure, so if you are interested please write us. This may become a long-range volunteer opportunity.
Our second delegation scheduled is from North Anderson Community Church Presbyterian (NACCP). This church collates this and all our newsletters for us. They finish the newsletter mailing preparation after a group of young people from Asheville's finest has worked on it one afternoon and evening. To both groups (NACCP and Asheville) we say "Thank You!" and we are in your debt.
Here's an Update on People featured in the newsletters in the last few years…
Maria from Nueva Vida is working with us in the Center. She started out in the Health Clinic but her temperament didn't allow her to deal with troublesome patients calmly. One of her 11 children, Hector, was attacked by a gang and they almost severed his arm with a machete. Doctors were able to attach the arm and, with financial help from the CDCA, the arm was saved and he has use of his hands and fingers.
Rogelio's thumb was saved after a container (those big metal boxes that tractor trailer trucks carry) fell on it. We had bought one to use as a storage shed for the sewing co-op. He lost the tip of his thumb (he says it's feo - ugly). The sewing co-op presented him with some flowers on the Day of the Dead in memory of the part that died!
Juanito was the kid who worked so hard on building the health clinic that as a reward we hired him. He is a steady worker. A condition of his job is that he goes to school. He will be finishing 3rd year/grade this month. He makes all "A's".
Josue, "Cabeza", is attending the University at night. We helped him through 6 years of schooling. He considered going to the U.S. to attend Bucknell University but as the oldest male he has to support his mother and siblings. He wants to be an engineer.
Our community extends far beyond our eight members. It extends to past members, family, and friends here and beyond. It extends to volunteers who share much of their lives with us and to our staff who are in and out of our home almost every day.
Jane, a volunteer nurse in our clinic for more than a year-and-a-half, is now leaving us. She organized our clinic, improved our medical care, and especially worked hard with our diabetic patients. She is moving to Chagüitillo, a small town in northern Nicaragua, to start a clinic. We wish her Godspeed and say "thank you so much".
Magdalena, who takes care of the staff and volunteer's hunger on a daily basis, is suffering with her sister who has liver cancer, probably due to working for United Fruits with all their pesticides (there is a suit being filed on behalf of her and 8,000 others in the U.S. courts). She is not expected to live long. She will leave 6 children and we expect Magda will have two of them.
Becca, who works with the women, and Paul, who is with the woodworking cooperative, hosted some of their families here in November: Becca's, from Idaho and Paul's, from Ireland.
César, a community organizer and a director, was elected to the Board of Directors of OCIA (Organic Crop Improvement Association). He frequently flies to the U.S. to attend meetings. He was lucky to get a U.S. visa.
Our staff are good people. They have problems, hurts, and aches. Sometimes it is hard to decide when to be friend and when to be boss. When we've grieved with them and seen their pain, it is difficult to balance friendship with the need to run an organization doing good work.
We have alcoholics on staff - recovering, sober, and not. We have students needing time-off for studies and classes. We have one guy whose wife threw him out so he lives in one of our buses! They are not perfect but then neither are we.
Briefly about us - The JHC proper: Coury has successfully completed his German comprehensive exams and is graduating to secondary school. Daniel has hit the double digits - he is 10 now. After a hard year of adjusting to school, Joseph will graduate to second grade (lots of praying on that one!).
Mike spoke at a Rotarian Conference in San Diego on Poverty in the Americas in November. Pat and Kathy spoke in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana in October and November. They also visited with their mother.
Sarah is thrilled that the t-shirts are done and her life is slowing down some. Kathleen, with the boys, is thrilled that school is out and she can sleep past 5:45 AM for a couple of months.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is the Golden Rule." Heard that before?
"No, I don't want to share!"
"Do unto others…"
"Why do I have to be nice?"
"Do unto others…"
It gets trivialized and becomes a retort to children's selfishness but it was said to encourage us to identify with others… "what if I were in their place, what would I want me to do?"
Most major religious faiths have the aspect of identifying with others. Besides the Golden Rule, the Christian faith has a whole theological premise based on the belief that Jesus was God Incarnate to first identify and then save. For many Christians, Christmas is the coming of God in flesh…as a vulnerable, weak, poor, homeless baby…The Ultimate Identification. First identification, then salvation.
Makes sense to me. How can one save another from the peril of "sin", "unrighteousness", "impurity", etc., etc., unless one identifies first? First identify THEN choose action. If religions throughout history had done just that, think how different history would have been.
Think about now… what if the Taliban followers had truly thought: "How would I feel - really feel - having to live like our women: hidden, beaten, left in the dark?" Would they have still read the Koran in the same way?
Think about Israel and Palestine. If each could know what terror and fear the other feels and if Israelis could know the poverty and degradation in which Palestinians live… would there be peace?
Think about our country and our wealth and power in relation to the rest of the world. If our people really understood, could feel the poverty, the hunger, the hopelessness, the victimization that so many in the Third World feel, would we change our policies?
We watched the "drama" of the DC sniper(s) unveil on the evening news broadcasts. We saw how terrified people were - understandably. People were afraid for their children - for themselves - and the reporters acknowledged that fear. They talked about how horrible it was that one person could disrupt so many lives.
Then the story of the U.S. preparing to attack Iraq would follow… often with scenes from Baghdad. But no identification with the Iraqis - no mention of how afraid their parents are for their children knowing the bombs will come - killing indiscriminately. There is no mention of the disruption of a whole country's life. If we could look at their lives and really try to understand, we might opt to "save" by another method.
Let me quickly insert that I know we cannot fully identify, we haven't been born into their skin, homes, and lives. To try we have to have humility and honesty. There are times when I try to understand what life is like for the women in the sewing cooperative. I know what their homes look like, the walk to and from work, the work at the cooperative, scrubbing clothes on a pila, cooking over a fire, things like that. BUT and it is an enormous BUT… when I do those things I choose them - I can quit and not die. They can't, so I will NEVER KNOW - really know - unless I lose all.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I don't want to live in poverty, so I will work so you won't either.
I don't want to live in fear, so I will change things as I can so you won't either.
I don't want to be exploited so you can be rich, so I won't buy into the lies that exploit you so I can be rich.
I don't want you to kill me or my children or my beloved or my family or my friends - so I won't kill you.
Do unto others…
It should be called the Peace-lovers Rule.
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