February 2003

    As we enter 2003, we reflect on 2002 - the successes and the failures. Though we would like to share that with you, we are well aware you might not care, so in this newsletter we will talk about the recent past and the now. If you do care, then let us know and we'll send you a year-end report.

    December and January were slow months for the Women's Sewing Cooperative due to virtually no orders. They used the time the best they could: obtaining silk screening equipment, learning how to use it, and attending workshops on cooperation and communication. Yet they worried how to make ends meet. Currently they are sewing 5,000 t-shirts for the Presbyterian Church USA. They lost an order for 15,000 shirts because they have no money for an inventory of cloth and the buyer can't front the money.
    We've worked hard trying to secure them the funds needed to have an inventory. The World Bank, asserting their desire to develop local businesses, says the request is too small and that the women should look to the local banks. The local banks will graciously loan them the $350,000 at 20% interest!
    We are hoping beyond hope that the cooperative will receive a grant from the Inter-America Foundation that will enable them to keep cloth on hand for steady work. As they repay this up-front money it will help other small businesses around here who also need capital.

    The farmers' organic products cooperative is in the same worrisome spot. We find buyers for their products at fair prices but the growers have to wait about two months for payment. They can't wait, so they sell cheaply to buyers who give them unfair prices with immediate payment.
    To help, we've applied for funding from a bequest through the United Methodist Church and have just learned we got it!. The funds will enable us to pay the fair prices outright and will act as a cushion as we wait for payment from the buyers.
    The coffee cooperative at El Porvenir lost most of this year's harvest because of early rains last year. They are still waiting for full payment on last year's harvest. They need money to replant old coffee plants, but the upkeep on the baby plants is about $5.00/plant, so they watch helplessly as their production dwindles.
    What the growers, women, and small businesses here need is a pool of money to use as capital. If you know a foundation or a wealthy person who might find this a good use of their money, please let us know.
    A really cool thing that two volunteers did was to bring goat sperm and teach practical classes on how to impregnate goats. This will enable a near-by small animal husbandry farm project to improve their herd. We hope to get a few goats from them for the coffee cooperative.

    Briefly the news about the other cooperatives: The concrete construction material cooperative had loads of work in November and December as a result of people having year-end bonuses and improving their homes. Now the orders have dwindled BUT they are getting a good base of customers because of their excellent quality.
    The water filter cooperative is not doing well because, despite our advice and other's advice, they have focused on making large orders for non-profits. Non-profits buy a lot when there is a disaster, but thankfully Nicaragua has not had a natural disaster of any significance in two years. We have someone working with them to develop a consistent local market, but it is slow and frustrating. They have an invaluable product for people in the countryside needing potable water.
    The woodworking cooperative pays for itself - a wonder! They are taking on a little more of their own administrative tasks. The workers are now paid by production instead of by day, which encourages them to meet deadlines. They are learning to make cabinet handles that are in the shape of tropical animals and plants.
    The security cooperative has kept theft here way down. Unfortunately, the only recent theft was a much beloved, adorable puppy.

    Delegations and volunteers bring tens of thousands of dollars' worth of medicines. We receive 95% of our donated medicines in the first six months of the year.
    With the influx of medicine we have two main problems: how to space them out (not give them out all at once) and how to keep track. Lieve, a Belgian doctor, started an inventory. Her husband, Peter, a computer whiz (as well as an architect/engineer) is working with us to make it simple enough to maintain.
    Delegations are also working to complete the Women's Health Center. With the above mentioned bequest funds, we can also hire a long-awaited ob/gyn!! The therapists who presented workshops at the women's sewing cooperative also taught women at the clinic how to relax to help ease some of the heavy burdens these mothers carry. Both the relaxation workshops and the workshops on communication in the co-op are continuing with Pat, our social worker.

    Delegations and volunteers, as you can already see, are a vital part of the work… even more after they return home, hopefully with new eyes. Besides Peter and Lieve, we have had two other long-term volunteers: Megan, who among other things has taught art and tutored a child; and Avram, who worked to get the International Training Facility (ITF) useable.
    In January we housed two delegations in the ITF. The first was from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA (who enabled the women to obtain their silk screening stuff). Along with working at the Health Center, they did an AWESOME feat of pouring the first floor roof of the ITF! It was a massive job and they finished it!
    The second was from North Anderson Community Church (Presbyterian) in South Carolina. Besides the goat insemination and the therapists' workshops, they worked so willingly on small tasks we needed to have done.
    Starting Valentine's Day we have three groups back-to-back for a solid month. We are grateful to have a volunteer coordinator for seven months - our Jessica, who came back to rescue the old, grumpy folks. She has with her Waxor, who rescues our old, grumpy computers and helps us update our website. Both are saviors!

    Lent is a time in the church year when many Christians give up habits, foods, drinks - pleasant stuff - as a time of change, repentance, and reflection. To get us ready for the crucifixion and the resurrection.
    It's a good idea to have times when you change your day-to-day activities and stop to think, to reflect, to pray.
    But what if we took it one step further? What if we gave up so we could give away? Many decide to give up chocolate or soda or pizza or alcohol (things that cost money). What if you took the money you would have spent and gave it to a poor person, family, or organization to help others?
    Many decide to give up television or some other entertainment. What if you, as an individual or a family, took that time and reflected on what a peaceful, just world would look like and prayed for it?
    Now would be a good year - an appropriate time for change and giving. All the non-profits we know are hurting because people are afraid and giving is down. Visioning goodness and peace gives hope and light in places of shadow and fear.
    It's a scary time - war pending right after Ramadan, the holy time of Islam; during Lent, the holy time of Christianity; and at Passover, the holy time of Judaism. War that may release the powers of hell (if I may so boldly use scriptural language).     We need hope. Hope can come in the act of giving though you're afraid. Hopes come to the poor when all seems to be slipping away and yet, though frightened, the well fed share their bread (their money).
    Despair comes with closing in, closing down, and closing out.
    Let's, those of us who are Christians, use the time of Lent to hope - to give up in order to give; to turn in and reflect in order to turn out and envision; to bring peace to our souls in order to spread peace to others.

- Kathleen

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