Thursday, February 26, 2009

about a month to go...

Hi all,

[the picture is of my dear friend Maria Illuminata from San Cristóbal, who invited me for an almuerzo of cuy which i helped her cook over the open fire; i fanned the fire...]

i´ve been sick with a touch of el gripe (the flu), and so were pepe and ana cecilia. we are all recovering...

It was Carneval for the last week here. It's a big holiday in ecuador, but does not have the atmosphere of the mardi gras of rio or new orleans. mostly its celebrated at home, so everything is shut down for 4 days! the only public tradition i can see is just a really annoying tradition of throwing water on people, including on perfect strangers walking along the street! i´m sure there is some ritual meaning, but for the life of me i can´t figure it out, and no one has been able to explain it to me. i was able to avoid getting mohada which means soaked. thank goodness, since i already had a touch of el gripe... pepe, however, got hosed down and soaked just walking along the street.

At Casa Maria Amor, the women of the lavandería Mujeres con Exíto are making progress all the time. it can be difficult because there are always new women entering. But together we created a formal system of accountability and training, so now things are running more smoothly. there is a peace corp volunteer (a woman in her 50s named susan ) working with the laundry, but her language skills are still pretty elementary so she has a problems communicating with them. i don´t think my language skills are all that great either, but i was able to help out on both sides...

several of the women i worked with last year are still involved at the laundry, even though they don´t live at the casa. sadly, this weekend, another woman i worked with last year - Carmen - and her 6 kids returned to live at the casa. She had returned to her husband, but it appears even though she changed, he certainly didn´t. she is moving to Guayaquil soon, since it is too dangerous for her here because her husband knows where she is. CMA has helped an organization in Guayaquil called Hogar de Cristo open the first shelter in Guayaquil. Carmen will be moving there with her family. Que triste!

in san cristóbal, i am working with the three officers of the bank on a project to train and hire 2 women from their group to act as prometoras, who would travel around southern ecuador scouting out tiendas (shops) and ferias (fairs and open air markets) where they can sell their different goods directly, without a middleman. i will use part of the money i collected in Vermont to help fund this project until they can sell enough stuff to generate a commission which could pay the prometoras.

i also plan to use part of the money to pay for capacitaciónes (training) in computer skills for the socias (members) of the bank. and the money is also funding the training for the new savings program they are starting.

the money from Bethany Church´s budget will buy two more computers for the community; now what the community needs is more training, mostly for adults. like in the USA, the kids seem to have skill, but the adults like the women in the bank need training. for their training the women of the bank plan to hire the kids to train them!!

it still remains to be seen when and if san cristóbal will get internet access, but at least if the socias have the basic computer skills, they can travel to Cuenca, if necessary, when they need the internet. meanwhile once they have the skills, they can put all their bank records on the computer, and that will make them a lot more efficient.

It is the rainy season here, and i´m not sure if it makes the news up north, but there have been a huge numbers of flooding rivers (inundaciones) washing out roads and destroying whole communities. this is occuring mostly north of here and on the coast, since there has not been a lot of rain here in Cuenca. Yesterday, a volcano near Quito, Tungeragua, erupted, sending ash about a mile into the sky. there is also volcanic activity in Chile. Also a multinational oil company had a huge oil spill in the amazonia of ecuador yesterday, destroying more of that precious environment... both mother nature and human nature seem to be on a rampage.

well, i have about a month to go. and i keep hoping for some sense of nirvana, or wisdom or something indefinable. but of course it just keeps eluding me. I must admit how much it disturbs me when people act like i am a great person because i am here. nothing could be farther from the truth. i am here working with areas of society that have been rejected, because it seems to be the only way i can make friends with the parts of myself i have rejected. its all interrelated. and muy dificil... and the language issue makes it so much harder. even though i am here with people i love and who love me all the time, because i can´t express myself well or always understand very well, i sometimes feel very alone.

it has always been clear to me - intellectually, that is- that we need to work on ourselves to help others, but also that we help others in order to work on ourselves. but intellectually and emotionally are two different things. pray for me!

i´m off now to watch "The Simpsons". In spanish! that should cheer me up!

abrazos from cuenca,


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

social loan at Casa Maria Amor CMA

hello dear friends,

the woman in the picture wearing the pink jacket is Maria Cabillas Vargas.

she is a friend of mine who lived at CMA and worked in the laundry Mujeres con Exito when i was here last year. she lived at CMA with her 7 (!) children, aged 20 down to 6 months. (note: she sought a tubal ligation, but the doctors refused her because she was "too young and could have more kids!!!)

when she left the casa, her companeras (fellow workers in the laundry) approved a micro loan of $150 from the funds at the laundry so she could start raising and selling chickens - in addition to her other jobs like working in the laundry and cleaning houses. all the women supported her effort to start this small business and they approved and secured the loan.

Maria paid it back quickly. and with the proceeds of her business, she was able to rent a house, and has opened a tienda in the front room. a tienda is a small shop; in hers, maria sells fresh fruits and vegetables and some staples like sugar and rice.

she approached me about making a loan so she could buy inventory, and i agreed. since i am thinking of starting a social loan program on the Internet when i get home, and asking all of you to consider making social loans, i decided i'd better put my money where my mouth is. I loaned her $500 which she will repay over 18 months. she will pay 1% interest per month, but this interest will go to the laundry to increase its coffers. i will get the principal back so i can lend it others.

all the women in the laundry reviewed her second project and after approving the project, they all signed to secure her loan. this is called Solidaridad with a capital S. i thought maria was a good model for the other women, and as she repays her loan, i will have no problem encouraging all of you to make social loans too...

by the way, Maria named her business Tienda de Carolina. I wept!

more soon...

Monday, February 9, 2009

9 febrero 2009

San Cristobal:

hi everyone, here is a photo of me with the women from the bank (and one husband) and ana cecilia on the right in the front row.

yesterday, sunday Feb 8, was their Dia de Cobrar. each month, they all come and pay their loans, and new applications for loans are received. they also had their first workshop on starting the savings program - ahorros. Patricio, the man who helped me with the training for the bank in 2007, is giving a total of 4 workshops on the savings program. the training was so successful in the past by transforming the women from insecurity to professionalism. i am sure these workshops on the savings program will do the same.

i am also hoping to help them find better markets for their goods. here in ecuador there is a very weak system for campesinos to sell their wares - both agricultural products and crafts. i am hoping they can hire one of their own to do the research and make the contacts so as to create a more fruitful network - a prometadora, as they call them here. my driving philosophy has been that i can make suggestions, but i can't do it for them; they certainly have proved that they are more than capable of doing it for themselves.

but i couldn't do it without help. the donated money i took with me will help pay for the workshops and maybe the salary of a new prometadora for a little while, if that works out...

look for more posting with news of Casa Maria Amor...

love ya all, carolyn

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

News from Casa Maria Amor

hi dear friends,

this will give you all the news from my second project. its here in Cuenca, and is a laundry that i started last year with the staff and residents of the Casa Maria Amor (CMA) which is a shelter for battered women and their children. unlike most shelters in the usa, the women actually live here for many months with their kids. in my opinion, they are quite heroic since they have already broken all conventions by leaving their abusive spouses/partners. they get absolutely no cultural support for this. i can remember when it was like this in the usa, can you?

when i came last year, with $6,000 in donations from friends and family, i helped them add a program they sorely needed: training for their economic lives outside the casa. this was the one piece which was missing from CMA's programs. they provided educational, legal, psychological and social work help, but did not have the resources for this much needed part. then i arrived with money and an idea, and the rest is history. like the project in San Cristóbal, this laundry - called Mujeres con Exíto or Successful Women in english - belongs compleatly to the women themselves. they comprise the board of directors who run it, make all decisions, pay all expenses, etc. CMA provides support from their social worker, but does not get any financial payment. Approximate 30 women worked there last year. after women leave CMA they can continue to work there.

Besides the continued successful operation of the laundry, i found new good news. the staff has acquired a grant from a NGO in Germany. it will allow the expansion to another business - food preparation, as well as 4 months of training. after the training, the women can make their own proposals for micro loans to start their own businesses. the grant gives CMA money and staff to accompany the women on this part, which i was not able to complete last year. Hurray!

it also fits beautifully with my plans to start a website when i get home. if i can do it, this website will connect people in the USA with women from CMA. on the site, one can view the women and their projects, make a "social loan" i.e. one where you get the principal back, but not the interest. the women will pay interest, but it will be used to pay the costs of administration and add to the loan fun. now i know there will be someone at CMA to administer this site from their end, i am so happy.

enough for now, but stay tuned...

besos y abrazos (kisses and hugs) to you all,



Thursday, January 22, 2009

my first BLOG report from ecuador january 2009

dear dear friends,

instead of you getting long email reports from me, which you may or may not want to read, you can now go to this blog and read whatever and whenever you want!

of course, i am just loving being here in cuenca. i arrived on january 7, 2009 and i´ll be here until april 2. i can stay for 3 months without a visa, but i can also extend that by another 3 months if just leave the country - maybe a trip to peru - and when i come back in i get stamped for another 3 months!

i am living in Cuenca with pepe astudillo and ana cecilia salazar and their two teenagers, ana elisa and jose antonio. they insisted i stay with them for the entire time instead of renting an apartment, and indeed it was them who suggested i stay for at least 6 months. i´m tempted...

i love living with them. they are so loving, animated, well informed and interesting. if there is a model family (along with Barak and Michele Obama´s) this is it! we have almuerzo (mid day large meal) and merienda or cena (evening light meal) all together most of the time. what a gift, to sit and eat good food, talk, laugh, discuss current events, enjoy frequent dinner guests. its been great for my spanish! interestingly, i understand more this time around, and i can speak better as well. i understand more than i can speak. i have trouble grabbing all those vocabulary words i need out of the deep recesses of my brain - and many of them have never even gotten in there. not to mention figuring out where to put pronouns and adjectives and conjunctions, etc, etc etc. even though i´ve lived here for a year, i am still in elementary school! but you all know me, i have no shame and plow ahead regardless of the countless errors i make.

SAN CRISTOBAL: i went for my first visit to see all my friends and check on the Banco Communitario for women two Sundays ago. i was greeted like a celebrity by all 30 members of the bank, the three nuns, other community members and even a few husbands. they - of course- served me a hugh almuerzo, complete with the biggest cuy i have ever seen. more like a small dog! it was on a huge bed of rice, potatoes, beans, tomatos, and mote (a kind of hominy). what an honor. i ate some of it, after eating a huge bowl of caldo - chicken soup with a big piece of chicken in the middle and sprinkled with small french fries - but brought the rest home, and we ate it for a week!

After almuerzo, the women were anxious to report their success since i´ve left. they are so successful that they have to turn away women because they have more requests than money to lend. women from 4 other communities want to start their own branches! In the almost 2 years of operation, there has been only one default, and they have a whole process in place to collect the money.

Ath the meeting, we talked about different ways to supplement their capital. i had to tell them that money from the US was in short supply during this economic crises. Not that they expected me to bring money. They are much more grateful for the continued interest and support i bring. They decided - and it was entirely their idea - to start a savings program, to complement their loan program, in order to get more capital to lend. wow! this is a whole other administrative process and they will start in february to accept savings from members.

they also want to learn c0mputers, so they can put all this on a computer instead of doing it all by hand. It was their idea to hire the young people of the village to teach them. In this way the money paid to the teachers will stay in san cristobal. I will pay for the trainings with money i brought alone this time which was donated by friends and family in the states.

it is my dream to eventually start a web site, so you all can view the women, see the details of their projects and their needs, and make direct social loans to them. they will have been vetted by the women of the bank, just as they are now. but since there is no internet access at this time, it may be a while before this idea reaches fruition...

however, there are various plans to get internet access in the works, and they have a donated computer from ana cecilia and pepe, and the community will purchase a brand new computer with the annual donation from Bethany Church so i am optimistic that by this time next year, things will be very different and they enter cyberspace. imagine! we may be able to connect this village where no one owns a car and there is only one computer to the world!! and they are ready! (Note: the young people who will teach the women are high school students who travel to Cuenca to high school - an hour each way by bus - and use computers there.)

that´s enough for now. in my next report i´ll tell you about developments at the lavanderia at Casa Maria Amor...

and once again, thanks for your continuing support!

fondly, carolyn