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