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