Thursday, September 27, 2012

Providing Meaningful Work: A Plan

I wrote here that providing meaningful work for women was one way I had long been thinking about fighting the exploitation and vulnerability of women. I have kicked around these ideas for a few months now and I have finally been able to clarify them into a plan with five aspects. Today I will lay out a bit of an outline of those aspects and then we can begin talking about the things I haven't yet figured out and the needs we have to meet to be able to accomplish this. I explained that I have chosen Blessed Zelie as the patron and so in our projects list, it will be called the Zelie Martin Initiative.

  • Aspect 1: Educational Courses
                  It never takes long for people wherever we are living as missionaries to find out that I can teach English and come asking about classes. Sometimes, I get stuck on whether this is a good use of my time or not. But here in Costa Rica, I have discovered, if adults can pass exams in various subjects at various levels, their wages go up. So providing an English class for women is a very worthwhile endeavor. I have already begun talking to the school principal about the possibility of using a class room there. Later, I would like to be able to offer other kinds of classes, like some education in personal finances, health, and maybe literacy if there is a need.

  • Aspect 2: Micro-business loans
               There is definitely no shortage of ideas or motivation to work here, especially among the women. And many women have skills well worth offering. Most often the problem is that they lack the necessary investment to get started. The first loan we would like to grant is for a friend who has been studying and building little by little for two years to have her own small beauty salon in front of her home. She has finished her studies and her husband has purchased the wood little by little and built the initial structure. Now she needs the funds to furnish it out with a salon chair, sink, mirror, and professional supplies. In terms of business investment, the amount needed is small, a few thousand dollars, but to her family, it is years worth of savings. Helping her get this project of the ground would grant stability to her family. We have other projects waiting after hers, a woman who would like to teach cake making classes, thus providing meaningful work for her and skill training for other women, a woman who would like to create a small shop in her home to help her daughters pay for college so they do not have to go to work in the city. The list is ongoing. Providing an opportunity for families to create business and income with their own skills or encouraging the acquisition of work skills lessens their vulnerability and the necessity to seek work that places them or their children in danger of being exploited.

  • Aspect 3: Women's Artisan Cooperative
            The ability of women to produce beauty with their hands in universally appreciated. It is the same here. The second aspect of the plan is organize a women's cooperative. I would like to first focus on making natural stone versions of the missionary rosary and projects we can make from repurposed t-shirts. You can see some ideas I've started collecting on my Pinterest board. Once we get going on the communal projects, I would then like to invite the participating women to bring in other items they can make to sell or to teach a craft to the other women of the group. The marketing strategy would be to set up a web page to sell the items as well to set up a table monthly in a local farmer's market. We would meet on a Saturday and have Bible study in the morning, then work, break and share lunch together, and finish up in the afternoons. The women could then take various projects home to finish up if needed. However, I want to majority of the work to be accomplished in the communal work setting as I think this aspect is very important. Fellowship, sharing the word of God, breaking bread together and working together all contribute to a structure that lessens the idea feeling of loneliness and desperation among women, thus lessening their vulnerability to the dangerous forces that feed the trafficking machine.

  • Aspect 4: Indigenous Women's Cooperative
             The specifics of this aspect of the project are the least clear at this point. It is not possible for many indigenous women to walk from the mountains to participate in the cooperative mentioned above, not to mention the fact that language and culture differences would make it difficult even if they should be able to attend. Of course, they will be invited always. But I would like to also offer an alternative form of participation to the women who must work at home because of distance. Many of the indigenous women are skilled at the craft of beading. I would like to purchase some canvas field bags and market bags and let them have license to decorate them as they like with beads. These can then be included in our marketing.

  • Aspect 5: A Partnership
              I will be meeting soon with Maria at Salvando Corazones to flesh out how the St. Bryce Foundation can partner in the work they are doing to fight the injustice of human trafficking and provide the first safe house for victims in Costa Rica. But we would like to dedicate this program, the Zelie Martin Initiative, as a partner for their work. Meaning whatever we raise in funding for this program, we will share equally with them for their work and education programs that will provide a future full of hope for the residents of their safe house. So, if we have a sewing machine on our wish list, and a sponsor donates the item or the funds, we will not move on to the next need until we have donated an equal item or funds to Salvando Corazones.

So, there is the rough outline of the idea. I am ready to put in the work to get it going and keep it going. But I need a lot of help thinking through particulars and acquiring the necessary skills and supplies. That's where you can help. So, let's all keep praying, asking Blessed Zelie's intercession, and then perhaps we will be able to work through the details and create something meaningful and beautiful for the women and families of Costa Rica and for God.

1 comment:

  1. Colleen, those are really good ideas!!! When I worked with prostitutes in Kharkiv, Ukraine, finding work that paid enough for the ladies to make a normal living was the biggest issue. Most of them had not finished there primary school. The wages they would earn in manial jobs is not even enough to buy food for themselves and their child(ren) let alone paying rent and utilities. No wonder that the only way they see is prostitution. I think this is true for a lot of survivors of trafficking as well. There is a reason why they ended up in the hands of traffickers, mostly because they want to earn a living for their family.