This afternoon we are going to visit a women’s cooperative Mujeres Ambientalistas, (Environmental Women), that was organized 14 years ago to recycle garbage. There was an area close to the women’s neighborhood, Barrio Boris Vega, where people dumped their garbage mostly because it was convenient to do so. They wanted to improve their neighborhood and at the same time reclaim items that were recyclable. These sixteen women started with cleaning up the area and recycling organic waste. Each day they went through garbage arriving on trucks and took out vegetable and fruit waste and placed it in recycling vats where they then turned and mixed as needed. Because there were huge amounts of material this soon became an impossible task. Another problem developed, the neighbors began to complain about the smell. The women decided to move in a different direction.
In the area that they had cleared of garbage and turned into a shady park with walkways, shrubbery and other plants, they began a paper making production using recycled paper and organic material. Here they produce and sell scrapbooks, bookmarks, note cards, gift boxes, picture albums, picture frames and other items.
While one of the ladies, tells part of us this history and places samples of their handiwork on a table for us to see and purchase, another, Doña Agustina, shows the rest of us the papermaking process. Discarded paper is torn up and placed in a large container with water enough to be sloshy and some organic waste to produce whatever color they want. These organics include tobacco, corn silk, banana peels, onion skins, beets and other discarded organic material. The container is connected to an electric motor which whirls it together something like what a blender does. When it is sufficiently mixed it is poured out on a screen in a frame, the water is drained away and the pulpy mass is pressed down flat on the screen. It is then placed in a large press where the rest of the water is pressed out mechanically. Afterwards the screen is set outside to dry. When it is dry the “new” paper is carefully pulled off the screen and you have a new piece of paper. Then the woman who has made the paper decides what item she will make and cuts, decorates and finishes the piece for sale. Each individual woman does the complete process so each item is unique.
We spend a generous amount of time and money looking at and purchasing all kinds of lovely gifts and souvenirs. It is money well spent as it will help this cooperative to continue providing work for its members. I buy a bunch of bookmarks, many of them with the guardabarrancas, the national bird of Nicaragua, a scrapbook to put my pictures of Nicaragua in and some picture frames. I find out later that Lisa has bought a Mother’s Day card for me. It will always remind me of this time and place, of these women, who with their labor and cooperation, have fashioned a future for themselves and their community.
This article is part of a series written by the author as the result of her visit to Nicaragua in May, 2009. She went there to visit with her daughter, Lisa Guedea Carreño, who was leading a group of Goshen College students on a study service term which is part of curriculum at the college.
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