SST AT SEVENTY #7 Jubilee Community
In the afternoon after visiting La Chureca, we visit The Center for Development in Central America in Ciudad Sandino just outside Managua. It is a project of the Jubilee Community, Inc., a non-sectarian faith-based community that was founded to address the immense poverty in Central America. Ciudad Sandino has the largest population density in the country and is Nicaragua’s poorest city. Most of its 150,000 residents are part of Nicaragua’s 80% population that lives on less than $2 a day. The only jobs available to most of them are in the sweatshop factories in the free trade zone; jobs that pay low wages, treat workers poorly and provide little job security. Some residents hitchhike into Managua to wash windows and sell bags of water at stoplights. With the global money crisis even the sweatshops are closing, meaning even more desperate times for these families.
Jubilee Community helps people to set up co-operatives. Co-operatives are worker owned businesses that teach management, administration and co-operative skills. The workers invest time and money (from start-up loans) in businesses that in the end is really theirs.
Current co-operatives include an agricultural one of 2000 small growers, which exports organic sesame, coffee, peanuts, cashews and cotton; and ginning/baling, spinning and security co-operatives. We tour the ginning/baling and the spinning installations.
The ginning/baling area does not have enough cotton for constant production. We see the gin that was purchased used and supposedly in running condition. However quite a few hours of repairing were spent in getting it ready to work. There are bales of cotton waiting to be spun into yarn when the spinning plant is complete. The cotton is all organically grown which increases its value.
On our way to the see the ongoing construction of the spinning factory we get to check out the privy, which organically decomposes solid and liquid human waste enough that it can be recycled safely into the ground.
We approach a large building in progress, which is over 2 stories high, and about the area of half a football field. Inside the four walls we can see that the roof is being added and the floor is yet to be done. A several women, middle-aged and older are using a wheelbarrow to carry dirt outside the area. Above us other women and a several men are waiting to pull up the large sheets of metal, which will become the roof. Looking out we see 3 women carrying a sheet, about 20 feet long, one on her head, to the side of the building. There it will be pulled to the top using ropes and long boards leaning against the side of the building. Thirty women and five men in this co-operative are building this plant to spin cotton into yarn to be made into cloth for 100% organic fair trade garments. Under a several large shade trees we listen to several of the women talk about their lives and what this opportunity means to them. They get 50c per hour for twenty hours a week and work 12 hours a week without pay as their equity in the co-operative. The members of the co-operative are of all ages. But I am impressed by one, past middle age, who tells us that during the day while she is working her daughter makes tortillas that she goes out to sell on the street after she gets home to help support her family. Even though her mother asks her why she is working so much without pay, she realizes that these hours will eventually mean that she will have work at a factory that will belong to her.
After talking personally with some of the women we climb back on the bus for the trip back to Jinotepe. When I see the struggle of these determined people I am humbled and reminded to really appreciate what my life has been.
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