Natalie Ortiz wrote -
During the past 5 months I have been working as the Women’s Empowerment Coordinator for Abriendo Mentes in the rural, disadvantaged community of Potrero, Costa Rica. With the help of the organization and the volunteers, I have been able to manage and grow two successful programs that are significantly benefiting the wellbeing of the women in Potrero. These programs provide a forum for the women to exchange knowledge and skills through a trade school, and gain self confidence and income through a sewing micro-business.
Over the past months I have been volunteering my time without monetary compensation. I am in a position where I need to cover some of my basic costs in order to continue developing this project. I am raising funds in order to continue leading the women’s empowerment program for the upcoming period of January to April of 2013. The funds raised will be used to sponsor myself with a living stipend of $625 per month that will cover basic costs such as rent, food, and medical care.
Womens Empowerment Program Description:
The primary goal of Mujeres Activas de Potrero (MAP) is to empower the local women of Potrero, Costa Rica, to tackle difficult issues in their lives by helping them gain the necessary tools and skills to address them. Participants are encouraged to take charge of their lives and overcome issues of oppression within their individual relationships and within the greater community. The group also creates a social outlet for women to create a community amongst themselves. Their activities include weekly educational and enrichment workshops in which participants learn and teach, either individually or in pairs, activities like cooking, dancing and crafts. These workshops not only provide a venue for learning new skills, they foster leadership skills among the women, enhance their self-esteem, and develop their public speaking ability. These opportunities are important , because, as in many small towns in Latin America, women in Potrero often suffer from low self-esteem, oppression from their partners, and social isolation. MAP is a key resource for the women themselves to initiate and carry through the individual and social changes they choose.
The women are also currently working on a microenterprise project to sew bags – hand bags, book bags, yoga mat bags, etc. to be sold in locally and in tourist outlets. None of the women have entrepreneurial experience so it is a completely new venture for them. Many of them want to contribute to their household income, and through the handbag microenterprise, that possibility exists.
You can check out more about our microentreprise and tradeschool programs here: http://map.bellstrike.com/programs
Guanacaste Literacy Inc. (operating under the name Abriendo Mentes in Costa Rica), founded in June 2009, is a community development initiative that empowers rural Costa Rican communities by providing educational, technological and social programs to those who need it most. Operations are based in the impoverished, rural province of Guanacaste, a region that suffers from a poverty rate of 29% and an unemployment rate of 40%. The four main program areas are Youth Development, Adult ESL Classes, Technology Classes, and Women’s Empowerment.Approximately 12-15 women consistently participate in our Womens Empowerment Program.
Why do I feel the need to stay?
Throughout my time with Abriendo Mentes, I have witnessed the personal and economic growth of these women. I have been moved by their unfailing dedication to the program and enthusiasm to learn in the face of a life full of educational obstacles. Because of the transformation that has taken place in the lives of these women, in terms of personal, educational and economic growth, I am confident that this program has the potential to continue developing and expanding its impact.
I became the Womens Empowerment Director and started working on the development of two different projects: trade school and a sewing microbusiness. Through the trade school project I have been able to:
- Share my knowledge by providing workshops to the women
- Encouraging the women to believe in themselves and motivating them to teach at least one workshop (in any subject! I wanted them to understand that we all have something valuable to teach to the others around us)
- Giving support, advise, and guidance as well as identifying the needs for the teaching/learning workshops.
- Organizing and planning weekly activities.
- Inviting outside local experts that were able to teach about useful subjects for the women such as healthy eating habits, yoga classes, and sports.
- Creating a safe environment and space that reinforces the sense of community and allows the women to dedicate time for themselves.
Through the handbag microbusiness I have been able to:
- Reorganize a diverse group of women capable of sewing handbags
- Teach them about entrepreneurship principles taking them into account for every decision made
- Identify the local needs and desires in order to create a product that is able to sell
- Identify and engage distribution points.
- Create a comitee of volunteers interested in helping in different aspects of the project.
- Design a website and a visual graphic identity that empowers the brand.
- Sell bags and reach for community leaders that have become a voice and 'selling points' for the project.
- Reach important donations such as sewing machines, furniture, and materials.
- Guide them and teach them design principles (color combinations, materials, styles, etc.)
- Obtaining a new space/office that is going to be dedicated to the women and where they can set up a workshop and a storefront.
All of these things have been accomplished of course with the help of Abriendo Mentes and of the women that have demonstrated their dedication and passion to the program. I believe that these projects shouldn't be stopped and that the business/design/social innovation skills and knowledge that I have been able to obtain through my education and past work experience have been very benefitial and useful for a program like this. There is still a long way to go and I would like to be present to achieve other goals such as:
- Designing a sustainable business model for the handbag microentreprise
- Empowering the women and letting them take the lead of their own project, hopefully turning it into an official 'association'.
- Setting up the shop and a marketing plan.
- Inviting more experts to come and talk about useful subjects such as sexual health.
- Diversifying the products that we are making so that more women can join the microentreprise (making bracelets and crafts with recyled materials that can also be sold as souvenirs)
- Planning the expansion of the project to other localities such as the neighbor town of Brasilito.