Thursday, October 31, 2013

Perfectly Pertinent

As to the great mass of working girls and women, how much independence is gained if the narrowness and lack of freedom of the home is exchanged for the narrowness and lack of freedom for the factory, sweatshop, department store or office?
Emma Goldman

I love this quote. A few sentences that encompass a solid universal truth is the hallmark of a talented writer, and woman. As Ms. Goldman notes, sweatshops and factories are confining work environments, offering economic advancement for only a select few administrative staff and often absentee owners. These type of work environments are not limited to Central America. Stories abound in international news of the health hazards and hardships of factories that produce most of our clothing and accessories.
I'm going to spin this blog post in a direction that you might not have anticipated. I'm going to argue that our Finding Freedom through Friendship mothers would be thrilled to have a factory job. If they qualified for employment at a Guatemalan factory (which they would not, because most of them do not speak Spanish), Maria, Catarina, Candalaria and all of the other 15 mothers in our program would be enthusiastic employees. They would be first in line for applications, if they could find the transportation from their villages. 
The food that we deliver to our mothers each month is quite literally, a lifesaver. Six of our mothers were interviewed by myself and other FFF volunteers during our home visits to their villages in Guatemala two weeks ago. All were asked what they did for food when our donations, which are meant to provide one basic meal per day to the family members, ran out. The answers were the same. They either begged for food from neighbors, or they did without. 
A factory job? What a blessing that would be for each of these mothers. With a paycheck, which is something none of them have ever seen, the Maria's and Catarina's could afford more food, they could purchase basic kitchen ware, clothing, and basic essentials. Instead, this is how they earn their "living":
Hills near Catarina's house where she picks coffee

Maria and her two teenage daughters contract with a local consigner to weave traditional fabric pieces.  He pays them far less than fair market trade value. If they do not meet his quota, they risk not having the business. 

Maria's 15 yr old weaves 8 hours a day

Catarina and her older children pick coffee beans in local coffee plantations. Average wage for eight hour days? Two dollars.  They feel fortunate to get this, since there is a coffee plant fungus currently infecting the 
 countries crops and the work is only available a few months a year.
A factory job with a paycheck, and regular hours would make any of our FFF moms feel like they had won the lottery. Meanwhile, they make the best of every day, with resilience and fortitude, and always, with hope for a more reliable income source.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Retail or Reality?

I've just returned from Guatemala, where some friends and I visited many of our Finding Freedom through Friendship mothers and their children. The purpose of the visit was to make sure that each family in our program has improved health indicators after receiving our daily meal donations, that each child who is eligible is in school, and that the houses we have built for our abandoned mothers have been properly constructed. We also talked to each mother about possible economic opportunities. As you can imagine, this is the hardest issue to resolve, since our clients live in communities with severely limited income resources. 
The villages that our clients live in are surrounded by beautiful and fertile fields, where abundant crops are grown, primarily for consumption in Guatemala City and abroad. 

Photo of crops taken with my iphone
Sylvia's dinner
We can't always make our home visits unannounced, but I prefer to do so. Just like in the states, a friend who comes to the door without prior notice finds the true ambiance of a household. Sylvia and her seven children did not expect us on our last night in Guatemala. She was just getting ready to feed her family when we appeared. The family's dinner consisted of you see on her stove. Bread and coffee. 

(Our budget doesn't allow us to send food to this family monthly.)
My life in the states requires that I jump back into my busy routine quickly when I return from Guatemala, which is why I found myself in a local shop in Kentucky today. My body was with my daughter but my heart was still in Sylvia's kitchen. Humanitarian concerns in Guatemala are not "trendy" in the retail world, so I was surprised to see this purse hanging on the rack.
The price on this item was $50. I have no idea what the #15 means, but I do know that for the cost of this sack purse for sale in Kentucky, Sylvia's children could have eaten for a week in Guatemala.

Sylvia won't see any results of the profit from this retail chain's sales of this item. I would like to think that this popular retail outlet is funding food for Guatemala's families with the sales of this and similar items. If they are, it is not indicated in their store or on their web site. 

The extra set of eyes was an unintended edit, but seemed appropriate

The retail store was beautiful, but the reality in Guatemala, where I visited too many kitchens without food, is not so attractive.The United Nations World Food Programme estimates that 50% of Guatemala's indigenous children live with chronic hunger, with Guatemala ranking fourth in the world for pediatric malnutrition. (