June 24 – The Women’s Group in El Jicaro

A few months ago, the Pastoral Team had asked the Our Sister Parish (OSP) board if any of the churches or any individuals would like to help purchase fertilizer for any non-partnered communities or groups.  All the communities that have a church partnership receive sacks of fertilizer for their planting season.  It is a huge help.  With this support, and with weather cooperating, a better crop can be harvested to help feed these farming families.  People have said, you get maybe 10% – 15% of a harvest without the help of fertilizer.

I sent a letter to the churches explaining the need and made a list of the communities and groups (including the number of families in each group) that the Pastoral Team supports; those who have no church partnership.  Several churches donated funds to help out!  The PW (Presbyterian Women) of one church noticed a women’s group on the list.  That group is comprised of many single mothers.  The PW were surprised that the women were farmers and that they needed fertilizer.  Yes.  Single mothers need to farm to be able to feed their families!  There are no employment opportunities out in the villages.  People are subsistence farmers.

I knew of this group in El Jicaro from many years ago.  We visited them on occasion while I lived here, and they always attend the bi-monthly meetings at the Pastoral House.  I thought it would be great to get some sort of written history of the group in El Jicaro to share with other PW groups.  Who knows … maybe a couple of PW groups would like to team up and develop a partnership with a women’s group here?  I thought the Pastoral Team would just tell me a bit about them, but they suggested we go to Jicaro and meet with them.  They could tell their own story.  A phone call was made and the meeting was set up!

It’s about an hour and 20-minute ride. There is really only room for two in the cab of the KIA, so Mike, Elmer, Cecilia and I enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine standing up in the back.

We arrived at Susana’s house about 9:15 – she is one of the founders of the group and is the current president of their Directiva – the elected officers of the group.  Immediately, we are given a plate with two chicken tamales, two French bread rolls and coffee.  We casually chat for a bit before heading up the little hill to the ‘back yard’ where this a ‘galeria’ – a leveled space with a laminated aluminum roof but no walls.  There are two long tables set up with several chairs around them.  Already there are 11 women waiting to greet us and talk with us. 

Blanca explained why we were there (most of what I said above).  And that we were hoping to hear their story.  Everyone introduced themselves.  6 of these women were part of the original organizing group way back in 2003.

Susana did most of the talking.  She is not shy and is very active in seeking out projects and support for this group.  For the sake of avoiding a longer blog than you might be willing to read, I will just list some of the projects achieved over the years:

  • Packets with seeds for tomato, cucumber, chili peppers, etc. from the government as well as an NGO from the United Nations (FAO).  This was in different years.
  • Fruit trees for some families
  • Fertilizer and corn seeds (from the Pastoral Team and some years from other institutions)
  • Chickens
  • A bakery oven with workshops and training (although no one can afford the ingredients, so the oven is just sitting there).
  • 6 women were given a cow.  The idea, of that project: when a calf is born, it is given to another woman in the group.  Ultimately, all 37 members might end up with a cow if all goes well!  The women were taught how to make cheeses and how to sell excess milk product.
  • Water collection tanks were given to a few families from one NGO, then a few years later, a few more tanks from another organization.
  • Food baskets with the basics: “canasta basica” (from the Pastoral Team and some years from other institutions)

It is an impressive list.  Everyone had an opportunity to speak.  All expressed gratitude; first to God, then to Susana for her involvement in procuring most of these projects, then to the Pastoral Team for their support since 2008.

Blanca thanked everyone for their input.  And asked them to get together and put this history in writing.  Anyone with a child in school would have a computer so they can type it up.  And they can just electronically send it to the Pastoral Team who will then send it to me to translate.  They have a computer printer given to them from some other project, but they cannot afford the ink!  We will not make them print copies for us!

Blanca then said, on another document, they need to put their heads together and explain every day life.  The projects listed above are very impressive.  But the day-to-day life is a huge struggle to merely survive!  THIS is important for people to understand.  I will paraphrase and merge what several of the women said:

Women are up between 4 and 5 a.m. – they need to prepare meals.  Just making tortillas can take about an hour.  They need to do laundry.  By hand.  Sometimes at the local river if the water is not running.  That can take several hours.  Then make lunch.  At different parts of the year, they will have to spend time on their farmland: clearing the land, planting, fertilizing, weeding often, then, God willing, bring in a harvest.  Then they have to cut the dry kernels off the cob, saving the husks for tamales or feed for the animals.  One of these days, I will tell you about the process for making tortillas starting from the dried kernel.

Families might have to sell something to be able to buy some salt or cooking oil.  This can take time if they have to walk to the busier part of the community or another town to sell what little they have. Hopefully, they don’t have to pay for transportation. Then dinner.  And then it is dark.

Aaaaaaaand repeat.  Day after day.

There is NO employment in the villages. People survive on what they harvest or from the little bit they can make by selling something. One of the women said she sells avocados and firewood she collects. If you have no money, how can you buy the basics for your child: shoes, basic clothing, school supplies, food. If someone gets sick, there is no money for transportation to a doctor or hospital, no money for an exam or medicine.  God forbid you have a chronic illness. 

And as impressive as the list of projects is, life is a struggle.  That is an understatement.

There are many words to talk about the poor. Here are a couple:  “pobre” – describing someone who is poor.  “Pobreza” is poverty.  Systemic poverty.  Poverty that people have no control over and have no hope of escaping.  This is what people here – and honestly, in many parts of the world – live. 

And then, after all this conversation, they shared a huge lunch with us – and each other.  We all had a big bowl of veggie soup and a plate with a big piece of (free range) chicken killed that morning, rice, tomato and cucumber slices and 2 large tortillas and bagged juice. 

I’m thankful it wasn’t just us eating.  That is always difficult.  And understanding and knowing their poverty, their generosity was very humbling.

It seems it is always the poorest of the poor who are the most generous. 

How can those of us, in our abundance, be more like them? 

Cows, crops and bananas on the way to Jicaro. Jicaro is the blue dot on the Google Map

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