ProyectaRSE September 30 2013, 0 Comments
Sustainable Social Development
Hands for hope knit their own destiny
Hands For Hope – A real story of sustainable social development
By: Nestor Silva Jaramillo, President Creation Peru NGO
Translated by Cinthya Rubio, Marketing and Communications Director @ Our Hands For Hope
It was a night like many others of getting home late after a long day at work. Ñaty (Violeta, my wife) was still waiting for me with her eternal smile to ask how my day went. Being inconsiderate, stuck up and not mentally present, I answered: “I’m hungry.”
Sometimes we are inconsiderate, stuck up and not mentally present with those who treat us well and only expect a bit of attention and consideration. Once I finished eating, I started telling her about my day. While I boasted of my big achievements and the haughtiness of being the Director of an NGO, she stopped me in my tracks and said “What about me? How can I help? I want to do something in the places where you are helping so many people. I know I can be of help with my time and abilities…”
My chauvinistic ego, absurd and more arrogant than ever instantly responded: “But love, what can you do in those complicated and dangerous places? No honey, I will not allow you to go there, something bad can happen to you.”
She kept on insisting. She intelligently insisted. One day she invited me to the school where she works to show me the infrastructure and material needs that they had, but even more important the human relationships within the community. I was in shock: mothers and fathers that didn’t care about the academic situation of their daughters, dysfunctional families with wives and daughters being mentally and sexually abused, fathers that abandoned their homes, alcohol and drug problems.
Ñaty (Violeta) proposed the idea –for the hundredth time- to invite the mothers of the students to the school but not to talk about academics, their children’s behavior, or to pass out school supplies, but to participate in productive activities to spark their entrepreneurial spirit and motivate with an economic gain. The main idea was to empower the mothers by bettering their abilities in an activity that could generate an income so they would be economically independent. On a deeper level we wanted to share character training to better their personal, family and community relationships, based on a practice of values. A really great idea, but a really complicated proposition.
Once home after visiting the school, I asked Ñaty: “Tell me one thing, why do you want to do this?” and with tears in her eyes, which is fairly common, she said: “Because something needs to be done to help those girls… because neither you nor I would ever want our daughter to go through any of this…”
Just like “Don Ramon”, the skinny, weak, mustached and mean character from Chavo del 8 (Mexican television sitcom from the 70’s), I was barely able to gulp while my Adams apple was caught in my throat. With my teeth clenched I said, “Ok love, I don’t know how but we will get this started. However long it takes, I promise that your idea will get started, yes or yes.”
And that is how we started. With zero budget yet millions worth of eagerness, a lot of creativity and lots of love we started at her school with a group of 30 mothers. With our own money we bought materials (yarn, thread, macramé, knitting needles, crochet hooks, etc.), and hired two knitting specialists, and began training in 7 techniques of hand knitting and stitch work.
The second invitation that we sent out duplicated our initial number of participants. For the third invitation there was no more space in the classroom. Finally for the fourth invitation we moved out to the barrios where the women lived. We tried to get help from the municipality and from other schools to offer these courses but again and again doors were closed right in our face. (There is a reason why God gave us small noses and not big ones). Finally a Christian NGO, Project New Hope, lent us their community centers to be able to invite more women from the barrios of Alto Trujillo, El Milagro in Sector 7, Los Libertadores in El Porvenir and in Alto Salaverry.
We had up to 100 mothers in one classroom. I still don’t know how we managed but all the women had work material, we helped them with bus fair to get to the training sessions, and we were even able to offer snacks (which they would call “cofibrei” –Coffee Break)
A special mention needs to go out to the group of Angels that came together to work with Ñaty, women that became the best support system for the coordination of the project. Women and mothers, with their hands created marvelous knits and that never- read this carefully, never- charged a cent to share their knowledge, abilities, and love. I tell Ñaty all the time that these women have reserved their space in heaven because what they do in this day and age it is unheard of, unthought-of or even attempted.
Around this time, I flew out to The United States and I presented the idea for this project to the Birtcher Family Foundation committee. It was such a great idea, and what we had already been able to accomplish spoke for itself; the foundation members didn’t hesitate to add our project to their budget for the year in course. Their support became available for an additional year as well. In a year we were able to train 800 women which was a big challenge for what was initially programed but was perceived as a plus for the original project.
A new obstacle was presented. Once trained the next step for the women was to produce. This meant to complete assignments, honor deadlines, and commit to being efficient while presenting all work with quality.
The million dollar question was “Now what?” I heard this for many days, weeks perhaps. Ñaty kept on asking what now and the only answer I had was “Nothing. We never offered anything, only to train them.” She was not satisfied: “But we cannot abandon them now”. I said “But what can we do? We have given them more than what we were able to give.”
The answer was immature. The next step was to look for a market. “Yeah man –I would say to myself- it’s super easy to find a market, HA! What are you getting into Nestitor?” My head could not get around it. Finding out how to get to this next step was keeping me up at night. We can’t fail these women.
One afternoon, I sat in front of my laptop and started writing. I shared part of this story and much of what is not here to my business partner and friend, Ron Birtcher. I told him about every situation lived, with each failure and success obtained. I described the good and bad of what the mothers in the barrios had to go through. The passion and frustrations that Ñaty’s team had, and the desire and intentions we had of making the dreams of these women come true: women who have deposited all their trust in our NGO.
Ron, that old fox, knower of entrepreneurial signs within communities that want to get ahead, keeper of such a great heart, joined my idea. (I am now looking back to what he would frequently say: “There are three elements needed to create change in an environment: first, people must need it; second, they must want it; and third, not only do they need and want it, it must work.”)
He was sure it would work. Immediately, Ron contacted various dealers of native import products, he interviewed with them, traveled from one place to another, and even at his almost 80 years of age Googled companies, organizations or individuals interested in purchasing textiles from Peru with the additional intangible value of: handmade but made with the heart.
Yet again, another angel crossed our path: Terisa Brooks Huddleston, designer from the state of California in the US. A focus group was set up and the first test consisted of sending 30 diverse products to them. The mothers gave their all and in less than a week they prepared great work in diverse colors with the quality of our highly valued Peruvian cotton. The package was sent to the focus group in California, the focus group received it and we were all excited and intrigued to find out the result of the evaluation. In 6 days we received our package back with a note that said “We are sorry but these items do not satisfy the international market expectations. Thanks and God Bless You”.
I still have that piece of paper.
I asked myself what would happen now, and to be honest we had no idea what to do. Later on that night I contacted Ron via Skype to talk about what had happened. He already knew. I was bothered because he had not reached out before, but now I know that it was important for the mothers to perceive the news as a blow that one can regain strength from with firm determination to demonstrate what they were made of and make amends with themselves to regain their self-esteem without getting scared of tripping along the way. What were the mistakes and errors in our product: fit, color, design, finishes… (Almost nothing)
Size because our Large was their Medium, our Medium was a Small, and our small was a sweater for their Pekinese dog. Color because our pastel fuchsia, orange, sky blue, yellow and lime green are not favored by the Americans.
Page 24 Caption:
“What was salvageable of all of these critiques was that the hand knit technique was really invaluable, “very good”, “excellent”, “awesome”, and other terminology that gave us a second opportunity if the mistakes before described were fixed”.
They prefer gray, black or white tones. Design, because all the details that we add to the edging, sleeves and simulated buttons we make for our sweaters did not mark a style or fashion trend that would be appreciated in a show or window in the US. In the finishing of the products, because some items had small specks of dirt with a notorious odor of fire wood. What was salvageable of all of these critiques was that the hand knit technique was really invaluable, “very good”, “excellent”, “awesome”, and other terminology that gave us a second opportunity if the mistakes before described were fixed.
And it was done. The foundation funded the airfare and housing expenses to have Terisa come to Peru for a few weeks to train, lead and mentor the mothers on how to overcome their technical defects, but at the same time she praised and motivated them to continuously fight to obtain their goals.
Today, what began as a mini project has become the primary organization that we (Creation Peru) use to validate what we do in regards to everything related to real, sustainable, social development.
With an appropriate business plan, accompanied by a realistic marketing plan, a well-defined internal organization in groups of mothers and collaborators denominated “Manos Peruanas” here in Trujillo, consultants in international business and exportations, with “Our Hands For Hope” our strategic partner who made our mothers needs and feelings their own, and the trio of Terisa Brooks Huddleston, Joanne Birtcher and Cinthya Rubio in the US, we have maintained an excellent commercial relationship with more than 120 knitting mothers of the main barrios of Alto Trujillo, that export thousands of items per year to the United States, from ponchos to snoods, blankets and wraps, hats and scarves. Ñaty’s project consolidates and positions itself more and more in a market with high expectations in quality, time and techniques, showing items in important storefronts in California, Arizona and most recently in New York.
See it for yourself: visit and appreciate the handmade products of our Trujillan Mothers at www.ourhandsforhope.com . Two weeks ago Ron called and confirmed that NapaStyle, one of the largest home product chain in the west of the United States, had placed an order with the potential for thousands of items to be bought for what is left of the year. They had approved the trial products that were sent to them and now two of our items appear on their website www.napastyle.com
Am I proud of all of this? What do you think? Imagine, I wasn’t going to let my wife visit the barrios of Alto Trujillo, El Milagro and El Porvenir. She humbly demonstrated her courage, and intelligence to visit them. She is like another tenant, friend, neighbor of the poorest communities on the outskirts of Trujillo.
To finish off, I want to tell you that I still remember Ñaty’s eyes full of tears mixed with gratitude and hope when I said we would make her project come to life; her ideas and her passion. Yes, passion. Passion is the perfect word to define all of this.
End of story. As I finish writing the last lines of this article, the doorbell rings. I walk to the door to see who it is. When I open the door, two young mothers of Alto Trujillo, with their faces full of joy and hope, one carrying her baby and the other woman flanked by her toddler twin boys that try to hide behind her. Tthey both ask me in unison: “Is Violetita home?”
There will be more to add to this story.