Leaders of women's savings and microcredit groups receive diplomas and promote community service at the Festival for Leaders of Women’s Savings Groups organized by ArtCorps Artist Miguel Zepeda Santos.
Nervous energy reigned at the time of the final preparations. “Miguel, check out how the mural turned out.” “Miguel, we put up these pictures, what do you think?”
The first truck arrived, carrying about 50 participants. They began organizing the chairs and setting up the sound system, while others helped with the welcome banner. In less than 20 minutes, about 300 people arrived, counting girls, boys, women and men.
The program began with the introduction of the participants and a reflection on the work done by the different groups, while dances from young people entertained the audience. During the presentation of diplomas, the women shared their accomplishments, along with the difficulties they encountered and how they have overcome them and the road that lies ahead to achieve even more. One participant stated: “The group and training have helped us in solving group conflicts. We used to wait for someone from Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo to come and fix it, but now we can do this for ourselves thanks to the group activities and reflections, which have helped us become more independent and address difficult issues in an atmosphere of dialogue and tolerance.” The ceremony was very emotional, and some participants could not hold back their tears when they received their diplomas.
The representatives from ArtCorps partners Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo and Oxfam America noted the pride and active engagement of the leaders and have many questions for them. Some female entrepreneurs made the most of the gathering by selling their products.
The participation of staff from Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo and Oxfam America was fundamental to the success of this event. A colleague from another district traveled a day early to the village to help out with anything we needed, and the entire office staff lent a hand from transporting equipment to cleaning up.
A month has passed since the activity took place, and our shared experience is already showing results. It has served as a model for other groups. The festival will be replicated in a nearby village where Servicio Jesuita also works, and other groups of women and youth are planning service projects like the ones that were presented and recognized.
In the words of Rigoberto Bonilla, Program Manager for Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo, "I congratulate [all female leaders]; this is a sign of how hard they are working."
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Doña Aidé was one of the first women to arrive for the workshop, and she sat down to chat to enjoy her cup of coffee and pupusas and wait with ArtCorps Artist Miguel Zepeda Santos for the other organizers of women’s microcredit groups to arrive.
Doña Aidé has a quiet and kind demeanor, and like many women from a machista culture, she only speaks if she is addressed directly. I wondered how comfortable she would be participating in the activities and telling the group about herself.
I gave each woman a flower that I had created earlier for them to color and fill in (this technique is called the “Flower of my Life”). On each petal, they were asked to respond to the following statements: I work with women in order to…, What I like the most is…, My best quality is…, What I do best is…, My worst fear is…, What I don’t like is…, My greatest dream is…. Doña Aidé told me that she needed help to complete her flower. I approached her and realized that it was difficult for her to read and that only with much effort, and very slowly, was she able to write. But despite these limitations, she didn’t get discouraged and participated along with the others.
When Doña Aidé finished filling out her flower, she shared the following:
I work with women “to help my family cover household expenses.” What I like the most is “to share with the women in the savings group.” My best quality is “to be very nice to others.” What I do best is “to make a delicious meal.” My worst fear is “to get sick and have to go to the hospital.” What I don’t like is “to be selfish.” My greatest dream is “that my son will be a professional.”
If we ask people what they like and what they don’t like, what their greatest fears and best qualities are, etc., without using this creative technique, people don’t participate. But a simple drawing exercise breaks the silence and allows women to express their day-to-day realities as women, mothers, wives and leaders in their communities.
Once all the women had shared their drawings, Doña Aidé expressed that the drawing had served to make her stop and think about who she is, make note of all her good qualities, know herself better and reflect on her life.
Dona Aide knows how to communicate her biggest fears and this is an important step toward overcoming the physical, psychological, verbal and economic abuse, which she and her peers face every day. In the microcredit groups, women share joy, sadness, pain, a sense of community and determination. Now the organizers of the women’s credit groups have one more tool to use to build self-esteem and communicate with one another.
This project is being carried out in collaboration with Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo.
Sixteen-year-old Edwin hopes to finish high school student next year. He lives with his aunt because his mother left him at age seven to get remarried and the new husband didn’t want him. Last November, he started coming to the youth theater group led by ArtCorps Artist Naphtali Fields but after participating in several rehearsals for the Christmas play, he drifted away. This year, though, Edwin comes to every workshop and rehearsal.
Edwin is the one who organizes his cousins so that they bike together up to the little school where we meet for every rehearsal. If I need something, he will get it for me. If the group is rowdy or not focused, Edwin helps me restore order. He does all of this quietly and without calling attention to himself.
A few months ago, I sat down alone with him before a rehearsal and told him, “Edwin, you are the one in the group who has grown the most in your leadership skills. When I leave, you’re going to have to work hard to keep the group going because everyone respects you and listens to you.” He ducked his head trying to hide his smile but didn’t say anything, just nodded. Later that night, as we were rehearsing, I noticed that he had taken my words seriously. Offstage he marshaled the actors and kept them focused. In our reflection circle he was constantly helping.
Edwin’s leadership has continued to grow significantly. He and Aracely, another of the group’s leaders, wrote, directed and organized a play on gender-based violence for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which they performed for over 100 women from the Jujutla area. Days later, at the request of the public health department, they performed the same play in their own community. This was a big step for Edwin who had joined the group with the disclaimer that he would only perform outside of his village: “I’ll do a play for other people, but I’ll never perform in Las Palmeras. Everyone knows me here; they’ll all laugh at me.”
After the performance I asked him what changed his mind. He explained that he was inspired by another ArtCorps theater group, who he saw perform in their own community: “The actors in Guayapa were really good, and no one laughed at them. We can do the same thing here.” Edwin is truly a guiding example for his peers and neighbors, and it has been a real joy to see him change from an on-the-edge drifter to a motivational leader.
This project is being carried out in collaboration with Servicio Jesuita para el Desarrollo and Oxfam America in Ahuachapan, El Salvador.