Mar 6, 2017

The Change in Juana


 The sun is about to go down, and Juana is rushing to finish the last two pages of her physics homework. She is anxiously trying to calculate Euclidean vector before there is no more sunlight. Juana always finishes her homework before dark because she cannot study during the nighttime – that would be wasting electricity. Although Juana values the gift of education, she is also trying to apply the savings tips she learned in Creamos’ financial literacy course while doing what is best for her family’s economic situation. Juana says “Creamos has made my life more difficult…in a good way. It has made me think harder about the way I discipline my children, the way I spend money, prioritizing education and the example I am constantly setting for my children.”

 Creamos aims to change attitudes and behaviors in the various micro and macro structural factors that perpetuate the cycle of poverty in our target community. In 2017 alone, Creamos has served 81 unique clients whom we hope like Juana, are working on the process to become more effective and independent mothers while taking on a greater leadership role in their community.

Although Juana grew up in what one would consider a loving family, severe financial need forced Juana to leave school when she was 8 years old and dedicate her time to working in the garbage dump. For 16 years, Juana worked in the dump, collecting and recycling items for 12 hours a day, in the blazing sun. Like most women, she earned $3.00 to $4.00 a day – 50% of what men working in the dump make. Juana expressed, that although her life was consumed by work and substance abuse before, she always had higher aspirations for herself.

Shortly after her children were born, Juana stopped using drugs and alcohol and completely devoted herself to being a mother. She did not want her children working in the garbage dump and she knew the answer was education. No matter how long and draining Juana’s day was, her priority was and continues to be her children’s studies.

In 2012, when she was 24, Juana made a decision - she was going to go back to school and work for Creamos. Juana wholeheartedly began in fourth grade and within three years, she had graduated from sixth grade with the highest GPA in her class. She continued on to middle school, which continued to test her resilience. She created a strict study schedule for herself that again, consisted of only daytime study hours and never hesitated to seek extra help when she needed it.

From the day Juana enrolled Creamos’ jewelry program, she treated her finances and education with the utmost care and respect. For months after Juana began to receive her weekly pay, she deposited a large portion of every check into Creamos’ internal savings account.  After five months, she asked to withdraw her whole savings account. Creamos staff was worried about a potential emergency or crisis’, and when they asked Juana if everything was ok, she proudly replied – I am going to buy bunk beds for my children. For the first time, all of her children would not have to share a bed – a luxury few children can experience in this community.

Juana was one of the 25 women to graduate from Creamos’ financial literacy workshop last year where she learned the intricacies of savings, budgeting, banks and debt management. By the end of 2017, Creamos projects that we will graduate 25 more women from this same course. In addition, Juana took advantage of Creamos’ next financial education initiative by participating in our individual financial advisement. Furthermore, Juana is now one of the 23 women who is participating in Creamos’ matched savings program. This program affords women the opportunity to receive financial incentives for increasing the frequency of their savings.

On top of managing her schoolwork, family and job, Juana holds one of the highest attendance records for Creamos’ weekly psycho-educational workshops. In these workshops, Creamos staff and outside speakers facilitate discussions on various women issues. In addition, Juana attends Creamos aerobics class on a daily basis along with about 20 of her Creamos colleagues.

 Last year, Juana graduated from middle school at the top of her class…again. This year, she will graduate from high school. Juana’s story is not only one of hope; it’s one of perseverance and determination.  She is a symbol of inspiration and encouragement for her children and anyone who knows her story.

We will be sure to keep you updated on other moving stories and programmatic progress throughout the year!


Dec 6, 2016

Ending 2016 with some inspiration


Dear Creamos Supporter,

We are thrilled to share some of the many successes and steps of growth Creamos took in 2016. In total, we have serviced 134 women through the various components of our program, we have added two new members to our team and dramatically increased our financial and social impact.

To begin, we want to highlight one of our most inspiring stories this year.

Vilma is a mother of two boys and has been a member of Creamos since 2011. She graduated from middle school last year, and like many graduates, was debating what her next steps would be. In January 2016, Vilma made a decision very few women in the Garbage Dump Community make – she decided to follow her dreams and become a beautician. She began to investigate, and without any assistance, Vilma found a course to receive her Cosmetology Certification and immediately enrolled.

Vilma was aware that there would be costs that came along the course, but she was determined to make it work. In order to plan for her upcoming expenses, Vilma was the first women to sign up for Creamos’ financial literacy workshops – a six week workshop where Creamos participants learn the fundamentals of savings, budgeting, bank services and debt management. Vilma was engaged in the course and for the first time in her life, she opened a savings account. 

Throughout the six-week course, she saved once a week in her newly opened account. In addition, she set up a piggy bank in her house, so she could begin to pass these habits to her children and made savings a family activity. After the workshop, Vilma found it difficult to continue savings, and went three months without making any deposits. 

In September, Vilma began to participate in individual financial advising – the second part of Creamos’ Financial Education Program. She began to save money on a weekly basis again, and has created well-defined, time bound savings goals. She carries a little notebook everywhere she goes, to ensure she stays within her budget and writes down every expense. 

The most significant change in Vilma’s life is her perspective on savings. She treats depositing money in her savings account as if it was a debt that she must pay every week. She is currently saving for her children’s graduation and to open her own hair salon. Vilma continues to be an example for her children and other women in the community. She proves that financial education in conjunction with determination to achieve your dreams can be the perfect recipe for breaking the cycle of poverty.

Here are other exciting updates from the different areas of Creamos:

Income Generating Programs: Creamos launched its new website, including our new online store, in September. In January 2016, Creamos implemented its newest inventory system, affording all participants the opportunity to become well versed in Microsoft Access, as they are all responsible for entering their products in the inventory.

In October, Creamos signed a contract with Wakami – one of the largest social businesses in Guatemala. This contract permits Creamos participants to become producers. This opportunity has allowed us to hire 5 women as peer leaders, and train any woman that is eligible to join. We are confifdent this opportunity will allow the women to have higher and more constant income throughout the year.

In addition, Creamos received two technical assistance grants from a private company, Alterna. This award permitted us to hire a sewing specialist who helped us expand our standardized line and hire a Financial Literacy Specialist to grow and evaluate our Financial Literacy program.

Individual Supportive Services: Creamos has conducted individual intakes with every Creamos participant evaluating the following areas: Demographic, housing information, financial security, financial stability, social support, intimate partner violence violence, physical health and emotional health. Short-term case management and crisis intervention has served 57 women.

Violence against women: In July 2016, Creamos was officially accepted into the Guatemalan’s Public Ministry’s “La Red de Derivación Metropolitana”. This is Guatemala’s largest network of organizations working in the field of violence against women. Creamos now has access to professional development trainings, and a resource guide to ensure we have credible referrals to provide to our women.

In August 2016, Creamos began it’s first confidential, closed support group for women who are survivors and current victims of intimate partner violence. The group finished in November 2016 where all graduates rated their experience as “excellent” and reported that they “feel more confident to manage dangerous situations” on the post evaluation.

Thank you everyone for your support and enthusiasm you have shown us this year. We are so excited to continue this journey next year with you all. We are more dedicated than ever to work as hard as we can to improve the lives of women an families living around the Guatemala City Garbage Dump.

Warmest wishes this holiday season,

The Creamos Team

Rosa and Justa
Rosa and Justa
Elsa sewing away!
Elsa sewing away!


Oct 30, 2016

Business With a Heart

In a typical business, the rules and regulations are clearly defined and strictly enforced. You are bound by the confines of a contract and work place protocols. Despite personal dramas one may be experiencing outside the office, each employee is responsible for pulling his/her weight, because if one person does well, it will benefit the overall company. If one was to challenge or break any of these norms, the job would be in jeopardy and most likely gone – no ifs, ands or buts. 

So what happens when you take this profit-driven model and apply it to one of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities in Central America? Thousands of people living on the periphery of the Guatemala City Garbage Dump survive by salvaging trash that can be cleaned and re-sold. These horrific conditions have a significant impact one’s physical health and also compromise time adults can dedicate to parenting. 

Creamos’ founding belief was that a person needs money and education to break the cycle of poverty.  Creamos aimed to provide an alternative form of income to women working in the Guatemala City Garbage Dump (GCGD) through various income generating activities and education. All of the women in the program are required to study in the program until they graduate middle school, allowing them the opportunity to explore other professional paths, and be more invested in their children’s education.

Creamos began as a volunteer effort from a local university. A group of students came to the GCGD and taught the women how to make jewelry from paper beads using recycled magazines. This new skill evolved quickly and before they knew it,Creamos was registered as a Guatemalan business, selling at one of the largest department stores in Guatemala City.

In the beginning, it seemed almost too good to be true. Women were learning to use their imagination and creativity to design accessories that their clients would purchase. They were learning how to; price goods, complete sales transactions, work together, utilize a credit card machine and, they were making money. Their income rapidly increased by 67% more than they were making when they worked in the garbage dump. They were ecstatic by the realization that this was their ticket out – they would not longer have to work in the dump.  

The business grew, and undoubtedly, rules and regulations were established. Policies were made regarding punctuality, attendance, timeliness of orders, respect; standard practices for any business. But how to enforce rules of punctuality when a woman comes in late because her roof fell on top of her husband after a violent rainstorm? What do you do when a woman has to miss a month’s worth of mandatory meetings due to the fact she is the primary taker of 5 children after her husband was injured in a landslide and cannot leave the house? What do you do when you see a woman’s partner is waiting outside the office gates to ensure she does not go anywhere without his consent?

These are just a few of myriad ethical dilemmas we faced trying to uphold our business-like persona. Indubitably, the self-esteem and self-perception of our participants was rising to some extent due to their professional and educational progress. Nevertheless, this did not eradicate the emotional and social challenges they confronted every time they entered their front door.

 The Creamos staff of two was trying to run a business, while conducting short-term case management and a wide array of crisis intervention. We were the women’s go-to; the people they trusted in a community of betrayal and suspicion.  As a program, we responded to catastrophes and crisis’ the best we could.  At the time, we had limited training in this area, and we did not have time to invest in collaborating with organizations thatcould have been useful, while trying to run our business. We were spreading ourselves too thin, and greatly inhibited the growth of our income-generating programs.

Poverty is a not a simple problem that can be solved with a simple solution. We quickly realized more is needed to break the cycle of poverty than money and education. All too often, we overlook emotional support and mental health as secondary – something that is not an urgent need. Our participants have and continue to experience severe psychological and physical trauma. The male-dominated society that dictates Guatemala is exacerbated in the raw and unlawful community our population lives in. We were aware money could not buy happiness and Creamos was created with the most thoughtful intentions. However, we failed to invest in an essential component to breaking any human cycle – emotional well-being.

When thinking about our role and what we could do to bring emotional needs into the equation of our program, our thought process was never to “solve problems” – this is a dangerous mentality for any level of development. We wanted an emotional support program that was needed and would be utilized.

 A student, who was previously invested in the program, began to research what type of program would be the best fit for this community and population. We conducted community surveys, focus group and qualitative interviews. We worked with Columbia University, and other stakeholders to ensure we created the most inclusive, well-thought out and sustainable program. In the end, we came to the conclusion that intimate partner violence (IPV) was the most prevalent issue affecting our women and would be the focus of our program.

In August 2015, Creamos implemented our emotional support program Creamos Voces – we create voices. Our program addresses IPV through various micro and macro factors that were identified in our research: lack of social support, lack of knowledge of IPV, lack of resources, and lack of financial independence.  We address these factors through our holistic program activities including individual crisis intervention and short term case management, a financial literacy workshop and individual advisement that focuses on survivors of economic abuse, psycho- educational workshops that feature other local organizations, domestic violence and self-esteem support groups, trauma sensitive yoga and daily aerobics class.  We utilize our non-threatening services, such as aerobics class, to draw more women into both our income generating and emotional support program. We finally have a department that can focus on the gaps that were previously identified, and can collaborate with organizations that specialize in areas we do not - enabling us to provide a better more sustainable program for our women.  

In the past year, we have funneled over 120 women into the program. We have seen the benefits on both a programmatic and individual level. Our program participants now have a separate channel to work on their psycho-social challenges, as opposed to their place of work. As a staff, we are more focused on our individual role, and able to invest more time and create more opportunities for business growth. We are able to provide a wider range of effective services, and empower women to approach everyday challenges in a different way that might be more effective. 

The typical business model did not work for Creamos. We are not a high end company and the classic business protocols are too rigid for the harsh and relentless realities of our targeted community. We hold our women responsible to rules we have developed with our participants to ensure they have a say in what they will be held accountable for. One of the most difficult aspects of development is finding this balance – teaching responsibility while also understanding that there are unavoidable factors that will affect program participation. As an organization, we are constantly evaluating this dynamic and, it is possible we will frequently come up short. There is no magic formula – but we can continue to recievefeedback and working with our community to ensure we are doing the best we can.  

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