Jobs for People w/disAbility Creates Independence

by Special Families Saint Julie Billiart (Familias Especiales Santa Julia Billiart)
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence
Jobs for People w/disAbility  Creates Independence


There it is, that cheerful solid voice greeting you each morning!  Professor Walter is always upbeat, welcoming each one as he identifies their steps outside his classroom. Walter was born blind. He also has two sisters who were also born blind. All of them are part of the jobs program in Special Families, but Walter is part of the staff helping others learn the work culture.
It's been a tough year for Walter his mother died of cancer, but it's also been a year of joy as his first son was born, and he is learning what it is like to be a father, even after he has been like a father to others in his different jobs. Walter plays 12 different musical instruments, teaching one of his sisters to play musical instruments as well. His mother was a great gardener. She donated a small pine tree to our park, and it is now a towering Japanese pine bringing shade and beauty to all who come to the park. Part of the education program is to help young people learn gardening to appreciate the natural environment. Each day Walter is working on the compost for the garden, and he can be seen playing music to the tiny sunflower plants in their garden. Walter works with the young people to inspire them, which he does by being very active with a disability.

Our jobs program is on lockdown, and Walter has been coming into the workplace to plan and keep in touch with his students online. The only thing is that now Walter is with COVID and is on oxygen. We hope he will pull through this as his spirit makes a big difference for all the young people. We continue to keep measures to prevent COVID and help our young people take this pandemic seriously. We are grateful for your support and know that job training is a priority for our young people with disabilities to become independent and create their own life paths. Whether they are training in environmental projects such as recycling or participating in cultural activities like music and dance these young people are taking the opportunity to grow as dignified persons. 

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COVID safety measures are still a priority for our jobs program. The virus seems to be on the city's outskirts instead of in our central location. We asked the young people with disabilities not to come to work because of the many COVID cases in their neighborhoods. We worried about everyone infecting each other, so we closed the social services until the COVID cases go down.
Anthony is one young person that has been with our program since he was very young. He now works in recycling; he is autistic and has difficulty concentrating, so he does wander around the building. People accept him, but we have to make sure that he does wander into unsafe areas.
We never thought that Anthony would be able to integrate into any job. His autism is extreme, and he does not speak, but he has learned to communicate with people he trusts. What has helped Anthony has been the sessions of horse therapy.
They made a big difference for him as he was afraid of touching anyone, even his parents. Finally, after months of therapy, he reached out and hugged his father. This hug was a turning point for him and his family. So they began to think maybe someday he could be a part of one of our work programs. And so it is that Anthony is now a part of the recycling team, accepted at work.
He improves every day because he feels safe with the staff and with all the workers. We await a better day without COVID so Anthony and others can return to work. We are in touch with his parents, and they are trying to keep him with habitual actions; of course, Anthony wants to come back to work, but his parents have learned how to work with their son, to be calm. In the meantime, we are making some significant changes to our centers. In recycle we are looking at the flow of materials. How can we become more efficient in the movements of our material? We have to store materials, even if it is temporary. It is hard to get companies to buy our recyclables unless we have substantial materials ready. How does our material flow so that we do not get backed up with recyclable materials?
We want to make our center more accessible for the workers, more organized, and more hygienic. These conditions matters to us. Other improvements that we are working on include an extension in the front of Casa Dorthy so we have more room for our silk screening program. We are hoping to install solar power in Casa Dorthy.
COVID is not stopping our program. We look for creative new ways to keep in touch with the young people through technology, individual visits using protection as we improve our site. We are grateful to all our donors who have believed in our young people and us.
Jobs are central to gaining independence, which all people seek to improve their daily lives and livelihood.

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Recycling before COVID No Mask
Recycling before COVID No Mask

We are still facing COVID but have opened limited programs for people with a disability to return to work in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
Young people working in the environmental programs are working with distance, masks, and hand washing at intervals. They are grateful and enthusiastic about their work. COVID mode has changed our "modus operandi," calling us to become mindful and reflective in our work, especially concerning our attitudes. Are we genuinely being inclusive, and are we working for independence, or are we maternal or paternalistic in our approach to working with people with a disAbility?
An example of inclusiveness comes to mind as Juanita, one of the founding mothers of Special Families, prepares to retire this year from her position as Madrina. She is a mother of a young man with a disAbility who has been able to make his way in life, getting a job on his own and creating a small family. Juanita began as a mother leader in her neighborhood and a member of our first Mothers' Board of Directors. When her husband died, she withdrew from the organization, and also it seemed from life. We were concerned for her. So we offered her an actual job as the first Madrina, working in our recycling business. The other mothers knew how hard this transition time was for her. Juanita picked up again where she left off working for these young people entering the job market. She identified with those who felt left out because of their disAbilities because she too has a disAbilty. Juanita had a car accident in the 1980s. She was sent to Cuba for treatment, where they put a metal disk as a hip replacement. This accident left her crippled, and she always dreamed of going back to Cuba to get an actual hip replacement. She even worked with volunteers from Switzerland and Holland to get one but was blocked by various circumstances.
None of this stopped Juanita from becoming the first Madrina in our jobs program. She has helped hundreds of young people with multiple disAbilities to go on to more job independence and life stability. She believes in each person for who they are, and thus receiving all the opportunities to develop. Everyone will miss Juanita. We believe there is no way she will stay away from Special Families because of her inclusiveness commitment. Being present to her friends and family is essential to her as a member of Special Families.

During this time of COVID, we discovered our maternalistic tendencies in working with blind people through reflection. We have a young woman who has been working in our kraft bag program. She is a leader in this work. We recently hired her brother, who is also completely blind. He is an assistant in special education. He is very mobile and very active in many activities and teaches music. He also works with mothers in special education to learn more about their childrens' therapy. We are thrilled to work with both of them. One staff member asked why her brother was so much more mobile than his sister. The answer: His family could not afford to send both of them to the survival course, so he got the opportunity because he was male. Our staff had to reflect on this sad reality for economically blind women. How independent is his sister? She needs the chance of a survival course. Someone mentioned that she could not even walk to the bathroom unassisted. We had never noticed how we anticipated all her movements with immediate assistance. We always thought she did a good job but did not see that she could be independent and that we were overprotective.
We didn't realize that we needed to offer her ways to develop her independence. What if she could take a class in survival techniques for blind people? We had a workshop on the culture of blind people, which was very helpful to us, and she and her brother participated. Still, we had never identified her lack of mobility and independence. Our human resources office is working with the same people who gave us the workshop because they offer that course. We had to face the fact that we had been working with this young blind woman, yet we were blind to her developmental needs. It will be a sacrifice for our foundation because she will have to leave the job for a while to take the course, but we believe that she will be a better worker and grow. We are working with her family for her to enroll in survival skills classes for the blind. It is a matter of observing people's deeper needs instead of automatically trying to solve what we see as a problem. We need to ask the question, what do they need to develop to solve this problem themselves?

Art Workers Wearing Mask During COVID
Art Workers Wearing Mask During COVID
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After a long-COVID shutdown, 16 young people with disabilities restarted their work in a new, safer, accessible environment. These people, who work hard to protect the natural environment, now have a better work environment, which is inspiring and life-giving. After seven months of lockdown, they greeted each other enthusiastically, makes a difference in our natural environment. Having a job is powerful and gives dignity to each person. The Recycling Program is a simple place to go to make a difference and be with work companions. This work makes a difference. They sort donated materials, saving trees, the sorted paper is sold, and pays for their salaries. They also attend a Special Education Program, where they learn life skills. Nothing could dampen their regained sense of importance as they enjoyed the airier room and their new area for eating t lunch and have break times.

It was incredible to see them, in masks, rushing into their former work in a new, spacious environment with better ventilation and lighting. The construction of a new salon for paper selection in the Recycling Project started in February before Familias Especiales shut down for COVID, and the paper selection team stayed closed until remodeling finished. During this time, a new psychologist, Argentina, started in the role of social employment. She works on different strategies to teach the culture of work to young people, creating materials that line the walls of the new room. Her work includes mentoring Madrinas, who are mothers of children with disabilities who supervise the young people in the recycling-paper selection. Familias Especiales just finished a diagnostic on how they empower people with disabilities. This diagnostic is a prelude to training that will take place in 2021 on skills of empowerment for people with disabilities.

The new salon was duly inaugurated with an open house on Oct 16th, using social distancing and masks for protection against COVID19. The open house was the first time these young people ventured out of their homes to return to their worksite with their family and friends. It was a well-attended ribbon-cutting celebration to signify the re-opening. The long day ended with a dance to say thank you to everyone for the new working conditions. We have no orientation from our government in this virus-crisis but have adopted policies that we have read about in other countries like masks, social distancing, and hand washing.

This new environment marks many changes that these young people are accomplishing as they begin their environmental work. They will be working in teams headed up by the Madrinas and Argentina. The young people are learning information about nature and the environment, plus which materials should be selected to be recycled. They practice good hygiene with a regular hand washing schedule in their new salon, where they have a small dining area for their noon meal. A lively spirit fills the air as these young people are once again back together. Together they can enjoy the dignity of work and friendship.

 

 

Family and friennds wear masks for open house
Family and friennds wear masks for open house
Johnny gives thumbs up for new selection room
Johnny gives thumbs up for new selection room

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Workers getting ready to enter into lockdown.
Workers getting ready to enter into lockdown.

Being employed is one of the most important values for young people with a handicap who are part of Familias Especiales in Matagalpa Nicaragua.  Right now in many businesses are closing. Some big international factories have recently moved out of the country because of the social political crisis that we are all living since April 2018.  This has caused widespread unemployment. One company in our northern area closed leaving 8,0000 workers without a job.  So when they begin to close we are aware that the person with a handicap is usually the first laid off.  In 2020 Familias Especiales hired people who were laid off by these companies because they had skills that we needed either in administration, business or social services and they happened to be people with a handicap.  But as they started work the corona virus came to Nicaragua invited by a government wanting foreign investment and yet denying the existence of the virus. So we have not seen the benefits yet of our new employees.  
 As of March 25 we decided to go on lock down to protect our health and those around us a very hard decision but necessary for an organization who works with people who are vulnerable and at the greatest risk  of this virus.   
The decision was made by the foundation to close as Nicaragua started having cases of Covid19.  We could not envision doing anything else. This was not mandated by the government, schools have stayed open, nothing has been shut by government health concerns. At this time in late June the government of Nicaragua has mostly ignored the pandemic and have not order any social distancing or self-protection for their citizens. The country leads in the percentage of deaths : cases ratio in Central America.  This is a sad reality that we have to live with and come through alive. Our projected return is now scheduled for end of July, with hopes that we can feel secure to bring all workers back without infecting one another.  Since there is no testing in our country we don’t want to just start up again.  It is very hard without any support or acceptance.  Everything is an unknown for us but we continue to follow  social media from Central American countries and the World Health organization.  That is all we have. 

 We also set up WhatsApp groups to keep in touch with workers and those families who have access to social media. The small businesses in FE worked together on the closures to ensure that we did not lose products and all employees were in on the loop.   

As our main goal  is to create jobs for people with a handicap who otherwise would not have the opportunity to work, we started with the idea that it would be a shorter time.  We said “ you are being paid to stay at home and take care of your health and protect yourself and others.” three months into the lock down we have several of our workers who have  gotten the virus and are struggling to recuperate because it is not recognized here and  there is no special treatment developed or put into practice.  We also recognized that people were not getting the right nutrition and  most social programs were shut down many permanently so we have taken it on ourselves to begin to provide monthly food packages. Staff were very active in getting out each month more than 200 packages of basic grains to people we work with in the neighborhoods of Matagalpa., including the workers.  

We used the delivery of these food packages to educate as we went in trucks with our workers in protective gear not getting out of the trucks but letting each individual enter into the double cabin and receive a small talk about the virus and being able to talk a bit about their experience so far.  We are trying to motivate people to stay in their homes to avoid the virus. This is not our usual style of direct work with the families but because public transportation is so crowded and the food shortage is so great we decided to do it in this manner to help our families when they are getting no help other help.  We posted a you tube link of an inspirational video that we did about corona virus for our organization, on our you tube channel. We are a program to  provide employment not a program to lay people off while spreading the disease unknowingly

Families Especial wants to thank everyone for their support of our jobs program and to say directly we are not going away we would prefer to be working actively to involve people with a handicap   We are already working on plans on how we will reopen  in a healthy safe way, but it is not easy. We have all changed in many ways and the job market is different with more competition for jobs and less security in our society.

We are aware that all over the world countries are at different stages in this virus, this dangerous unknown threat and we continue to keep everyone in the world in our prayers. A small prayer from children:  Dear God be good to me the sea is so wide and my boat is so small. Let’s all share our boats to be safe.

Food package to help get through the lockdown.
Food package to help get through the lockdown.
Goodbye was not easy as workers left for lockdown.
Goodbye was not easy as workers left for lockdown.

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Project Leader:
rebecca trujillo
Matagalpa, Matagalpa Nicaragua
$44,164 raised of $60,000 goal
 
218 donations
$15,836 to go
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