To give employment support to the person with disABILITY (PWD) Familias Especiales (FE) has developed two structural systems. 1. The Godmother/God Father System and 2. The Social Labor System. For every 8 persons with disABILITY we have one worker that serves as their Godmother or God Father. These are mothers or fathers of children with a disABILITY who have become proficient at their job and so can work with others to help them improve their production and answer any questions that they might have about the work situation. Their presence on the job site has given tremendous support to both the person with a disABILITY and to all workers as they help bring about awareness of the abilities and the needs of the person with a disABILITY at the same time.
The Social Labor System is directed by a psychologist, Karla, who works with all the programs in FE and with businesses in the community of Matagalpa, to ensure that the person with a disABILITY can adjust to the work and that the programs are sensitive to the abilities and needs of PWD. She is also part of the Social Unit and recruits and evaluates new applicants for work. Applicants learn how to do job interviews and how to write up their resumes to apply for a jobs.
The Social Unit works to identify PWD that have potential for employment. Karla works with new applicants to discover their abilities and needs, then she tries to match them with jobs available. Her work includes close relationships with their families. There are many different ways that she can help a person become more employable. For instance recently she was able to help one young woman get glasses then she could apply for a job with more confidence.
Karla has the great gift to be able to see young people grow and improve through their employment. This is very rewarding for everyone involved. There are times when it is not so easy as she needs to help each person individually to learn the culture of work and to be able to be productive. Karla also works with the God Mothers/Fathers to become more effective in their work with the PWD. Often it is little obstacles that are encountered in this journey to become productive workers. She works to arrange transportation and nutrition services as well as helping people understand the culture of the PWD. For instance what makes the workplace more accessible for a blind person is not always the same as what makes the work place accessible for a person in a wheel chair. To place people in jobs in FE is a real advantage but when it involves jobs in other places like a coffee factory, it becomes very critical work. Right now because of the social political crisis in Nicaragua, Karla’s work has almost exclusively been in FE and many who were placed in community businesses or factories have been laid off. So Karla has been kept busy trying to help people retain their jobs and improve their productivity. Karla’s position is very important to the success of the PWD. She meets continually with the multidisciplinary social staff and with the small business coordinators to make sure that things are running smoothly and to deal with any emergencies that might come up. It really takes coordinated effort to help each PWD find their right spot in the labor market and even more challenging to make businesses aware of the abilities and needs of the PWD.
We have a new psychologist working in Social Employment which is the program that works directly with young people to maintain and or train in jobs at FE. The social unit decided that it needed more emphasis on work values and more direct work with the God Mothers (Madrinas). Karla is the psychologist in charge and has started working directly with the Madrinas to ensure that each young person has a guide in their work. The Madrina Program is very unique in that we have mothers who have children with a handicap who are working directly with the young people with a handicap in order to ensure that they have support in their jobs at FE. Juanita is one of the Madrinas. Juanita has been with FE since its inception 23 years ago. She herself has a handicap and uses crutches. Juanita is very good at her job in Artiespecial so she now works as a Madrina there with the 15 people who have a handicap.
Artiespecial is an environmental therapy program where there are four unique programs: piñatas, sewing, painting, and kraft bags. They use recycled materials to produce all kinds of creative products for sale. Juanita is at the side of the young people to help them when they have a question or if they are confused about a relationship or how to do their job. She works closely with the coordinator and the head of production to help each person meet their goals and to affirm their work. She is a general problem solver and a great shoulder to lean on when it is necessary. The psychologist has monthly trainings for the Madrinas and there is one Padrino at this moment in FE in the small businesses. Juanita loves her work and says “We always have great fun and it is especially rewarding to see people grow and develop.” She has her own child who has a handicap and knows first hand what types of problems people have adjusting to work and how important the relationships are to the young people as they learn work values. She understands the different handicaps and what is necessary for them to find meaning in their work and to feel important in the workplace.
There are many areas where people can work in Special Families. We try to make sure that all programs have someone with a disAbility working in their area because there is so much that we can all learn from having diversity in the workplace. The area that I would like to focus on here is our recycling center. For more than 20 years Familias Especiales has been recycling paper and other products in Matagalpa and selling them to companies who make it into other products. This gives good job opportunities but mostly in the area of selecting the paper because once it is collected (donated to us) we have to separate it into categories before we can sell it.
This has given us the chance to give jobs to people who have what would be called by some sever disAbilities. It would be almost impossible to find a job for them in any other type of environment. The selecting is a process which can easily be taught and the person is not endangering themselves in the process they are seated and can just sort the paper that is given to them. So many of our young people before coming to work at the center were basically hidden in their homes not because family was ashamed of them but because where could they go and be useful. Unemployment is very high in Matagalpa because it is an agriculturally coffee based economy and there just are not many jobs available.
The great thing that has happened is that our young people working in recycling have become experts in this selection. Their work is also leading the way for more awareness about our natural environment. By recycling paper, they are literally saving trees. We have a wide variety of people with disAbilities in recycling and they can all perform this work. They have the opportunity to build work relationships and to be more independent. Of course for many of them this is their first job opportunity and they are very proud that they have a place to come and be useful. When you go into the center you find people concentrating on their jobs. Some people have come and tried to interview the young people and they usually get a remark “I am sorry but I am now at work.” These jobs are a lifeline for these young people. We offer them other services while they have a job in Recycling. If they need it they get transportation to and from work. They also get a free meal at noon and they also receive social services. Some of them are part time workers and part time in our basic life skills classes. We try to have different activities that they can participate in such as celebrating birthdays and special events like the 1 k race and different fairs that FE holds during the year and the annual assembly of workers. They find the work at recycling builds a network of friends. We are very happy to share this work with so many young people who would otherwise be sitting at home, and now they are making a difference in the natural environment by recycling paper.
“Familias Especiales (FE) Is Dreaming Of A Life With A Nonviolent Melody,” was the theme for the Annual Assembly For Social Employment. More than 40 persons gathered with their families to celebrate their employment in FE where they are part of the program forSocial Employment and work in jobs taking care of the natural environment, nutrition and education in FE. These young people feel very lucky to have a job and are looking forward to new ways to improve their lives through employment. During the social political crisis in Nicaragua (now 5 months) the unemployment rate has soared as many businesses are shutting their doors. The assembly was an opportunity for them to come together and share their experiences and their dreams, as well as their struggles. Heimy the psychologist in charge of the Social Employment program gave a talk on the violence that a person with a handicap faces daily. This produced a good discussion, especially with their family members present. Other activities included dynamics to help them get to know each other better and to create support systems between the workers. This assembly is their moment to share what their needs are and what their accomplishments have been during the year. Each worker received a certificate for participation in the Social Employment program for 2018.
How do these young people come to work at Familias Especiales? They come through various contacts some have been members of FE since they were born and some like Victor come through references of other groups. A woman from Holland met Victor who is from a rural community 3 hours away from Matagalpa. She was impressed that he was born blind and yet was studying English in the university. He wanted to become a translator. We got in touch with Victor and invited him to come and visit FE. Whenever we had a brigade that spoke English we always invited him to come and shadow the translators that the group would have with them. He always came accompanied, first with his mother and then later with a cousin, who was also studying English. But Victor was really shy and had a terrible time trying to translate because of his blindness, he was not able to adapt, very easily.he needed more experience. Many brigadistas tried to help him and encourage him. It became harder and harder for Victor to come to Matagalpa as he was finishing his studies but we kept contact with him through his cousin who moved to Matagalpa. After Victor’s graduation we sent word that we had a job opening that we felt Victor could fill. He and his mother came for an interview. The interview was successful in that the coordinator offered Victor the job in environmental protection making paper bags. Victor was very excited during the interview but his mother kept finding obstacles. Finally, Hemi who was in the interview said to his mother. “I don’t think Victor studied at the university in order to stay at home, and he needs to start somewhere.” This caused his mother to think and she said “well we will call you next week to see if Victor will accept the job.” It was more than a job that Victor was accepting, his cousin had already started working in the education program in FE and was part of an intentional community for people with a handicap that had an opening for Victor. This would be a great chance for Victor to become independent. Victor wanted to come but it appeared his mother was not ready to let go of her child. This is often the case, we call it over protection, but all we could do was wait to see if Victor at twenty three was able to convince his parents that it was time for him to take the risk, of accepting a job and independent living.
Victor called and Victor came to work at Special Families. Xochitl who is also blind became his God Mother to help him in his first months to learn the ropes and adjust to the work environment. All the workers welcomed Victor and he had to go through orientation.Victor is excited and is learning fast. We might also call on him when he gets started to do some translation for brigades. However, since the crisis in Nicaragua we have not had brigades or international volunteers. But you can be sure that Victor will find a way to improve his job, recently he had an interview in our radio program and he really liked doing the interview so one never knows “When there is a will there is way” Victor’s cousin says as he is enjoying living in this intentional community with Victor and other young people. As I write this report Victor is celebrating with his co wokers his 24th birthday.
Xochie and Frances are two sisters who work in the environmental programs of Familias Especiales. They both have visual impairment. Xochie is the fastest bag maker in the program, making paper bags to eliminate the use of the plastic bag. Francis works sorting and selecting paper to recycle. Xochie went through Familas Especiales program for learning the culture of work, when she finished Familias Especiales had a full time job opening in the bag program. She interviewed and succeeded in getting placed. We recently had an international brigade of men and women from US and Canada who helped out in the program. Xochie taught these brigadistas how to make paper bags. One man, who is a professional manager said to me. “In my whole life I never could believe that a young blind woman could teach me how to make bags, I am so uncoordinated, but yeah here I am at her side making bags.”
One day Xochie had the opportunity to visit a printer in Managua for an employee exchange. On the way to Managua the capitol of Nicaragua Xochie said, ”And they said we would never amount to anything,” now she was going to teach others how to make bags in the Capitol. Her sister Francis works in the area of sorting paper for recycle for sale.
In the last months since we posted this project the two sisters have had to cross barricades and worry about the situation of their country which has been in social and political unrest since April. The whole family has had to help them as they come to work, each day, making sure that they leave early in order to be in their homes before there is any disturbances. They have insisted in coming into work even though we have recommended that they stay home. There have been a few days that we have decided to close the programs because of the violence. But these jobs mean so much to the young people that they are willing to make many sacrifices to maintain them. As Xochie said on her trip to Managua, “If they could just see us now.” Work changes everything and that is what Familias Especiales is trying to do change lives and create opportunities through training and jobs.even in the midst of turmoil and unrest. Having a job is an important way to help young people cope with many different sitautions in their lives.
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