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New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump

by Creamos
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
Katarina sewing in our new sewing workshop!
Katarina sewing in our new sewing workshop!

It has been three hours since class has concluded and Flori is still sewing. This is normal for Flori – she loves sewing and she always goes above and beyond to learn to the best of her ability. She is a nurturing mother of four children who embodies the phrase power to change. She began attending our mindfulness and movement programs at the beginning of the 2017 and that was just the start for Flori. She recruited her sister and niece to accompany her after she started seeing the positive effects exercise was having not only on her physical body, but her self-esteem.

Shortly after, Flori started becoming more interested in other services Creamos had to offer. She approached Creamos staff and asked to join our Financial Literacy Workshop. She stated she wanted to learn how to manage her money better since support from her partner was dwindling every week. After six weeks, Flori graduated the course with her sister by her side. She states that the course has taught her the importance of saving for the future, and creating a budget. Currently, she is participating in our Matched Savings Program with hopes to accumulate a long-term savings account for her children’s studies. In addition, Flori just began participating in our Healthy Relationship Support Group and our sewing initiative . She full takes advantage of every opportunity that is presented to her, and has inspired many more women to strive for the change they want to see in themselves.

Flori is one of the 134 women who have been served by Creamos in 2017. In the past three months, Creamos has enhanced current services while also offering a few additional opportunities for Creamos participants. Here are a few of the highlights from the past few months.

Sewing: Due to the phenomenal supporters of Creamos, we were able to re-build our sewing program after a devastating fire that took place in March. Sewing participants have finished their initial 6-week training and have already begun production for a local fashion company, My Ethical Wardrobe. Out of our 10 women who were initially selected, 9 women have continued in the program. One woman dropped out due to unforeseeable, personal circumstances. Of the 9 women, 6 women used to work in the garbage dump. In addition, they average 3 children per family while 5 families have reported intra-familial violence. Our sewing participants appear to be more motivated and inspired to be the driving forces behind our sewing company.

Based on a skill assessment given at the end of their training, women have been divided into three groups, - quality control, measuring and cutting and sewing - in order to make production more efficient and of higher quality. Our sewing teacher has been diligently working to seek feasible orders for the participants.

Jewelry: Throughout June and July, jewelry sales have increased by 38%. This increase has made a huge difference in the lives of our mothers. One of our participants, Mirna was finally able to save enough money so she could put a second level on her house – a dream she had had since she moved into the house over 10 years ago. Our jewelry participants have been working diligently to develop new styles for our newest collection…stay tuned!

Wakami: In early 2017, Creamos signed an agreement through which women belonging to the GCGD Community have become Wakami producers. Wakami is a Guatemalan hand made fashion accessories brand whose products are designed by rural Guatemalan community artisans. Creamos currently has 9 women who are producing for the social business. Through this collaboration, Creamos aims to increase the consistancy of the women's income.

Financial Literacy: As of August 2017, Creamos has graduated 43 women from our six-week financial literacy program. After women graduate, all participants are eligible to participate in our matched savings program. Of the 25 pilot participants who began in February 2017, 100% opened a savings account, over 95% saved greater than Q100, and 70% achieved the program’s goal of Q400 saved during the first five months. In our next cycle, there are 40 women participating in the matched savings program. As of now, approximately 80% of our participants are saving on a weekly or biweekly basis. 

Healthy Relationship Support Group: Our healthy relationship support group has concluded its second cycle, and graduated four members. All members reported a higher sense of personal safety and self-esteem according to Rosenbergs Self Esteem Scale. On the final evaluation, one participant stated “Before the group began, I was sad, I did not have anyone to support me, nor the knowledge that I have now. I am now a happier person, with a higher self-esteem. I finally have a group of people who I trust.”

Individual Support: Currently, Creamos is providing individual support to 37 individual clients. This support consists of 12 individual sessions, where the client and social worker work together to minimize or resolve whatever their presenting problem is. 

Working in Creamos, we continue to meet so many women in the Guatemala City Garbage Dump Community, like Flori, who are ready to make positive changes in their lives. Creamos continues to provide the opportunities for women in the community, however we always flawed by the effort and discipline women put forth to make these changes.

 

Flori and her son after exercise!
Flori and her son after exercise!
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Our newest sewing participants and teacher!
Our newest sewing participants and teacher!

“Sindy, we want to congratulate you. You have been chosen to be part of the Creamos Sewing Program.” After years of working in the dump, Sindy decided that she wanted to make a change. For seven years, she spent 10-hour days working long hours under the blazing sun. Last year, she lost her cousin through a landslide in the dump and she relives that trauma everyday she goes to work. Sindy knew that she was not spending enough time with her two daughters, and lived in constant fear of the dangers that working in the Guatemala City Dump presented on a daily basis. After weeks of vetting, Sindy was one of the ten women chosen to spearhead Creamos’ new sewing initiative. Sindy will finally have an opportunity to earn a safe and sustainable form of income outside of the dump.

On the night of March 26th, the Creamos staff was swarmed with phone calls from concerned community members as they watched our sewing workshop burn down. The next morning, staff, affiliates and other volunteers worked together to salvage whatever we could of the remains. Unfortunately, we had lost most of our industrial machines, fabrics, and essential materials that sustained our sewing initiative.

We were devastated by the loss, however, the encouraging words and action from our Creamos supporters ensured us that with their generous response, we would be able to rebuild our sewing initiative and continue to support the women of Creamos. We are tremendously grateful that Global Giving provided us with a reliable and accessible platform, which enabled us to raise our goal of $7,000 in a week to restore our sewing initiative.

Since our campaign, we have wasted no time and met our ambitious goal to launch our program by June 1st –less than two months after the end of our campaign. We have hired a new sewing teacher who has her degree in apparel design and production and currently runs production for four fashion brands. She is the owner of a local Guatemalan fashion company, Casa Flor. Not only do they have their own line, but in addition, have established clients in the United States. The ultimate goal is that the Creamos’ sewing company will be not only Casa Flor’s main producer, but fulfill orders on both a national and international scale.

In honor of our new beginnings, we changed protocols to require stricter procedures and demand a high level of accountability for our participants. In order to participate in the Creamos’ sewing company, women were required to fill out an application and then interview with the Creamos administration. We received over twenty applicants from which we chose ten women that we felt would be the highly dedicated to this project while also exhibiting leadership qualities. 

On May 30th, our ten women began their six-week intensive training program in our new sewing workshop. The women are planning to go straight into production after the training is over. Our hope is that these women will be the driving force to grow and expand the program creating further economic opportunities for approximately 30 women by next year. In addition, these ten women will be required to participate in our financial literacy program and have access to our weekly educational groups, therapeutic services and mindfulness and movement activities. 

Like Sindy, all ten participants have a unique story and dream of how our sewing initiative will impact their lives. We are eager to see not only the growth of our sewing program, but how each woman reach the potential we know they have.

Our new and improved sewing workshop!
Our new and improved sewing workshop!
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Juana
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!

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Vilma
Vilma

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!
Infograph
Infograph

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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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Organization Information

Creamos

Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala - Guatemala
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @creamosmujeres
Project Leader:
Hannah Sklar
Guatemala City, Guatemala
$81,749 raised of $100,000 goal
 
572 donations
$18,251 to go
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