So it seems like years since I have written about our work (and play) in the Dominican Republic. Oh wait, it actually has been years. Two, I believe. There is a bit to catch up on…
A month ago the women who love La Canita were standing in my dear friend’s home in Lakewood, Colorado laughing, talking and catching up on our lives. The occasion was a jewelry party to sell the wares that our dear friends in the Dominican Republic have created. Hundreds of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings were beautifully displayed throughout the home and at the end of the evening we had sold almost $2000 that will be going back to our friends’ community of La Canita. How did we get here? We did not set out to aid women in the production of jewelry and starting micro-businesses. In our vision statement we don’t have “creating sustainable business and entering into the Fair Trade market” as part of the plan. What happened?
The story is a beautiful one to tell. It necessitates creating the scene that took place over seven years ago in a dirt patch under a tree; the beloved tree that alternately offers some shade and relief from the dry season’s sweltering heat or the torrential downpours that are present during the rainy season. Mercy, who was homeschooling her little ones in the DR at the time decided to bring out some of her kid’s arts and crafts materials for the women to do projects. She retells the story sort of sheepishly, “I didn’t have much to bring to these women who had lost almost everything in the flood. All I knew is that I needed to go out there and all I had to bring was this.” Specifically, Mercy brought out paper plates, glue and glitter and they made decorations for Christmas to hang in their homes. The women went crazy for it. They loved it and got so excited to see that they could make something beautiful.
On subsequent trips we would bring down different crafts for them to make. By way of confessional, I am not an artsy craftsy person. I break out in little beads of perspiration when I enter Hobby Lobby. I panic when my kids have to make shadow boxes and panoramas for school projects. Believe me, I was not excited about this portion of our “mission trip.” The morning we went out to teach them how to make beads out of rolled up magazine bits and toothpicks I was quite cynical about the whole scene. However, watching their faces light up after they had created something was brilliant. These are women who do not have the resources to hang art in their homes. Most families do not even have mirrors hanging above their sinks in the bathroom, if they even have a bathroom. It is extravagant what we bring to them; glue, toothpicks, old magazines, the opportunity to realize a piece of themselves in the act of making beautiful things.
They took off with arts and crafts and seemed to come alive at the act of participating in creating beauty. It was evident that this was to be a significant part of the time we would spend with the women. On the following trip we brought down sewing machines and taught them to make hair ties and scarves. Then our resident artist Leane brought woodworking tools and taught them basics in creating beauty out of wood. She showed them how to look through the piles of garbage that surround their homes to find something they could use in their creations. We left the machines and tools for them and when we returned six months later they had dozens of pieces they had made; purses, scarves, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. We were speechless. hey were like children welling up with pride and excitement to share what they had done. They were also quite entrepreneurial as they realized they could create an income for themselves by selling their art.
There is no money in their community to purchase extras like jewelry, but we knew we could bring these things home and possibly generate some interest and income for their pieces. They gave it all to us entrusting us to do what we could for them. People got excited and purchased their items at church, the gym, and fundraisers we would have. And they continue creating. In May they gave our group over 250 pieces to bring back to Colorado and sell. We have found ourselves mid-story, asking what comes next for them with their jewelry. What is our part? We believe this could significantly enhance our friends’ quality of life and are openly seeking to know our part in their story.