Happy Mother’s Day!!!!!!!! Thank you mothers for all that you do for us and for supporting us while we are on this trip.
Today, we traveled to the La Curva community in Masatepe to learn about ArtePintura and the life of a free trade zone worker. On the hour long bus ride, we were able to see what the rural communities outside of Managua looked like. Unlike the city, there is a lot of vegetation, less compacted housing communities, and roadside shops commonly selling homemade furniture, plants, and fresh produce. When we arrived at La Curva, we met with Jairo, the founder of ArtePintura, and went on a walking tour in the community. Jairo took us to the shutdown train station, which the government had promised to renovate into a community center. The train station was shut down five years ago and since then there has been no plan of action put in place to being a new community center.
Next we went to a tiny one room building, which serves as the town’s preschool and the location of ArtePintura. Jairo explained to us that the pre-school has 24 students and one teacher who receives no compensation for her work, due to lack of government funding. Along with the preschool, Jairo’s organization, which was established 17 years ago, receives no funding from the government and functions solely on donations from the community. ArtePintura has five locations in the surrounding towns and works with an estimated 213 children 5 days a week. The goal of the program is to educate children in music and art so they can become better adult and citizens, more caring, responsible parents, develop a genuine appreciation for the Gospel of Christ, and spread the message of love. Jairo emphasized the importance of making ArtePintura a program that provides equal access to both boys and girls. He hopes this program makes it so girls can have the same opportunities, as boys, and go through transformations in their communities, which will help end the cycle of sexism. A few children from the program then gave us a short concert where they played and sang a few songs for us. It is obvious that this program has had a huge impact on the community. Without it, most of the children would have no access to extra-curricular activities and no where to go while their parents are working late at the free trade zone factories. Maria Teresa, child who attends the music classes, highlighted the importance of the program: “Many other societies think we are worthless because we live in shantytowns, but I say that we exist, we have talent and we are worth a lot. This is what I have learned from this program.”
After this meeting, we walked around the rest of the community and had lunch at a local restaurant where we got to drink refrigerated drinks for the first time on this trip (PRAISE THE LORD). We were served plates of mashed potatoes, beans, rice. chicken and fried plantains chips. I must admit that I am surprised that I have not gotten tired of beans and rice yet, since we have had them as a part of every meal. After lunch we headed back to the school to meet with Dona Maria, a worker at the Gray’s Fashion fair trade center. Dona Maria has worked in the free trade zone for the past 6.5 years and has been the sole provider for all of her six children, She described to us the unethical treatment that the workers face daily at the plant. There are very few laws that protect the rights of free trade factory workers. Dona Maria explained that even though the company is legally suppose to give them a half hour break, when there is a lot of work, they might only be given 10 minutes or no break at all. When the workers are filling large orders, they will usually work from about 5:45 am to 7pm with no breaks for water or to use the bathroom. At the moment, the factory is filling an order for two hundred thousand shirts. Dona Maria explained that large orders like this one must be finished in 22 days or the managers get angry at the employees. The pressure to finish the orders quickly tends to result in the managers not giving breaks and injuries (needles getting stuck in fingers or cuts from fabric cutting blades) to the employees. Another way that the companies mistreat their workers is by severely underpaying them. Dona Maria makes about 136 Cordrabas (five US dollars) a day which doesn’t even come close to the amount of money needed to support a family of seven. We also learned that a significant amount of money that Dona Maria makes goes towards covering lung medication which she needs because the fuzz produced in the factory causes pulmonary issues. She expressed that she feels like she “has to keep working to cure [herself] of the disease [her] work caused.” When some workers stand up to ask for their rights, there are often fired. If the company knew that Dona Maria was talking to us, she would be fired immediately. Is it just me or do these free trade factory’s sound like sweat shops? However not all companies are unethical. Some allow for their workers to have Unions and provide better working environment as well as benefits for their workers. In the end, Dona Maria only want us to learn more about the conditions that these workers who make our clothes are going through.
We ended our visit by going back to Jairo’s house to look at some of the artworks of the students and support them by purchasing these CDs and post cards. We then headed to out Mural Tour Batahola Cultural Center visit and learn more about the murals in this center that depicted history events of Nicaragua. After a long, full day of activities and learning, we finally had dinner: bean and rice, potato, delicious pineapple and guess what? POPCORN! Now everyone is getting ready for our homestay tomorrow.
Love Nicolina and Thao
P.S. Because of homestay, we will not be blogging for the next couple days.
P.S.S. Someone please send Audra a pair of kicks. She desperately needs them. Also the group would love if Chealsea’s mom could send us some homemade jam