In our last blog, we reported on how the San Antonio cooperative is responding to difficult circumstances by analyzing their vulnerabilities and taking concrete steps to improve. One area of their focus is the health of their farms. Another is the participation of women in their cooperative.
With clear self-reflection, San Antonio realized that the leadership and decision-making in their cooperative was done mostly by men, despite the fact that women play an equally important role in the success of the organization. In response, the leadership asked if we could help facilitate a farmer-to-farmer exchange to another cooperative that has responded to the same issue. With the help of Etico, our partner in Nicaragua, we were able to plan a trip for 17 members of San Antonio to Juan Fransisco Paz Silva, a cooperative of farmers in Achuapa, Nicaragua.
The exchange was dynamic and spontaneous from the start, with the hosts from Achuapa initiating the day with a song. Women from Juan Fransisco Paz Silva then shared about their experiences.
Five years ago, with help from their cooperative, women began a process of grass roots organizing to form small groups of 5-10 women in different communities. Participation wasn’t limited to members of the cooperative; rather, any woman with interest and energy could join. The groups had access to capacity-building workshops on self-esteem, micro-enterprise, savings and loans and more. From this foundation, many individual women started or expanded small businesses, and many of the groups began businesses collectively, selling baked goods, natural medicine, prepared foods or opening stores. They created alliances with local government and gained assistance to attend local and regional trade fairs. There are now 9 groups and a total of 75 women who participate.
The success of the women in Achuapa has been to cultivate a tradition of transferring knowhow from generation to generation, and to trust in their own creative and innovative abilities. The cooperative helped to provide a space and structure, but the real success of this process has been the groups’ creativity and initiative. They practice what they call ‘participatory communication’, and this process has given each woman the space to express her own ideas and unlock her own potential.
Through this process of organization and capacity building, the women are slowly changing the paradigm of being behind-the-scenes ‘role players’, towards a paradigm of recognizing their potential to be leaders in their cooperative and community. We are excited to see what the group from San Antonio will do with what they’ve seen and learned.
The day starts with music from the hosts in Achuapa.
A woman from the Juan Fransisco Paz Silva cooperative shares about her experiences of valuing the challenges of being a woman and confronting these spaces with effort and perseverance.
Sharing a delicious lunch prepared by the women of Juan Fransisco Paz Silva.