Enabling Women with New Skills
by Sr. Mary Isabel Kilpatrick, SNDdeN
A few years ago, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur began a new mission in San Clemente, Pisco, south of Lima, Peru. In this region, the people continue to experience lasting effects from the earthquake of 2007. In February 2010, Sisters Miriam Montero Bereche and Mary Isabel Kilpatrick, SNDdeN visited this area in an effort to determine the best way to reach out in a new mission to the people. The needs were obvious. At first only those who could prove they were ¨damnificadas” received any grants for housing. With such little assistance and a lack of housing, multiple difficulties resulted in physical and emotional health problems, including poor nutrition, family violence as well as delinquency among the youth. Sr. Miriam began to offer workshops to help displaced people in dealing with stress.
Sr. Mary Isabel saw the need to provide some employment for women seeking a source of income. She searched for the possibility of developing small projects with the women. She called on a friend, Maria, a food engineer who had helped her previously in Lima. Maria had given a course on the preparation of fruit drinks and yogurt with the mothers of the children in the Fe y Alegria School in Lima. Again, Maria was willing to give lessons in making yogurt, now in San Clemente. First, someone offered their house for the classes,the women contributed ingredients and shared the product at the end. While in this area, Sr. Mary Isabel and her volunteers discovered a small hall that had been built recently for people with special needs. The watchman, a blind man, offered the use of this hall, far from the centre of town but with better conditions and more space for the course. This location put the Sisters and volunteers in touch with some of the families with special needs in the area.
Project Becomes Sustainable
From this contact, they developed two small lunch programmes, one in this centre for disabled persons and another in the Santa Rosa barrio, in collaboration with the Dominican Sisters ministering also in San Clemente. Various groups of women enjoyed taking the courses but they had difficulty in organizing themselves to be able to continue. Later, we were able to rebuild one of the rooms damaged by the earthquake next to our house in the Parish. This space is large enough to have the necessary equipment and reasonable conditions for groups to learn different skills. With the help of our engineer friend, Maria, a remnant of women developed successfully the Yogurt Project. At present, by working two days a week, the six women are able to produce 60-80 litres of yogurt. This amount covers the cost of the ingredients and gives a small profit for each participant as they sell the yogurt. It is possible to increase the capacity but the women are not yet ready to take that step.
Although the project is small, it is significant as a source of income for the families involved; the product itself has health benefits for the recipients; the participants have developed friendships, learned to deal with customers and to cope with fluctuations in prices and availability of ingredients. They have their trials and tribulations but also a place to share them. They bring more life to the parish community. They hope eventually to provide catering services for groups that come for baptisms and funerals.
Development for Women
Besides the development of the project for elaboration of natural yogurt, the aim is an integrated development for women through workshops in personal development and practical skills, which include creative sewing workshops, painting saleable goods, such as tablecloths, and occasional confectionary courses. The Baking Project covers its basic costs after the initial outlay for utensils and ingredients; the Sewing Project covers costs for materials. A growing programme, ‘Healing Touch, centers on the training and development in energy medicine with women in the pastoral health group. Good health for the people is always a long-range goal. Ongoing training workshops for participants contribute to the educational dimension of this programme: two women at Level 4 are preparing for level 5 and to receive their certificates this year. The number of women who participate in these programs fluctuates; those involved benefit by learning a new skill. In all programs, about 40 to 50 people have benefitted directly and many more indirectly in the parish community.
The greatest challenge is to avoid dependency and to involve new people in the groups that have been working together for a while. Potentially, the women have the motivation and skills to become self-sufficient, as they grow in confidence in their own abilities and a sense of God´s goodness in their lives.