The following story about the women of El Plomo was documented by Lonna Harkrader, co-founder and Board member of SCSRN. After more than 20 years of visiting San Ramón and building relationships with the people here, Lonna has a wide network of friends, and she derives great joy from documenting and sharing their incredible stories. Below is one such story, from an interview that Lonna completed with Maritza Blandon, Melba Martinez, Cristina Icabalceta, and Jorlene Garcia, four members of the women’s cooperative of El Plomo, a group that makes and sells handmade jewelry.
“We will have been in business ten years this coming May making jewelry from seeds. We started with eight women making jam from fruit growing in our yards but we didn’t make any profit; in fact we lost money so the women became discouraged and left the enterprise. The four of us who stay changed our product to making jewelry from seeds. We got the idea from seeing that there were artists selling this product to tourist groups that came to San Ramón. These artists didn’t want to show us how to make this jewelry because they said they didn’t want the competition. So we bought some of their jewelry and disassembled it. In this way we learned how to make jewelry from seeds.
We were able to get a loan to build a little house that serves as our workshop and store. By this time there were only four women in the project. The seeds we obtained by going into the forest to look for seeds. Children in the community also helped us obtain seeds by collecting them for us. We would exchange them for notebooks and pencils and other school supplies.
We were able to pay off our loan, which we had used also to buy the materials we needed to make the jewelry, including a drill. Then three years later, we got another loan to build an addition to our workshop. We use this space to give classes to tourists who want to learn how to make jewelry. We also use the space for talks about health and family matters. We go to local craft fairs to sell our crafts and we sell at hotels that provide an opportunity for us to exhibit our jewelry.
After we paid off our loan for the extension of our workshop, we got another loan from the same organization to install electricity, and we save money from our sales to connect to the water system in our community. We also bought a set of encyclopedias, storybooks, and dictionaries. Now the children of the community can do their research projects here. We have a tutorial on DVD that teaches us how to use a computer, but we don’t yet have a computer. We hope to have one in the future so our children can learn how to use one. We don’t have internet but we can pay the cell phone companies for several hours of internet service at a time. In the meantime, there are cyber cafes in the town of San Ramón that people from communities like ours that do not have internet service can use.
This community came together after Hurricane Mitch when a Catalan group bought the land and divided it up for 26 families. City Hall gave us the wood and we built our houses. We paid 70 cordobas (roughly $2.50) per month for ten years to pay off the cost of the wood. Another local non-profit provided materials for building latrines. We dug the holes and used the materials to build the walls and roof. Our latrines are now full and we are digging new holes. Our lots are vey small and we won’t have room to build a third hole. We have heard about composting toilets and are trying to get more information about them.”
We support the women of El Plomo by purchasing and re-selling their handmade jewelry in local events in Durham and surrounding communities. You can also support them by purchasing jewelry if you live in the Triangle area or by coming on one of our eco-tours to San Ramón, where you can participate in a jewelry-making workshop hosted by the women of El Plomo. We invite you to come be a part of this amazing story!