Building North-South bridges

Integrities is the newsletter of a US-based nonprofit group called IF. IF works to empower women in both the South and North through its CAPACITAR program, which helps support soup kitchens and human rights groups in South America and the Families of the Disappeared in Honduras. The following are some of the projects the women of IF help to support.

A group of 23 families who call themselves the Seeds of Peace Community have been virtually homeless since 1988 when they were evicted from a plantation where they had worked for decades. The plantation owner evicted them when he discovered they were holding meetings to organize a union and demand better pay and working conditions. They worked for less than 50 US cents for 12 hours a day. After the shock of being homeless and jobless wore off, they began to look for land on which they could build a new life together. They found some land in Petapa and asked the local affiliate of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Association for help in buying it. The union negotiated a loan of US$ 7,000. They now work the eroding mountain land and live in shacks of scrap wood and metal, branches and plastic. IF is raising money to build (estimated at $850 to $950 each) better housing for the community.

Last year IF also initiated a program in Lima, Peru, with ‘comedores populares’— community kitchens. The Comedor movement was initiated by Sister Magdalena Castro over ten years ago in Ermitafio, a poor area of 90,000 people in Lima. One participant, Esther Arce, says, “I never thought I could do anything but take care of my family and try to survive starvation and poverty. But Sister Magdalena taught us how to organize, how to cook together, how to learn together to survive and to recognize our dignity, talents and strengths as women.” Some 67 percent of Ermitafio (where the average monthly income is $35) poor families are comedor members. Because of structural readjustment programs, many professional families (who earn $60-100 per month) now belong to the comedor. There is now a federation of 54 comedors in Ermitafio, and a National Federation of Comedores was formed in the mid-1980s, giving the women political clout.

Esther is the president of the comedor in Santa Colonia, which feeds 35 families each day. The comedor is over 10 years old and owns its own pots and pans and stove. Although most of the women are illiterate, through the comedor they learned how to keep accounts, make financial reports, work with diet-related health problems and create delicious meals with poor ingredients.

CAPACITAR also sponsors Women’s Journeys of Interchange and Solidarity to Guatemala and Nicaragua. IF, 3015 Freedom Boulevard, Watsonville, CA 95076, USA.