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Mi casa, su casa

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By MARK ST.J. COUHIG
Sequim Gazette

Six peninsula women and their friends have established a very ambitious goal: They want to buy a house in Mexico to serve as the permanent home base of Mujeres de Maíz en Resistencia Cooperative, a self-help indigenous women’s collective that now has more than 120 members.

The cooperative, based in San Cristobal de las Casas, is working to lift out of poverty women living throughout the Mexican state of Chiapas. Their tools are hard work and a devotion to education.

The six peninsula women are board members of Mujeres de Maíz Opportunity Foundation, which was formed six years ago to provide educational and other assistance these Mexican women require. That has meant everything from toothbrushes to computers.

This time they’ve set their sights very high.

Speaking on behalf of the board, chairman Judith Pasco explained the planned purchase, saying the members of the Mexican cooperative “need a place for their meetings and a place to stay when they come into San Cristobal to sell their handi-crafts or to take care of business.”

The younger girls will stay there while attending school in San Cristobal and it also will serve as a home for the co-op’s coordinator and as a meeting place for the co-op members. The house will have a retail space where the members’ weavings and other handicrafts will be sold.

A place to call home

Pasco said a suitable house has been located. Its purchase price is $75,000; another $12,500 will be spent on necessary improvements and furnishings. To secure its purchase, the Sequim group needs to raise half the purchase price — $37,500 — by the end of January 2011. To date they’ve collected a little more than $30,000.

The balance will be due by December 2011.

Linda Finch, the foundation’s treasurer, explained the challenge of seeking the funds from the organization’s members, friends and other supporters, saying, “We know it’s doable, but it’s more than we’ve asked before.”

Pasco notes that the women in San Cristobal also are “ready to dedicate a percentage of their earnings from their handicrafts to help with the purchase. But this, while it reflects their good intentions, is in reality an insignificant proportion of the cost.”

Pasco and her fellow board members are asking their Sequim supporters to “go into deep pockets mode.”

No money needs to be immediately forthcoming, Pasco said. At this time the peninsula group is only seeking pledges. To make a pledge, call Pasco at 683-8979. Donations also can be made through the organization’s website at www.mujeresdemaizof.org.

A little history
Sequim’s Mujeres de Maíz Opportunity Foundation is “dedicated to partnering with and empowering indigenous women in Chiapas, Mexico, by providing them with access to education. Our goal is to help break the cycle of poverty, build self-esteem and create positive role models.”

For the past six years, the group has been providing educational resources needed on the ground in San Cristobal. That means any number of services, including financial assistance for 20 students, from sixth-graders through college — and now beyond college. Their latest scholarship recipient is in law school.
Finch said the Sequim group already has “made a tremendous impact.”

Pasco agreed, saying, “I think we’ve given these women and the girls a way to become role models.” With no education and lacking salable skills, the women were largely powerless in their “macho” society, Pasco said.

Pasco noted that before you can participate in governance, “you have to be able to read and write.” With the literacy program going into its second year, “They are starting to have a voice.”

Finch and Pasco say the women of the cooperative have an especially difficult hill to climb, In their society the indigenous occupy the lowest rung. Women are further oppressed by the age-old attitudes of the culture. “They are the bottom of the bottom,” Pasco said.

Finch also noted the foundation is utilizing the latest thinking in philanthropic affairs. Rather than determining what is good for the recipients of the assistance, they allow the women in San Cristobal to set the agenda. “They decide what they need,” she said.

The foundation is a registered nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.

 

 

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