Olga and the Mother’s Group

Today our journey took us high into the mountains, to fresh air and wide vistas and rural landscapes of chickens, goats and coffee trees.

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Today’s mission was to meet women who had joined together to make life better. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. We kept hearing about women who were part of The Co-op and women who had taken loans for small business. But I didn’t fully understand what that did for women or how exactly it made life better. It’s hard to understand foreign lands and people when you compare solely from your First World point of view.

But of course, that is part of learning and getting to know other cultures — recognizing that our starting point is always our own life experience, and expanding from there.

Before we loaded up and climbed the steep roads to meet the women, we got a primer in Mother’s Groups and how they impact women. And what they are, in a word, is a group of support for women in their support of their children. Women coming together to be better, to grow in strength and self-esteem and security in who they are and what they want for their life.

Coming from a First World perspective, that can sound like a bunch of gobblety-gook self-centeredness. Like a woman who is bored with her life and looking for adventure. The difference is in these lands, in developing countries, a woman learning to speak up for her hopes and dreams is not about rejecting her responsibilities, but about doing the best she can with those responsibilities. These women are not interested in leaving their home and husband for a better life; they want to offer the best of themselves to those who rely on them.

So it is, with the group of women we met today. They have banded together to form a Mother’s Group, a group of women who come together to discuss how they can be better moms. How they can keep their children in school. How they can keep their babies healthy. They are working together to help each other get their children educated and grown.

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The truck made it up the hills and we stopped in front of a metal gate. A short, tan woman peeked her head around and invited us in. This is what awaited us.

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Women proudly standing and ready to share their stories. Excited to tell how they support each other through a Finance Committee and an Education Committee and a Health Committee. How they grow fruits and vegetables and share them with each other. How they encourage each other to keep their kids in school and check on grades and health and on each other. How they’ve officially named their organization “A Group of Mothers Working to Have a Better Future.”

We are very familiar with groups of women getting together. We get the concept of support and encouragement. We are aware of book clubs and Girls Night Out and spending time with friends, and calling a friend when you are at wits end. We know that and live it. So maybe the concept of a group of women talking about keeping their kids healthy seems rudimentary.

But it’s not.

To these women, living here in this country in these times, it’s a very big deal. Many of these women, before banding together, could not imagine leading a group, much less standing in front of other people sharing their story. But this solidarity gives them strength. They encourage each other in their hopes and dreams. They discover they are worthy, worthy of a better life by being worthy of making their life better.

And then, on top of that, they work for those hopes and dreams too. What works in these Mother’s Groups is that the groups join with other groups to form a Co-op, a group of women who pay dues and have a bank account and then, when a fellow member is in need, have a system in place to loan money (with a low interest rate) to help a woman start a small business (one woman dreams of owning her own piñata company) to better provide for her family.

For us, this concept sounds so basic. For these women, it is revolutionary.

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After meeting with the larger group, I headed next door with Olga, one of the group leaders. She introduced me to her two daughters, beautiful young women who walk 45 minutes to school every day, as well as her twelve-year-old son. Her son Louis is  sponsored by Unbound, her daughters Karla and Ana go to school on an Unbound scholarship. All members of the co-op must have at least one child sponsored by the group, which is how Olga has become involved.

When I asked Olga how Unbound has helped, how being a part of the Mother’s Group has impacted her, she started to cry.

“I thank God for Unbound,” she told me through my interpreter. “Sometimes we face hard situations because we live in poverty, but we can move forward, thank God we can enjoy these benefits.”

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Olga is Catholic and is active in her parish down the road. She’s a coordinator in the liturgy group and she brings her family to Mass each week — even when they have to walk to the neighboring church one hour away. There isn’t always a priest available, they go where they must.

“Sometimes we get a ride,” she casually mentioned, “if a car passes by.”

The money Olga receives from her children’s sponsorships helps provide school supplies and medical needs. She also has the option of letting funds accumulate for a few months to get bigger needs, such as a bed or clothing.

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What I saw today contrasted in so many ways from yesterday. In the country, there is space and air, trees filled with avocados and limes, a pond stocked with tilapia, goats for milk and cheese. And yes, there is poverty. Extreme poverty.

What I’m struck by most today is how poverty can look so different. Yesterday was one form of poverty, today is another. And yet, the biggest thing I see, in both situations is something I didn’t see coming — that these women are just like me. They go about their day doing the tasks set before them. They are beholden to the Duty of the Moment — caring for their children and their homestead, going about their life with the resources available to them.

Of course to say they are Just Life Me is a gross exaggeration, except that’s the thought I kept coming back to. These women? They love their babies. They want to give them every good thing they can. I’m happy for Olga, that she’s realized that banding with others helps her do a better job than she can do on her own.

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Olga’s neighbor is her sister-in-law. She invited us in for some fresh-off-the-stove tortillas and a pile of ricotta she whipped up right that minute. That’s fresh, baby!

Comments

  1. Rach, these are just great. I look forward to what still is to come.

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  3. I love seeing what Unbound is doing! Such a great ministry!

  4. Rachel —

    I’m loving this and enjoying seeing first-hand what Unbound does in these countries. I hope they realize what a gem they have in your series of blog posts. It’s so great to read this – I didn’t know that the families could save up the monthly money for something big, and I never thought about how my sponsorship of one child in the family would help the other kids in the family because there would be more resources. Keep this up – it’s wonderful!

  5. Amazing and inspiring.

  6. This is a thorough and lovely picture of what you experienced yesterday. These mothers are incredible; you do a beautiful job of telling their story. It has been incredible to share this journey with you.

  7. I love hearing about this! I sponsor people on both ends of the spectrum – first a 70+ year old blind woman, and more recently a 3 year old girl who likes to call herself Princesa. 😉 They have enriched my life so much. I’m so happy to see through your stories that Unbound really does help them and others like them.

  8. Veronica says:

    Thank you for these inspiring stories, Rachel! Through your words, Morena and Olga have taught me to slow down and be present in the moment.