About eight years ago, as a result of an Episcopal church mission trip from Dallas, Honduras Threads was launched in an effort to provide a way for rural Honduran women to make a living in their own communities by creating applique and embroidered pillow covers to sell to U.S. markets. M’Lou Bancroft, the driving force behind this effort, tells of years of frustration, leavened by return visits to the villages where slow progress was being made by women who were learning a new skill, and would not be deterred from their effort to climb toward financial independence. M’Lou would return home bolstered and energized to further refine and enhance Honduras Threads to benefit these incredible women.
Last week, I went to Honduras with M’Lou and six others to participate in what I considered an unlikely mission: introducing laptop computers to these women, in some villages without electricity, in a language unknown to me. The goal was to explore the concept of cost accounting with them, in Excel no less, to help them track their costs for the purpose of better pricing their products for sale. Yeah, right. M’Lou had been working with these women for eight years, and I’d been with the project a few weeks, so of course I had all the answers. This was NEVER going to work.
We spent a month before the trip developing a teaching curriculum, from computer basics [here’s the “on” button] to the use of software programs. We had the outline translated into Spanish, M’Lou arranged for translators to work with us in the villages, and off we went.
Here’s what I saw and heard: Honduras is an extremely poor country, with limited opportunities for its people to make a decent living. About the size of Tennessee, the median age of its 7.8 million population in 2009 was 19.5 years, with an average of 7 kids per family. AIDS is the leading cause of death among Honduran woman of childbearing age, yet sex education is considered pornography. Nearly half the population lives on less than $2 US per day and many young people risk trying the “death train” through Mexico to reach the U.S. [Read “Enriques Journey” by Sonia Nazario if you really want to know about a Honduran life.] The public education system is a disaster: teachers are supposed to teach 200+ hours a year, and average 60. The air is thick with pollution as wood fires, without ventilation, are used for cooking. Forests are stripped, and there are no re-forestation programs. Only 15% of the land is arable. Coffee and banana plantations are owned by conglomerates. There are narco estates being built, and walled compounds growing up that weren’t there a few years ago. There is no culture of recycling, so trash abounds. You don’t leave your hotel to take a walk around town in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. It’s not a pretty picture, and it’s only a 2.5 hour flight from Houston.
Honduras Threads showed me what IS a pretty picture. There are 80 plus women working in six sewing co-ops in villages outside Tegucigalpa. They may walk for several hours each way to reach their co-op location, usually the local church building.They may work without electricity, and they do work without eyeglasses. Their kids are on their laps or under the work tables, playing without toys, the older tending to the younger. There may or may not be men in their village, and those who are around may be away tending a few head of cattle. The days we visited each village co-op, the mothers were dressed in their best [they like bling!] They smile easily, and greeted us with hugs. They seem extremely good natured. They are smart, and VERY patient. The kids were just as amazing: curious, well-behaved, and delightful.
M’Lou knew what she was doing to introduce new concepts and computers to them. None had worked with a computer before, and many had never heard of the Internet. They saw their embroidered pillow covers on the Honduras Threads website for the first time, and their astonished faces told the tale of their pride and accomplishment. They want as much work as they can get. [The large banners, made in three separate co-ops, was a church commission.] We left one computer per co-op behind us, along with a local tutor to assist in ongoing training.
One of M’Lou’s hardest tasks is to get the products sold in the U.S. so proceeds can make it back to the co-ops. She has had success, but there’s room for more. Look at the web site [hondurasthreads.org] for a glimpse of what these women have learned to create in a few short years; the designs were established as a standard, but the scrap fabric selections and colors used to applique and embroider are all from their own imagination! It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment for all who have been involved with the effort over the past few years, and the benefits accruing to these Honduran women and their families are immeasurable. Maybe you’ll even be inspired to purchase one of these treasures: believe me when I tell you it’s for a very worthy cause!