“No, I don’t have any dreams − I live life day by day,” says Valeria when I ask her about her dreams for the future. Her answer comes as a surprise because she has just told me that she is studying to be a physics teacher. It turns out that she has dreamed of being a teacher for so long that it has become part of who she is, rather than some distant future ambition.
Why do we think that people need dreams and ambitions? Do they need them to be happy or to live a fulfilling life? The thing is, when people answer that they don’t have a dream, it usually means that they are struggling day and night to put food on the table, to have a roof over their heads and to have access to the basic necessities of life. Once people are no longer hungry their ambitions begin to surface. That’s why we like to ask about their dreams. And what are some goals, dreams or ambitions that inspire us at Oikocredit? A visit to CARF, one of Manos’s cooperatives might provide us with the answer.
With the assistance of Virginia Juele, Oikocredit South America’s communications expert, we interviewed some of the members of the cooperative to ask them about their lives and dreams.
Manos & CARF
But let me first explain how Manos and its cooperatives work. Manos is a union of fair trade cooperatives that makes high-quality woollen products in Uruguay. Most of their products are exported. The head office and sales department are located in Montevideo, the capital. Their cooperatives across the country work on the designs and deliver the end-products to honour the orders which Manos receives from abroad. The cooperatives process and dye the wool, weave fabrics (even for companies like Gabriela Hearst and Ulla Johnson) or knit sweaters, ponchos and other garments. The CARF cooperative in Fraile Muerto spins the wool which is then dyed in one or more colours. The cooperative has 11 members. Some of them spin the wool at home, others dye the wool which their partner members then check and prepare for transport back to Montevideo.
On the day of our visit, the members welcome us with a big smile.
We talk to five members who all paint the same picture: before they joined CARF they did agricultural work, cleaned houses or looked after other people’s children. Their husbands have office jobs or are out of town most of the time working on big farms. At some point in time they were invited to join CARF. They received training and a better income. CARF is flexible when it comes to combining work with looking after children. The cooperative has taught them vital skills such as administration, business management, social skills and teamwork. They are very proud of their own development and the work that they have accomplished. They work as a team, but their dreams and ambitions vary.
Janet, Patricia, Valeria and Blanca
Thanks to Manos, Janet Caballero Novo (aged 59), the director of CARF, has already accomplished many of her dreams. She became an artisan, a director and member of the board, and has travelled extensively throughout Uruguay. She wants to continue her work for Manos and eventually enjoy her retirement. Patricia, who is married with three children, prefers to dye the wool, because this particular task pays relatively well. Her eldest son (23) is studying in Montevideo to become a bookkeeper, and in the next 12 months her twenty-one year old daughter will be leaving to study, which will mean that her nine-year old will be the only child left at home. She wants all her children to finish their education. As for herself, she would like to buy a small car and explore Uruguay.
Valeria studies to be a physics teacher every Monday and Tuesday in Melo; this is possible thanks to the flexibility of CARF. Once she is a qualified physics teacher, she will leave the cooperative because she can’t do both. “But if I am needed, I will help,” she adds.
Blanca Rodriguez (49) is another member of CARF and was widowed four months ago. She wants to see her children do well in life and travel and learn more about Uruguay. She aims to work with Manos until she retires.
Room for dreams
The women’s stories are clear to all. Manos and its cooperatives create an environment in which women can work together to fulfil their ambitions, which might be a career with Manos, earning enough income for the education of the children, buying a small car to explore the country or preparing for a career outside the cooperative. Manos creates opportunities.
And it’s obvious that its members don’t need us to decide what a proper ambition is. They are perfectly capable of doing that themselves.
About Manos del Uruguay
Manos del Uruguay is a non-profit fair trade organization established in 1968. Its mission is to create economic, social and cultural opportunities and generate employment for women in rural areas, allowing them to remain in their home towns, earn a living and develop themselves. Manos del Uruguay women dye wool, and design and knit garments - both for the local market and well-known international fashion brands. Manos del Uruguay has been an Oikocredit partner since 2009, not long before it was certified as a Fair Trade organization by the WFTO.
Finished products of Manos del Uruguay can be bought online via: www.manos.com.uy/tienda
Distributors of yarn in the Netherlands, Germany, the UK and Scandinavia can be found here: www.manosyarns.com
Pauline Opmeer is a Dutch photographer. She and her husband Wim, also a photographer, have been travelling around the world visiting Oikocredit partners since 2010. The couple have worked under the name Opmeer Reports since 2010 and specialize in photography and videography about sustainable development, microfinance and social entrepreneurs. Pauline regularly reports about Oikocredit partners and their clients on Oikocredit’s blog.