Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Organic cotton harvest in Nicaragua

Organic cotton is being harvested here in Nicaragua as I write this! Last week I went out into the fields to film the beginning of the harvest with our Cuban agronomist Raúl Machín, Bená Burda, the president of Maggie’s Organics (principal buyer for the organic fiber) and Margaret Larson, who is making a film about our organic cotton production chain – the first ever to be certified in Fair Labor Practices and Community Benefits.

Seeing the cotton in the fields is a remarkable experience considering that three years ago there was no cotton being grown in Nicaragua at all. Historically, cotton was always one Nicaragua’s top two exports; right up there with coffee. It was so prominent that folks here joke that the cotton plant with its fluffy white bolls was the Nicaraguan Christmas tree. But the cotton was grown in monoculture, i.e. cotton fields as far as the eye could see. The problem with that is that any natural pests – in this case the boll weevil – view those large contiguous fields as one great big banquet. In order to combat the boll weevil, the big agricultural companies farming cotton used chemical pesticides. There are many problems with using pesticides: ground water contamination, air and soil pollution, and health problems for field workers among others. But from a strictly economic standpoint, pesticide use is costly – not only the cost of the pesticide to start with, but it also creates a snowball effect: the boll weevil becomes resistant to the pesticide, and so more has to be applied. By the time that cotton really began to decline in Nicaragua at the end of the 1980s, there were some farmers who were putting as many as 50 applications of pesticides on their cotton crop in one season. Not only is that expensive, but the boll weevil had become such a problem that the risk of losing a significant part of the crop to the pest was high. At the same time that cotton farming was becoming really expensive and risky, international cotton prices fell, and it was suddenly no longer economically viable to plant cotton in Nicaragua. Until now…

Why is planting cotton different now? We’re planting organic cotton and growing on a small-scale; in no more than 35 contiguous acre plots (most farmers are planting 2 to 5 acres of cotton). All of the cotton is either certified organic or produced without use of chemicals. Farmers rotate their crops annually– with peanuts, sesame, sorghum, oats and white beans to fix the nitrogen in the soil. By our rules of production, no trees are cut down to plant this cotton, and no food crops are taken out of production for this cash crop. Workers (mostly co-op members) are treated fairly, receive a fair wage and the cooperatives invest back into their communities.

With this background, we hope you can see the significance of organic cotton growing in the fields of Nicaragua…and the cotton that is being harvested now will be the first fiber that Genesis uses to spin organic cotton yarn; after such a long struggle to get into production! It’s a small victory – this year, our third year of organic cotton production, will yield a small harvest of just 60,000 lbs. due to lack of rain – but this year’s small victory will encourage more farmers to plant organic cotton next year, and our sustainable production chain will grow. Over at the Genesis co-op they’re celebrating this renewal and the hope of the new year by decorating an organic cotton plant with is fluffy white bolls to fit the season: Feliz Navidad and Happy Harvesting! – Becca

Thanks to Bená Burda and Margaret Larson for the photos

Monday, December 7, 2009

Celebrating today Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today and tomorrow Nicaragua is celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It's such a beautiful tradition and so important to Nicaragua that we thought we'd re-publish an earlier blog on the subject.

During the month of December the people of Nicaragua are celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, called Purísima, which is by far the largest holiday in the country. The celebrations are loudest on the 7th of December during the Gritería,or Shouting, which is a bit like Christmas caroling and Trick-or-Treating rolled into one. Families show their gratitude for miracles that the Virgin Mary has granted them by setting up altars to the Virgin in front of their houses. Neighbors come to the altars, sing traditional songs to the Virgin, and then are given gifts – they go from altar to altar, often filling sacks with their bounty.

I am always so humbled by this extreme show of generosity, often the poorest neighborhoods give the most – and most practical – gifts. Families save all year to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary. Throughout the year they buy as they can: woven rattles,wooden noisemakers, plastic containers, soap, bowls, buckets. In early December days are spent in preparation: making chicha (a sweet corn drink the color of Pepto Bismal), ginger candy, nacatamales and cookies; buying sugar cane, nancite fruits, oranges and firecrackers. On the 8th of December a table is put out in front of the house and covered with a cloth. On the table goes a polished statue, or a gold-framed picture of the Virgin Mary hovering with celestial angels. Around the image white baby’s breath flowers are arranged with candles, tinsel, balloons, and the whole altar, sometimes quite elaborate, is framed in palm fronds. Sacks of gifts are hauled out and placed near the altar, along with buckets of chicha-filled bags, fresh nacatamales and fruit – many times whole rooms of the house have been occupied by these gifts. By evening, the men of the families are ready: at 6 o’clock on the dot, they light the mortar launchers and fireworks pierce the air at once, all over the country. It sounds like a war zone. Then mariachi and brass bands start up, and groups of families weave through the streets carrying sacks, stopping at each altar to shout “¿Quién causa tanta alegría? ¡La concepción de María!” “Who causes so much joy? The conception of Mary!” ¡Que viva María! ¡Que viva!

Then each group, paused before the altar, sings traditional Purísima songs to the image of the Virgin Mary, as the family with the altar begins to pass out gifts. Those who have received good fortune and even miracles show their gratitude to the Virgin Mary through their generosity to Her people. It seems to me an entirely appropriate way of showing thanks – by giving with wild abandon to all those who show up on our doorsteps. -- Becca

Monday, November 30, 2009

With our feet planted firmly on the ground

For many, the days following Thanksgiving in the United States are truly trying…after taking time to be thankful for all we have in our lives, we are bombarded by Christmas Consumerism, being pushed from every direction to buy more stuff.

So I’d like to share a moment I had today with the Genesis Spinning Plant Cooperative that helped me to put all that into perspective. Today I took a delegation over to talk with the Genesis group and although I have heard them speak hundreds of times, I found myself once again moved by them and newly inspired.

After talking to the group about their last three years of building their factory, telling how they sell tortillas or take in washing to help ends meet at home, Jamileth begins to talk about how difficult the end of this year is. “We’ve sacrificed so much for these three years, and to come up on another Christmas with nothing to give our children is really hard.” Others around the circle nod their heads and Jamileth continues. “It’s horrible to go home and have your children run up to you and say ‘Mommy, Mommy what did you bring me?’ and for three years I’ve had to say ‘Nothing.’ But the machinery is now on its way. I have faith in God and I believe that after so much sacrifice, next year and all the years after that will be ones of abundance.”

Rosa, normally boisterous, is uncharacteristically quiet and reflective. “We are not the same women who started working here three years ago,” she says. I look around the circle at their faces…I see that indeed they are older, thinner…but these determined women are all sitting tall, and I realize that she is right. This project has given me a sense of self-worth,” Rosa continues. “We came here and worked like men, and we know that we can do anything that a man can do. Now a man can’t say to me that he is better than me because I know that the only differences between us are superficial. We have all changed, and grown,” Rosa pauses and then says in a quiet but powerful voice, “and we now have our feet firmly planted on the ground.”

When I first heard the Genesis folks talk about their sacrifice and the difficulties with their families, I felt embarrassed…and then felt guilty…and then helpless…and I wanted to turn away. I believe that’s what we all feel when confronted by real need. But if these women have the strength to go on, to go through one more Christmas without anything to give their children, then how can I turn away? I can’t. Instead I turn toward them, and open myself up to have my heart broken. Life is so hard, and all we have are these delicate threads that connect us as human beings…we have to allow ourselves care about one another. After our talk the delegation hugged all the members of Genesis.

I am so grateful for what these women teach me every day. I am grateful to them for sharing the hard parts of this journey, I am grateful for the ways in which they help me grow. They help me keep my feet planted firmly on the ground. – Becca

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Prayer for Today

This morning we attended a funeral mass for our good friend Rev. Grant Gallup, known in Nicaragua as Padre Mauricio. Grant founded the Casa Ave Maria here in Managua and was an excellent example of solidarity and of opening our hearts to the poor. Grant, who would have been 78 in January, passed away last night just as a group of folks was celebrating Thanksgiving a few blocks away at the Casa Ben Linder, where they were in fact giving thanks for Grant and reading aloud a prayer of his that seems particularly appropriate Thanksgiving and the day after:

Our Father and Mother Who Art.

Our Father and Mother,
Who are present in the world and in history,
Hallowed be your name
in all languages and religions.
May the message of your reign come to each of you
indigenous peoples, the humble peoples,
in the language of gospel
and not of the domination systems.
Let your will be fulfilled,
your will of sharing and peace,
for your indigenous peoples,
for the humble peoples,
even for our own society.
Let us live each day in the sisterly solidarity
that produces abundance
and living joyfully together
that all may have bread.
Forgive our massacre of cultures,
and our colonizing evangelism.
And let us not fall into the temptation of fearing to be engaged,
of fearing to offend, of fearing to suffer,
But deliver us from the violence of consumerism,
and the violence of the forces of power and domination.
For Yours is the Future, Yours the Reign
that is Coming,
Yours the Glory and Goodness for ever and ever.

(Translated from the Spanish & doxology added, by the Rev. Grant Mauricio Gallup, Casa Ave Maria, Managua, Nicaragua, 1994)

For sermons by Father Grant, you can go to

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hurricane Ida

Lots of people have been asking us about Hurricane Ida, which passed through Nicaragua last Thursday and Friday. The western side of Nicaragua, the CDCA and all our projects are fine. The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua was hit hard again, just two years after the devastating Hurricane Felix. Quantifying the damage is hard, numbers of people and houses affected change depending on the source. As far as I can tell (it’s taken a lot of sorting out), there have been no reported deaths. Here’s what has been reported in the Nicaraguan news:

Reported in today’s El Nuevo Diario:

There are 29,000 people affected by the hurricane in the Northern Autonomous Atlantic Region (RAAN). In the RAAN several thousand people are still in emergency shelters unable to return to their homes. The Kukalaya and Bambana rivers have begun to recede, but houses are filled with mud and many are still flooded.

In the RAAS it is reported that more than 23,000 people lost their homes. The World Food Program is also reporting 300 wells contaminated, 300 latrines caved in and nearly 14,000 acres of crops destroyed in the affected areas.

La Prensa reported heavy crop damage in the RAAS: all the staple food crops of rice, beans and tubers. Other food and cash crops affected include the entire pineapple crop. With 75 mile an hour winds, the fruit trees were destroyed, other trees were left standing, but with their tops and branches blown off; the only trees unaffected were pine trees.

Fishermen lost 7,000 nets during the storm. Countless horses, cattle, pigs, and chickens were also lost. All reported damage will increase as rescue teams continue to evaluate.

Much of the Atlantic Coast still had not recovered after Hurricane Felix two years ago, and now the region is hit again by a hurricane. Still, El Salvador was much harder hit with 124 people dead, 60 missing and 7,000 homeless. Thank you for keeping all those affected by Hurricane Ida in your thoughts and prayers. -- Becca

Monday, November 9, 2009

Genesis floor finished!

After more than two months of working really HARD, on Thursday afternoon the Genesis co-op FINISHED their floor! So in keeping with this co-op’s culture of celebrating big and small victories, they partied on Friday! Co-op members dressed up to the nines, ate a chicken lunch, toasted with plastic glasses of Coke, played musical chairs and danced on that shiny new finished floor! See photos below of these festitivities. It’s so important to celebrate, to stop and recognize achievements, and the folks at Genesis continue to do this well. FELICIDADES COOPERATIVA GENESIS! Now on to finish the rest of the building…(doors, windows, electrical installation, loading dock…). -- Becca

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Celebrating 10 years of the Bucknell Nicaragua Brigade

This year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Bucknell Nicaragua Brigade. In the past decade, Bucknell University in Lewisberg, PA has brought over 25 groups down to volunteer with the CDCA. With its special focus on health care, each year the Bucknell Brigades raise a huge portion of the Nueva Vida Clinic budget, and brings hundreds of thousands of dollars in donated medicine. On top of the huge positive impact the Bucknell Brigades have had on the work of the CDCA, they have also changed Bucknell – the university now has Brigades in several countries and is becoming known for its focus in Service Learning. The Bucknell Brigade does an excellent job of preparing students for coming to Nicaragua, and when other groups ask us how they should ready their delegates, we put them in contact with the Bucknell Brigades.

To mark this ten year anniversary, Bucknell recently held a celebration unveiling a commemorative mural, painted by Gerardo Arias of the Batahola Cultural Center in Managua. For the occasion, Bucknell flew our own Pat and Kathy from their location in Minnesota on the CDCA fall speaking tour out to Bucknell – they (and all of the CDCA vicariously) were honored to be involved in the festivities. The university has also made a 10th Anniversary Bucknell Brigade webpage that features a series of profiles of key people involved in the Brigades: Bucknell students, alumni, staff and faculty, plus stories about the Brigade’s work with the Nueva Vida Clinic and the El Porvenir water project. We encourage you all to take a few moments to watch this great short video about the Brigades at:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Peace Photography

Here is an example of how many wonderful people are helping us out in the most creative ways. Last week our former Volunteer Coordinator, Eric Gruen, and his wife Molly Joy Matheson, launched, featuring their stunning photos from around the world.

As Eric explains, “There is so much beauty, courage, and hope in this world, yet also so much pain, struggle, and need. I can't really pretend that photos ever come close to capturing this. But, I do believe that they can remind us of communities outside of our own, and our strange common bond with those whom we don't know, and will never meet.”

After his year with us, Eric and Molly spent 2008 traveling around the world and volunteering with different organizations. Peace Photography supports those non-profits (including the CDCA) through online sales of prints, notecards and calendars. Each individual photo is linked to a specific non-profit (eg. When someone buys a photo of Nicaragua, 100% of the proceeds go to the CDCA).

Their photos are truly moving and speak of our common humanity and the power of photography to connect us to one another. “Many of our leaders have decided for us that the best choice is to live in fear of those ‘others,’” says Eric, “that it is somehow best to keep ‘them’ on the opposite side of walls, razor wire, gun barrels, and bombs. I do not agree. I believe that we do have other choices. Better choices.” Peace Photography helps to remind us what those choices are. Please check out this very cool project.

You can see a gorgeous slide show of Around the World in 365 Days at:

To see photos of Nicaragua go to:

For pictures of Guatemala (which also benefit the CDCA) go to:

For incredible Nature photos see:

Eric and Molly hope to expand Peace Photography to include the work of other photographers in the near future. If you are interested, you can write to:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spinning machinery on its way!

The spinning machinery for the Genesis cooperative is on its way! The equipment

has been purchased and we expect it to ship in November to arrive in Nicaragua before the Christmas holidays. This is cause for great celebration before we get down to the work of figuring out how to run a spinning plant!

Over the past six years we’ve written literally dozens of grants seeking funding for the machinery and have received letters back saying, “What a wonderful and ambitious project! When it’s up and running, let us know, we’d love to be a part of it.” This frustration was a huge learning process for us, making it clear just how difficult it is for a medium size business to get start up capital – most funding agencies don’t give grants for construction or machinery – and ultimately inspiring us to set up the Vida Fund to help co-ops in this position.

The fledgling Vida Fund, however, doesn’t currently have enough capital to cover the purchase of the spinning machinery. We have been lucky enough to find the Local Development Fund (FDL), a Nicaraguan microfinance institution which shares our vision of creating an organic cotton production chain in Nicaragua and is acting on this vision by loaning the money for the machinery! The loan is for $230,000 to be paid back in six years at 14% interest. That interest rate – and 0 commission and 0 legal fees – is unbelievably good in Nicaragua, where many microfinance institutions give a good deal at 35% interest and a more likely rate is 50%. Still, the co-op will end up paying nearly $100,000 in interest alone.

How can we help? The co-op will be allowed to pre-pay the loan. Our Vida Fund loans to Genesis at 6% annual interest, but lacks sufficient capital to loan the $230,000 for the purchase of machinery. New donations and loans coming into the Vida Fund, however, can go toward paying off that machinery early, saving Genesis thousands of dollars. If you or anyone you know can donate or invest in the Vida Fund (donations of any size, loans minimum of $5,000 for 5 years), please contact us at

We expect the spinning machinery to arrive in Nicaragua in early December…it will be a jubilant moment for co-op members to see the machinery in their building, and the New Year will be a New Genesis, a New Beginning…the beginning of the adventure of setting up machinery, learning to run it, learning to run a business…it’s going to be tough. But at this stage, we know we’re up to the challenge. – Becca

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Inside Look: Pouring the floor at Genesis

The other day I went over to the Genesis spinning plant to help them pour the concrete for their floor. I knew this was tough work, intellectually. But now while my arms and back and legs are still aching, let me give you an idea of how hard it really is.

It’s done by hand. Yes, they are pouring the floor – an area of more than 15,000 square feet – by hand. They have divided their floor up into 84 sections, and pour three to four sections each morning. Each section takes around 20 bags of cement, 40 buckets of water, 40 buckets of gravel and 60 buckets of sand. It takes them about an hour to pour each section, and they cannot stop – once they start pouring they have to keep going for three or four hours. Once they have finished pouring they eat lunch – these days they often make a big soup for everybody so they can be sure folks have at least one good meal when working so hard. After lunch, they rake sand, lay metal reinforcement and wire it to its supports and put forms in place to ready the floor for the next morning’s concrete pouring.

Here are the players:

Natalia & Petronila shovel gravel into buckets – four buckets for each load of cement – and lift them onto a cart, which they wheel over to the cement mixer.

Martha, María & Chilo shovel sand into buckets – six buckets for each load of cement – and lift them onto a cart, which they wheel over to the cement mixer. I did that job the other day with Ramona, tiny woman in her 50s who is now on doctor’s rest with an inflamed shoulder from the day I worked with her.

Ervin, Geovanny & Pablo work the cement mixer – pouring buckets of water, gravel, sand and dumping two 50 lb bags of cement into the mixer for each load. All of this has to be lifted above shoulder height into the mixer and these guys can’t stop…they lift for three to four hours without a break. Ervin & Geovanny are young guys – the only two members of the co-op without kids – but they are worn out. Watching them was the first time I have seen young strong Nicaraguan men visibly wavering under physical strain. They work hard, but the women can’t do this job because they don’t have the upper body strength. Pablo – a diabetic who is just back from several weeks on sick leave when he was in serious danger of losing his foot to infection – runs the mixer, controlling the heavy head of the machine as it fills the wheelbarrows with concrete.

Sara, Mercedes, Janneth, Xiomara, & Rosa cart concrete – they fill wheelbarrows with concrete and wheel them over to the section being poured, up a board and dump them into place, all without letting it dump over before its destination. These women are all moms in their 30s and 40s, strong women with lots of responsibilities.

The four hired masons level off the concrete as it goes in each section, and then spend all afternoon working on putting the fine finish layer on each section.

These folks have been working like this 5 days a week for 7 weeks. Can you imagine? They will be finished by the end of October…they will be beyond exhaustion by then, but you can bet they won’t be too tired to celebrate! – Becca

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Two new vehicles for the CDCA!

The CDCA is the proud owner of two new-to-us Toyota Landcruiser ambulances! We are very pleased to have been able to purchase these two vehicles -- 4WD powerhouses that can carry up to 13 people just about anywhere -- since our old ambulance (which many of you will remember) appears to finally be on its last wheels. Our old ambulance is a 1988 model that has been through everything -- the rebuilding of Nueva Vida after Hurricane Mitch, planting and harvesting of just about every crop you can think of, and probably most importantly has carted tens of thousands of dollars of medicine and hundreds of volunteers up to the El Porvenir coffee co-op -- all AFTER being swept down the arroyo in a Hurricane in 2000 and rebuilt by our genius mechanic Maestro.

After all that, it's no wonder our poor old ambulance is tired...with it pumping out black smoke and hardly accelerating beyond a crawl, we decided it was high time we replaced it...but we needed a 4WD that could carry a lot of people and had good clearance (not many models do that) new Toyota ambulances cost nearly $30,000, and used ones are hard to come by and tend to be in pretty bad shape if they are for sale. But we got a miracle! The medical organization Christian Medical Action (AMC) had two for sale at a great deal! The ambulances are 1998 and 2001, significantly newer than our old ambulance. They have been work horses for AMC in areas of the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua that barely have roads, so they have been put to use in their lives and are in rough condition (we're working to get them road worthy and ensured), but we are excited to make them work for us! Thanks AMC and to all of you who contributed toward the purchase of these great vehicles. -- Becca (for all of us)

Monday, September 21, 2009

CDCA Fall speaking tour: OH, IL, WI, MN, IA, MO, KY

Pat and Kathy have left for their two month speaking tour of the Midwest, showing slides, selling crafts and talking to folks about the work of the CDCA in Nicaragua. If you're in Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, or Kentucky you might be able to catch them! You can email them at: or call 413-250-9757 or 413-250-9751 to confirm times and details or if you would like to host them in one of these areas. Below is their schedule:

Wed Sept. 30 Crafts and classes - Xavier University

Thu Oct. 1 Crafts and community presentation - Xavier

Fri Oct. 2 Crafts at Xavier

Evening presentation - Shiloh Methodist

Sun Oct. 4 Presentation to Beverly UU Congregation

Mon Oct. 5 Presentation at La Casa, U of Illinois

Wed Oct. 7 Presentation at Matt Sweeney's house

Sun Oct. 11 Presentation at Madison Mennonite Church

Mon Oct. 12 Crafts and classes at U of Wisconsin - Richland Center
Tue Oct. 13 Crafts and community presentation - U of WI
Wed Oct. 14 Community presentation to area peace groups
Sat Oct. 17 morning presentation at Center for the Americas

evening presentation "The Beat" coffeehouse
Tue Oct. 20 Crafts and classes - U of Minnesota - Duluth
Wed Oct. 21 Crafts and classes - U of Minnesota - Duluth

evening presentation Peace Church, Duluth

Thu Oct. 22 Crafts and classes - U of Wisconsin - Superior

evening presentation Duluth Friends Meeting
Sat Oct. 24 Participate in 10th anniversary of Bucknell Brigade
Sun Oct. 25 afternoon presentation - Prospect Hill Friends
Mon Oct. 26 Crafts and classes at Blake School, Minneapolis
Tue Oct. 27 Presentation to Peace Links, Primghar IA

Wed Oct. 28 Presentation to Bear Creek and Des Moines Friends
Sun Nov. 1 Presentation People's Church, Cedar Rapids IA
Mon Nov. 2 Six presentations at Decorah high school & crafts

Evening presentation hosted by Decorah Friends
Tue Nov. 3 Crafts and classes at Luther College, Decorah IA
Wed Nov. 4 Crafts and classes at Luther College

Thu Nov. 5 Classes and community presentation U of Northern Iowa
Fri Nov. 6 Classes at U of Northern Iowa

Evening home presentation

Sun Nov. 8 Presentation at Echo Hill Presbyterian Church, Cedar Rapids
Mon Nov. 9 Presentation in St. Louis MO

Tue Nov. 10 Sisters of Charity, Nazareth KY

Wed Nov. 11 Sisters of Charity, Nazareth KY

Sun Nov. 15 Presentation - Trinity Episcopal, Statesville

Friday, September 18, 2009

Organic cotton chain got Fair Labor Certification!

The fair labor certification (see Sept. 3 blog) is a go! Maggie's Organics just put out a press release about it, which you can read below or on the Maggie's blog at:


Maggie’s Organics will be first to acquire Fair Labor Practices and Community Benefits Certification

Maggie’s Organics will become the first apparel company ever to be certified Fair Labor under a rigorous new auditing process: Fair Labor Practices and Community Benefits certification by Scientific Certification Systems. This certification validates socially responsible practices both in agricultural production and at all stages of the post-harvest production process.

Ypsilanti, MI – September 15th, 2009 – Maggie’s Organics has been making apparel items 0with certified organic fibers and fair labor practices since 1992. The agricultural standard and process of growing fibers organically has been in place since Maggie’s started their business. Maggie’s is proud to announce that its production chain in Central America has been evaluated by an independent third party and all of the workers involved in the process are treated fairly with safe and healthy working conditions based upon a global standard. Maggie’s Organics will be the first company in the world to hold this certification.

Bená Burda, President and Founder of Maggie’s said, “We have always taken the high road when it comes to making sure all who are involved with producing our products are treated fairly and that somehow we have helped sustain their lives in the process. It is validating to have others verify this and put a standard in place that can be measured.”

The Fair Labor Practices and Community Benefits Certification standard, developed by Scientific Certification Systems ( in conjunction with key stake holders, validates socially responsible practices in agricultural production and all stages of processing including: growing, harvesting, ginning, spinning, knitting, finishing, cutting, sewing, screen printing, and distribution. Certification to this standard covers: equitable hiring and employment, safe workplace conditions, worker and family access to health, education, and transportation services, local and regional impacts, community engagement, and demonstrated economic stability.

The Jubilee House Community (, a non-government organization located in Nueva Vida, Nicaragua was instrumental in coordinating the production chain within Nicaragua. JHC has been nurturing local communities in Nicaragua since 1994.

The first products to be offered under this new certification are Maggie’s Solid Scarves made with 100% certified organic cotton and will be available in all stores this holiday season. Whole Foods Market® has been offering Maggie’s Organics products in all of its stores for years. “We are excited to be able to offer these scarves that not only look and feel great but they also have quite a story behind them. Our customers will not have to second guess about what went on behind the scenes of the production of this product”, said Jeremiah McElwee, Senior Whole Body Coordinator for Whole Foods Market.

All of the solid color scarves: Black, Maroon, Plum, and Olive, will be ready to order on September 17th, 2009. Other items including a new t-shirt will be available Spring 2010.

About Maggie’s Organics

Maggie’s Organics is located in Ypsilanti, MI. Bená Burda is the President and Founder of the company. Ms. Burda helped launch worker-owned sewing cooperatives in Nueva Vida, Nicaragua and more recently in Morganton, North Carolina.

For more information about Maggie’s Organics and their products, please visit, or contact Doug Wilson at 800-609-8593, or

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CDCA Celebrates 15 Years in Nicaragua

Last Friday we celebrated the CDCA’s 15 years in Nicaragua with more than 90 people who have been part of our lives and work since 1994. Photos of the past 15 years were showing on a big screen all night and everyone enjoyed looking at them…and commenting on how skinny we all were back then! Juan and Blanca from Las Parcelas were there… Fidel from Roberto ClementeMaría Cano from Nueva Vida and her grown-up daughter Iliana…Dr. Emilio from FUNDECICésar, who has been with us from the very beginning…Henry who worked as a cobrador when our propane-run gray bus was on the 115 route and has been the medic at the Clinic since it first opened…Peter who was a volunteer with FUNDECI when the CDCA first began…Julia who was a member of the cement block co-op when Nueva Vida first started…many members of the Genesis spinning co-op, all so proud to be included and to see themselves on the big screen…Yolanda from the women’s cashew co-op…Adela from the women’s agricultural co-op…and so many more. They came all that way (in a rain storm!) to celebrate with us!

During the evening we enjoyed music from Guitarra de Madera Azul and wonderful food from the Centro Kairos, where the event was held. We showed for the first time our video about our work! People were thrilled to see themselves in the video and to have all their hard work recognized, it was an inspiring moment (thank you Paul for putting the video together in English and Spanish!).

This celebration wasn’t about us, it was about the people who have made the work we do possible…people from the communities we have worked with, people who bring their delegations to visit our projects, people who speak to our delegations, people who have supported us from the US and have advocated for Nicaragua and its people, people who’ve helped us hold on to our land, people who help us import medicine, people who receive loans from us, people who give loans to us, our amazing, hardworking staff…all these people came together to celebrate 15 years of the CDCA. We were honored to have them there. We are so grateful to them and to all of you for the support you give us in so many ways.

For more on the past 15 years in Nicaragua see our newsletters from 2009 at:

You can see more pictures of the event on Facebook at:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Genesis floor being poured!

The members of the Genesis spinning cooperative are pouring their floor! This is a huge step for them as they are nearing the completion of their building, they've been working for the past two and a half years with no pay to build their building, working as their buy-in to the cooperative.

The sacrifice involved in these past two and a half years is hard for us to imagine...they get up at four in the morning to make tortillas to sell, then come to the co-op to work and go home with no money...their families go without...Jamileth's daughter will not celebrate her 15th birthday as is the tradition here, there is no money...a neighbor looks after Natalia's elderly mother so she can work at the co-op...Xiomara's son comes to the co-op after first grade every day because there is no one to look after him at home...Chilo's son comes to work for her on the days she is too sick or at the hospital trying to get the surgery she needs...Pablo comes every day even though his foot is still infected and he is in constant danger of having it amputated...many cannot bring lunch to eat, and those who can share their small lunch so that no one has to work on an empty stomach.

And yet, after all this sacrifice, the payoff is nearly in sight: the floor is going in! The members of Genesis are doing HARD work right now...mixing two batches of concrete in the mixer, filling wheelbarrows with it, carting it across the building, pouring concrete hour after hour, filling in 3 sections of floor each day in time for the two masons they have hired to put the fine coat of cement on the floor before finishing up for the day. They have weeks to go, but the floor is going in...and they continue sacrificing and hanging on to their Dios quiere, God willing, as they always say, the members of Genesis will begin production before the year is out. --Becca

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fair Labor Certification Inspections

We’ve spent the past five days accompanying inspectors from Scientific Certification Systems working toward our goal of getting the organic cotton production chain certified in Fair Labor Practices & Community Benefits. SCS does third-party production chain certification, and we are hoping to be the first cotton production chain certified in Fair Labor Practices & Community Benefits which will mean that the garments made with our cotton, gin, yarn etc. will be able to carry a label certifying that the people who’s work went into making that product all the way up the production chain were treated fairly, making it the first garment in the world with that status!

Bená Burda from Maggie’s Organics came to Nicaragua as well as a representative from the International Labor Rights Fund who was present as an observer at the inspections. All in all, the SCS auditors inspected:

1) Nicaraguan co-ops producing organic cotton (including two women’s co-ops)

2) Our cotton gin

3) The Genesis Spinning Plant Cooperative

4) Knitting and dyeing process in Costa Rica

5) Sewers making organic cotton clothing

6) Maggie’s Organics in Michigan

Initial feedback from the auditors was generally positive, and we will know more when they get us their final report in a few weeks. At the sites they inspected in Nicaragua, there are improvements to be made basically in record-keeping and written manuals of different procedures, all of which are relatively easy for us to comply with and relatively uniform across the chain – we can work on basic outline on manuals for the whole chain to use. Achieving this certification (again, we will know more when we receive the auditor’s report) will not only assure quality jobs with good conditions for the folks all along the production chain, but it will also allow a consumer to pick up a piece of clothing, see a tag on it and feel good buying it, knowing they are supporting a fair production chain. -- Becca

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Microcredit: No magic solution

Over the last several years the term microcredit has become a real buzzword. What is it? Microcredit gives small loans (usually less than $1,000) to poor people, those lacking collateral and without verifiable credit histories. The idea is that with access to sources of capital, self-employment then rises and quality of life improves as people break free from the cycle of low income, low savings, and low investment.

The concept of microcredit is now standard in development and for many it has become a magic formula to be applied uniformly around the world. And, as in the case with so much that looks attractive, upon a closer look, everything is not so rosy. You’ve probably heard about, a website where individuals can loan small amounts of money to microcredit programs. They’ve had immense success, and are doing a great job of getting the haves to give a little bit to the have nots. But how are the “end users” faring – the poor people receiving the loans? According to their website, Kiva doesn’t charge its partner agencies interest. But the average interest rate that a Kiva field partner charges the poor borrower is 21%. How can a poor person afford to pay 21% annual interest on a loan? Another NGO working in Nicaragua charges its partner agencies 10% interest and their partner agencies charge interest rates that average 36%. These rates are justified by the higher cost of administering many small loans, and giving free trainings to their clients, but in reality any institution that charges those interest rates is taking advantage of the poor. The poor can’t get a loan at a bank, so the field partners will charge higher interest rates than even a bank charges (18-25% in Nicaragua). That’s called usury.

In our own experience with microcredit projects in Nicaragua, not all is perfect either. After 15 years of work in this area, we have concluded that small loans to poor individuals at truly low interest rates (0-6% annual interest) are necessary, but ultimately insufficient. Those we’ve worked with have improved their living conditions for themselves and their families, but they are still poor. While microcredit can move people within the scope of poverty, but in order to really lift themselves out of poverty, the poor need a more serious investment under a different model.

So what is the solution? The reality is that there are many. But what we have found is that together, we can do more: groups of people working together in democratically-run cooperatives provide more and more sustainable employment than either self-employment or traditionally run businesses. Yet they fall into a financing gap: too large for microcredit and too risky for banks. We are trying to fill that gap with our Vida Fund. The Vida Fund is a shared risk investment fund that partners with the poor to build lives through livelihood. Currently the Vida Fund is helping the Genesis cooperative start up their spinning plant with over $140,000 in loans so far for their building construction alone.

Now we are looking for people to invest in the Vida Fund so that the folks at Genesis can finish their building and so that other similar projects can get started. Investment loans receive up to 5% interest. We encourage a minimum investment of $5,000 and longer time periods (5-10 years) for these loans, so that they can be used most effectively. Since launching the Vida Fund this spring, we have received $27,000 in loans! Currently Genesis needs about $40,000 to finish their building, or just eight people who can loan $5,000. We accept donations of any size to the Vida Fund, all of which are tax deductible. If you know anybody who might be able to invest, please have them email us at and look at our website at and for more information on the Vida Fund. To donate online go to

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Global Day of Action in Solidarity with Honduras

Participating in a global day of action in solidarity with the Honduran people, 75 individuals gathered in front of the U.S. embassy in Managua Tuesday afternoon. Participants included U.S. citizens, Nicaraguan social organizations, Christian Base Communities, and others.

Friday, June 12, 2009

News in brief:

• The Bucknell class left on Sunday and had a good experience.
• Sarah is home from a successful speaking tour…thanks to all.
• Becca, Paul and the girls are in the Northwest of the USA.

• The roof of the spinning plant is up except for a cap to go across the top. It is quite impressive…see photos.

• We now have three volunteers working in the clinic: a public health intern (a rising 2nd year medical student from Alaska) and two students who are pre-med and pre-dental from Georgia (the state)... see photos.

• We are taking surveys of people in Nueva Vida and patients in our clinic in an attempt to better our services and learn from the neighborhood.
• Our Shared Risk Investment Fund is getting a new name, logo, and tag line as well as a brochure and a description of the process plus answers to questions people have asked…more on that in a few weeks.

A brief thought:

As it is said about the first missionaries to Hawaii, they went to do good and ended up doing well. This can often be said re the Church…congregations and denominations are established to do good and then they do well. Afterwards they find it low in their priorities to do good. In other words maintaining themselves is more important than helping the poor.
My favorite news source on the television is Fareed Zakaria’s GPS. Last week during an interview with Michael Lewis, Liar’s Poker, Lewis commented about people in finance and financial institutions. He stated that they needed to consider “Doing good not just doing well.” We wouldn’t have such a disaster now if finance worked for the betterment of society as a whole.
It’s hard…so many institutions fall into this trap: governments, NGOs, religions, clubs, etc. But seeing the poor struggle like the Genesis cooperative (the spinning plant) it is easier to stay focused. -Kathleen