Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Send email: Help Genesis Co-op Now!

Dear Friends,
sample email here

We don't usually do this, but we desperately need your help. We need you to send an email.

We really need you to help us in this emergency regarding the work of the Jubilee House Community and the Center for Development in Central America, including the Genesis Spinning Cooperative.

As many of you know, the Genesis Cooperative has been working for more than 3 1/2 years without pay to build their yarn factory that will be part of the organic cotton supply chain for fair trade clothing. The Genesis co-op needs your help now to get their badly needed spinning equipment to Nicaragua. Here’s why:

Ten and a half months ago the Jubilee House Community contracted with Coker International, a used equipment company in Greenville, SC, to deliver the machinery needed for the Genesis spinning plant. Coker requested a $100,000 deposit in October 2009 and in early December 2009 another $50,000 because they claimed the disassembly of the equipment was “very close to being done” and they expected to be ready to load the machinery in early January. Since then, we have spent every day calling and emailing with Coker, the plant in Venezuela and other contacts, trying everything we can think of to get this equipment moving.
Not a single piece of equipment has yet to arrive!

Now, after months of delays and lies, we are being told by the original owners of the equipment, a company in Venezuela, that they have never been paid for the equipment and Coker will not provide us with receipts to prove otherwise. Two of the machines have been shipped but are being held en route by the shipping company for lack of payment by Coker of fines, fees, and damages incurred by Coker's complete refusal to deal in a serious manner with this problem. All remaining machines, filling approximately 12 containers, will not ship because Coker hasn't paid for the equipment. (For details on the equipment saga, see our blog on Genesis Equipment).

Please contact Jack Coker at Coker International and urge him to act with integrity and responsibility to resolve this situation immediately. This is our last effort to get Coker to respond and fulfill its obligation before we enter a long drawn out legal process that will inevitably lead to more hardship for the women of Genesis.

Below you will find a sample email. Please send an email to Coker International at:,, with a copy to us at and forward this to your contacts.

You can also call to give the same message. Coker International: 864-335-5200, Jack Coker’s cell phone: 864-304-4161, Angel Magliano’s cell phone: 864-313-3133.

Thank you for all you do!

All of us at JHC & CDCA

Dear Mr. Coker,

As long-time supporters of the work of the Jubilee House Community in Nicaragua, we are appalled to learn of your unconscionable treatment of this non-profit organization and even more so of the hardworking women and men of the cooperatives they support. Please act with honesty and integrity to immediately fulfill your contractual obligations with the Jubilee House Community on behalf of these courageous women and men of the Genesis Spinning Cooperative by immediately delivering the agreed-upon spinning equipment to the JHC in Nicaragua.

Thank you for doing the right thing.


[Your Name]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Give us this day our daily beans

Managua’s main market – the Eastern market – is the largest in Central America, taking up more than 145 acres in the old city center. Each day 540,000 people shop there, and last Friday I was one of them. I had gone there to buy basic grains for the Genesis Spinning co-op.

In early July Genesis came to us and said that after nine months of waiting for their machinery to arrive, they were desperate...are desperate. Family members who have been supporting them economically are now giving ultimatums: “If the machinery doesn’t come soon, I can't keep giving you money.” Things are tough at home and their spirits are low. They asked us for a donation of basic grains to distribute to cooperative members every two weeks until the machinery arrives.

I heard their request and knew that they were right. We had to find a way to get them food. But we have been having a tight year financially, and right now we are in the middle of giving credits to organic cotton farmers for this year’s planting (450 acres!). We didn’t know how we could give Genesis cooperative additional aid on top of the continued financing of construction and legal costs.

But it had to be done. So we thought about it, prayed about it, and started making phone calls. In mid-July we received a donation to give the Genesis co-op basic grains – 300 lbs of rice, 200 lbs of beans, 200 lbs of sugar and 2 buckets of cooking oil – every fortnight. There are some really good people in this world.

This trip to Managua’s market is our third, and I’ve come with Erwin and Natalia of the Genesis co-op. While Erwin watches the car (there’s a robbery every 7 minutes in the Market), Natalia walks up the line of guys selling beans and corn out of the back of big trucks, ignoring their shouts of “this one is soft, just like you want them,” accepting their offered beans to chew and spit out in her test for texture, reaching down inside the bags to see how much field trash and rocks are mixed in.

I follow along behind her, dutifully chewing and spitting out beans, frowning when she says “too hard, right?” and nodding when she says “too soft, right? These ones will go bad too fast.” She finally finds a bean she likes and follows its owner over to his pile of sacks. He empties one of his sacks into our sack and when Natalia asks him to weigh it he says “oh, it’s all there” and she replies, “let’s just go see.” He takes us over to the shop next door where he pays its owner C$5 for the privilege of using his scale. He hoists the sack up on a metal hook and hangs it from the scale. 80 pounds. “See?” says Natalia and he hurries off to bring us another 20 pounds of beans to fill the sack. Once our two sacks weigh out at 100 pounds each, he hoists the bags up on his back and carries them over to our car.

Natalia’s been sent by the co-op to guarantee the quality of the beans, and rightly so. The first time I went to the market to buy beans, I went with a man – C├ęsar, our director of projects– and we made it obvious that between a gringa and a man we didn’t know beans. We had bought the cheaper “frijol chile” and not only was one sack 18 pounds underweight, but when the women tried to cook them, the beans were still hard after five hours on the fire. “I left my daughter at home to cook these,” exclaimed Sara, “can you imagine! We’ll spend more on firewood than we would have on better beans!” This time Natalia – who is in her fifties and spends her early mornings and evenings pounding tortillas to sell – has selected a nice soft red bean that cooks up nicely and also saved us fifteen dollars on the cost. And I think I might even know the difference between a good bean and a bad bean. Not a bad day’s work. – Becca

To help the CDCA get through this tough year, you can send just $10 to us by clicking here:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Measure This!

Measurable results” are my nemesis. In fact, they are the reason that I haven’t posted a new blog in a month: I’ve been too busy writing bureaucratic reports that try to show what “measurable results” our projects have had.

Insistence on measurable results hinders actual development while also frustrating the heck out of me. In our work in Nicaragua, we deal with various “international development” institutions that show us the damage created by this ridiculous insistence on measurable results. While I don’t want to paint all development/funding/cooperation institutions with the same brush, I think it is fair to say that the general trend now is more pencil-pushing and less actual progress. Let me give you quick view of how this works.

When an organization like ours – relatively small, relatively small budget and “on the ground” – writes a project proposal to one of the above-mentioned institutions, it must always include particular “Objectives” and “Indicators” and note the way that these results will be verified. Invariably the methods of verification are paperwork: monthly, quarterly, semi-annual and annual reports both narrative and financial, plus internal and external evaluations. The external evaluations are always done by an outside contractor who makes an obscene amount of money to read everyone else’s reports and possibly make a site visit and do an interview or two.

Once a project is approved those of us who do tangible work to try to make the project actually happen, while those who are assigned to the project at the funding institution begin requesting paperwork from us. These folks are usually called “specialists” and their job is essentially pushing paper and covering their own behinds and their bosses’ to make sure that, on the off chance someone further up the bureaucratic food chain actually reads the reports, they have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s.

So much focus on paperwork causes the actual project to suffer – it boils down to no one caring whether or not you actually accomplish anything, but only that you wrote it all down correctly and turned it in on time. For example, we recently had a functionary tell us that we couldn’t spend money on what we most needed because – and I could not make this up if I tried – a previous functionary had not “put a check mark next to number 20 on page 6” which would have indicated a future intention to spend the money in that manner.

Amid this sea of reports, what gets lost is humanity. Where do people fit in to measurable results? They stop being Martha and Diana and Pablo with faces and names and children and instead become “project beneficiaries.” And the push for measurable results means that those of us who serve as the conduit trying to get institutional money to the places it’s most needed wind up doing what the people with the money “require” of us instead of what the poor really need. That’s not right.

People who are a lot smarter than me – and there are a gracious plenty of those – have given this subject a lot more thought (and a lot fewer sarcastic remarks) than me and have come to the same conclusion: measurable results in fact impede real results. Nicaraguan economist Carlos Pacheco – also intimately familiar with the dark world of results-based projects – says that development should be process-based, as opposed to results-based. He says that in fact we should not talk about “Projects” – which arbitrarily end whether or not there is a need to continue the work – but rather we should talk about Process. And, as he points out, processes are very hard to measure, which funding institutions hate, but they ought to just get over that if what they want is to contribute to sustainable development. Some of the best advances happen internally, and that’s simply something that can’t be measured.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of pull in these institutions to convince them that they’re headed the wrong way. Fortunately, the CDCA has a lot of supporters who don’t need measurable results – individuals, groups and organizations that simply send in donations saying “Y’all do great work, use this to keep it up!” On this year’s IRS tax form that we have to fill out as a non-profit, our organization is 99.61% publicly supported…that is one number for which I feel immeasurably grateful. – Becca

If you’d like to become one of those supporters who help us do more work and fewer reports, go to to donate online or send a donation by check.

Thanks to Kelly Doering of Stick People Productions for the photo of Becca, Mike & Rosa speaking truth to bureaucracy. Thanks to Greg Ewert for the photo of Genesis in a development process that can’t be measured. Thanks to Kathy Floerke for a photo of her overflowing file cabinet.