By Lindsey Quinn
Volunteer mother Alejandra harbors no illusions about her neighborhood in Jalisco, Mexico: “There is a lot of crime and drug abuse, lots of violence and school dropouts.” It was exactly these threats that led the mother of three sponsored children to volunteer with Children International. Little did she know that this act of generosity would lead to new skills and a new business.
Like most volunteers, Alejandra started her volunteer duties performing tasks such as delivering notifications and filing paperwork. Soon, though, she learned about the “Women Agents of Change” program offered through her Children International community center. All volunteer mothers are invited to participate in the program, which operates in three stages. First, mothers attend workshops on gender equality and women’s rights, self-esteem, violence and other topics. Women who complete this year-long course may move on to stage two, which provides leadership training and an opportunity to lead children in sports. After completing this section and earning leadership experience, mothers may participate in a third year of training during which they develop micro-enterprise projects.
It was during this third stage, about three years ago, that Alejandra met Lourdes and Pilar. The three women decided to pursue training in sewing and dressmaking and began a small sewing project.Alejandra stands outside her home with two of her children. A desire to improve her children’s lives led Alejandra to pursue training and start a new business. Lourdes, Alejandra and Pilar pose in their neighborhood business.
Alejandra recalls this accomplishment with pride. “I saw in the training a good way to do all those things that I like and to learn more. I decided to start a productive project, because I wanted to improve the condition of life of my family, especially my children.” After gaining some experience, Alejandra, Pilar and Lourdes decided they could improve their families’ conditions even more. “The goal was to have our own sewing workshop,” Alejandra explains, “to help ourselves and to help our community by offering jobs to other people.”
With Children International’s guidance, Alejandra and her partners laid the foundation for their fledgling business: getting sewing machines and equipment. The three women developed a proposal and presentation for the Secretaría del trabajo – the Employment Secretariat – outlining their business goals and explaining how they would use the new machines. Impressed by the trio’s well-presented plan, the government agency quickly approved their request and gave them six sewing machines.
Alejandra, Lourdes and Pilar soon found an affordable rental space that was convenient to their homes and their clientele. Today, the women provide dressmaking and tailoring options to people in their community, a much-needed service. They have also expanded their offerings to include homemade dolls. The business is still establishing itself, but they are using their profits to pay their rent and purchase raw materials.
Their sewing workshop isn’t just about capitalism, though; it’s about education and personal development. Alejandra sums it up best: “We have better self-esteem. The trainings make us feel stronger, that we have many qualities. Before, we women felt like we were only able to be at home, to take care of the house and the children. Now we know that we can do whatever we propose.”
Reporting assistance and photos by Azucena Gollaz of Jalisco, Mexico.Alejandra holds one of the dolls she and her business partners create and sell.