Tuesday, August 17

Finishing School

We're finishing up this week.

The primary goal of the project is for all ten women to know how to sew a specific bag with a pattern provided by Nest. Over the last six weeks, they have learned the mechanics of sewing, how to work with a pattern and have memorized the details of making a specific product.

Today and tomorrow we are reviewing everything we've learned so far in the course. Tuesday and Wednesday are our "audit" days. We'll be running a quick test on preparing and cutting the fabric for assembly, sewing the bag together, and on machine maintenance and keeping the studio clean. We're doing this to be sure that everyone is comfortable and confident performing each task involved in the bag construction. If anyone is unsure, back to the classroom we go to cover that step again!

the stack of finished sample bags

Sunday, August 15

Ramona J

Ramona has been named head of the cooperative by popular vote. She lives directly in front of the studio, and keeps the key to the sewing studio. Ramona is a true entrepreneur. She and her husband had one shot at establishing a business a few years ago, only to see it devastated by the force of Hurricane George. (See a full blog about her story in a previous post.)

"A program like this has never been proposed here before. Nest will help us a lot because it is opening a path that has always been closed for us. God has given us a light and with Nest’s help we’ll be able to walk down that path of success to our goals in life, and can make our dream come true.

WOW, we will be able to start our own business!" -Ramona Jimenez


When fruits are in season, Marilin gathers avocado, mangos, and litchis in the community to sell for a little bit of income. Her husband earns income here and there working on construction projects, but that work is not steady. He was recently able to purchase a motorcycle, which he uses to provide taxi services for a bit more income for the family.

Marilin has been sewing by hand since she was a small child, and has always wanted to learn to sew on a machine but has never had the opportunity until now.

"Nest is going to help me improve the wellbeing of my kids and learn new skills." -Marilin Ramos


Geovanny lives with her two small children and her mother in a house on the main square of the community. Her husband has salaried employment working in construction. Steady jobs are nonexistent in the community, and so her husband works in another town and is only able to return home every eleven days.

Geovanny works a few days a week as a hairstylist, which allows her to bring in more income to supplement what her husband earns. Geovanny's goal for the future is to earn more income herself so that she can remodel and enlarge her house and provide a better future for her children.

Geovanny is on top of it. She is one of the quickest learners in the class and has done perfect work on her machine with little to no guidance. Geovanny is quiet, but she takes her work very, very seriously and is doing a wonderful job. We're looking forward to seeing her progress as a seamstress, she has the potential to be one of the most skilled members of the cooperative.


Margarita is one of the more charismatic women of the group. She is usually the first woman to speak up when the group is asked a question. Margarita is one of the best cooks I have ever encountered, and she makes delicious meals for us when we are working in the community. In fact, Margatita's cuisine is so popular, that her recipes have been published in a cookbook.

Margarita is also very proud of the high school diploma that hangs in a frame on her wall. She completely the degree last year. Margarita has five children: four sons and a daughter, who is pregnant with her first grandchild.

"My dream is to start my own business where I work next to people that I love. Within 5 or ten years I see myself having a chain of sewing businesses. Nest is helping a lot by just being here in the community and offering their help. They have taught us how to work as a business, how to sew and how to manage our money in a better way." -Margarita Metz

Ramona C

Ramona is one of the most devoted clients in the group. As our time here at the project is running out, she has been spending more and more time practicing her sewing skills. She appeared on Saturday to use the studio to get some more time in on the machine.

Ramona has three small children, and earns no income herself. She has a very difficult relationship with her husband, and one of her goals is to earn enough income to support herself and her children, so that she may have the option to move into a house of her own.

Saturday, August 14

Saturday Softball Game

The community held a just-for-fun softball game this afternoon. It was a seven-inning afternoon, and the teams were divided by religious preference. 

Jose batting.

Thursday, August 12

the developing world

We've witnessed a couple of things this week that will stand out in our minds for the rest of our lives, and I would like to share these memories with you, even if they are unpleasant.

Living in the developed west, we sometimes can't even imagine a society that doesn't have adequate social services and where people cannot always survive or keep their children healthy despite their best efforts.

The first sight:

Early this week we were driving home from the community to the nearby town of San Pedro de Macoris, where we stay. As we neared home, we turned a corner and the vehicle was suddenly plunged into black smoke so thick you couldn't see your hand if it was held against your face. We couldn't see, couldn't breathe, and had no idea if the car was even on the road. Luckily, we emerged from the smoke cloud after only a few seconds. Looking back, we saw a house completely engulfed in flames. It must have been burning for hours. We knew the house was abandoned, but no one seemed to be concerned with whether someone may have been inside, or with what may have started the fire. There was a building, burning to the ground in its block in the middle of a city, and no one seemed concerned. The biggest shock of all?

The fire station sits at the opposite end of the same block.

Lack of social services.

In the community, there are three social services. There is electricity that works sporadically. It goes out for hours at a time each day and is never reliable. Water is pumped into the community via two sources. The first is a government-managed water line that was installed to irrigate a government-owned farming plot in the community. It pumps water into the community once or twice a week. The second source is an aqueduct that was recently built in the center of the community. It serves only a portion of the community, and often runs too low to supply water to even these people. The aqueduct sometimes becomes dangerous because it isn't well sealed and small creatures like rats or birds get into the tank and drown. This contaminates the water. The third social service is trash pickup, which the community only recently organized.

That's it. No police, no fire station, no bank, no hospital.

The second sight:

This one broke my heart. We were coming back again today, and as we came in at the edge of town, we stopped for a funeral procession that was crossing in front of us into the cemetary on the outside of San Pedro de Macoris. As we waited for it to pass, the truck carrying the coffin and the immediate family members turned, and we had a glimpse into the back.

The coffin was two feet long. A baby.

I've never even thought about having to bury a child, but here it's a common occurance with disease and malnutrition threatening the vulnerable immune systems of little ones, and the mothers and fathers often can't afford the necessary costs.

Here the government provides citizens with national healthcare. Most of the women we work with have a government-issued card that gives them free healthcare at public hospitals. These cards are issued when the census is conducted. Many have told us, however, that while they do have free healthcare, they still worry about being able to pay the bus or motorcycle fare to the hospital, and might not be able to afford medicine if it is needed.


Yissel is the class clown. She's always second guessing Jose in the business course, but she loves sewing and is one of the best seamstresses in the cooperative. One interesting fact about Yissel is that at home she raises roosters for cockfights that are held in the community. She offered to sell us her prize rooster, who can't fight anymore because he has lost one eye. We had to politely decline. (No live animals on airplanes.)

"My goal is to establish my own business, and that way I can give my kids a better life. Nest is helping me by providing our cooperative with a loan so that we can all succeed in the future." -Yissel German 

Wednesday, August 11

the concept of work

One of the biggest challenges we've faced during this project is helping the women understand what it means to be part of and effectively run a cooperative.

None of the women we're working with have ever held a job. In fact, they've never even seen a workplace. They've never visited their Mom or Dad at work or spent more than a few minutes inside a factory. In fact, many of these women have never even imagined what a formal workplace might be like.

By definition, a cooperative is a jointly owned commerical enterprise that produces and distributes goods and services and is run for the benefit of the owners.

So these women are suddenly finding themselves both employees and business owners of a sewing cooperative.

... a month ago 90% of this cooperative had never picked up a sewing needle. One would think that the idea of beginning a business and taking out a loan to fund it would be daunting, and that some of the women would seem unsure or uneasy about the future.

But that isn't the case. These women are confident and forward thinking. They recognize this project as an opportunity to gain precious income that will help their families start a slow trek upward to a better life for everyone. For them, there are no other opportunities for employment, this is the first chance they have had in their lives to earn steady income.

Only a couple of the women graduated from high school. They may never have considered ideas like how to effectively price a product, or the merit in choosing organic materials over non-organic (which is a completely foreign concept here), or even the idea of having a work schedule that must be followed.

But they do know that another opportunity like this might not ever come again, and so they're willing to try their best this time.


Nathaly is quiet and shy. At 22, she's one of the younger women in the cooperative. She has a son and a daughter. Nathaly grew up in Ingenio Santa Fe, the nearby sugarcane plantation that employed a large part of the community before it shut down in 1996. She moved here to Villa Aleman with her family when she was fourteen.

"I'm very excited to be part of this program because it has always been my dream to learn how to sew." -Nathaly Rodriguez

techniques for finishing up

Here's what's on the schedule for the sewing workshop today:

1:00 pm: Work on practice project: Nest Bag Pattern

2:00 pm: Discussion and Demonstration - Finishing Seams: pressing, trimming, clipping, notching, and squaring corners.

3:00 pm: Finish up practice project: Nest Bag Pattern

Tuesday, August 10


Marilina is one of the brightest women we've worked with. At 22, she's had to grow up fast. Her mother had to leave the community to find work as a housemaid in a town two hours away, so Marilina has assumed the role of head of household, taking care of her younger siblings as well as her own 11 month old daughter, Dariely. She is pregnant with her second child.

Baby Dariely

When Marilina graduated from high school, she was given a scholarship to continue to college. Soon after, she discovered that she was pregnant with Dariely, and so she had to give up her scholarship and instead stay in the batey to have her baby and help at home.

"In the future I'd like to attend college, and I'd like to learn English. I'm seeking help from Nest because I would like to have a better life and be able to give my children and my family a better future." -Marilina Remi


This photo says a lot about Mechi. She's one of the strongest characters out of the group. Out of the ten women, she is the only single mother. (Of three young children.) Mechi has no income, but she gets by as best she can.

Mechi is also different from the others in that she has been sewing on a machine for years. Our simple starter projects take her no time.

"My goal is to have my own sewing business where I can invest my time and savings so we can prosper economically, and I will be able to offer my children a better future." -Mechi Guerrero


Yisel lives in a neat, colorful house on the road that leads out of the village. She has a loving husband and three small children who she adores Yisel is good natured and always laughing. She often brings fresh limeade for us or invites us to her house for coffee at the end of the day.

"Nest is very important to me because they are providing me with the tools I need to establish my own business." -Yisel Brito

Saturday, August 7

Playa La Romana

Lately, the sewing studio has been transformed into a full fiesta. Bits of colored thread are scattered like confetti all over the studio floor and down the steps leading to the street. The hum of sewing machines topped with bachata blaring from the bodega across the street and the women's laughter would convince passersby that we're doing anything but learning a new skill.

Marilina's baby daughter, Dariely.

But then there is the evidence of perfectly cut fabric pinned and waiting in piles to be sewn together into bags. When we see Nest's clients outside of the studio, each woman is always carrying the first bag she made for our class. Proof of the women's newfound skill is also apparent on each face. Not only can we see material evidence of their progress in the products that they are sewing, but we have also noticed a heightened sense of confidence in each woman.

We're entering the last two weeks of the program and are starting to see the cooperative take shape. The image of the women working independently to make their first products is so rewarding for everyone involved in this project. We have so much cause for celebration (not to mention that Jose's birthday is coming up), and so this weekend, the women proposed that we all take an outing to the beach at La Romana, a resort town about 25 kilometers from the Batey.

The women came together early in the morning to cook rice and meat for the celebration. Jose and I arrived with the drinks and ice, and then we loaded up the kids and all headed to the beach. Our day out gave us the chance to relax outside the classroom with the women that we've grown to love and respect so much, and was one of the most memorable days of our time here.

Monday, August 2