This article is taken from the Spring issue of Nicaragua Today, journal of the UK-based Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign. The full issue is available at: http://nicaraguasc.org.uk/news/article/132/nicaragua-now-issue-4-spring-2015

Articles in the issue include:

  • Calling for an end to US destabilisation of Latin America;
  • Renewable energy: the Nicaraguan example;
  • Solar powered energy for an ‘off grid’ community;
  • Nicaraguan waste and the London fashion show: how does this contribute to empowering women?;
  • Fair trade gets fairer: recognising the unpaid work of women;
  • First ever UK – Nicaragua hospital twinning;
  • The challenges of film making in Nicaragua: Wales NSC talks to Florence Jaugey (Camila Films) about their latest film La Pantalla Desnuda (The Naked Screen);
  • UK – Nicaragua solidarity through twinning, school linking, fair trade, football, marathon running, delegations and more……

A load of waste: creating beauty out of rubbish

The Earth Education Project (EEP), with its Chureca Chic line of recycled jewellery, is lifting women out of poverty and enabling them to find jobs. NSC representative in Nicaragua, Liz Light, explains how .

Virginia Castaño Díaz spent seven years living on “La Chureca”, Nicaragua’s biggest rubbish dump where, along with 900 families, she used to eke out a living by recycling the city’s waste materials. She moved there with her four children after fleeing a violent partner. Virginia still makes a living from recycling but her situation is now very different. She has her own home and is employed at the Earth Education Project (EEP). In a small house, roughly 2km from the old dump, Virginia and 19 other women are making beautiful objects from recycled waste. Chureca Chic is the EEP’s line of fashion jewellery which is providing them with an opportunity to leave poverty behind.

EEP’s founder and director, Andrea Paltzer, ran a pilot project at the dump in 2009 which has now expanded to accommodate 20 women a year.

“Our 12-month programme gives women in disadvantaged communities the opportunity to be educated, employed, and empowered. We know that through access to income and skills development women can break poverty cycles – not only for themselves, but for their families and communities,” says Paltzer.

Women at work in the jewelry workshopThe women are trained in paper recycling and artisan skills, and at the same time take part in an education programme where they learn to read and write, as well as basic computing and social development skills. This helps them to acquire the necessary vocational and social skills to find gainful employment. EEP has also made alliances with local companies who have agreed to employ some of the women upon completion of the programme.

Launched in 2013, Chureca Chic jewellery exhibited at London Fashion week in 2013 and 2014, and online sales are already funding 25% of programme costs. Now Andrea aims to expand the programme’s reach to communities outside of Managua, to offer double the number of places, as well as offering more permanent jobs in Chureca Chic.

She states: “EEP wants to teach the women how to manage their own businesses, creating designs under the EEP umbrella, and connect them to local and international markets”.

Producing high end jewellery has allowed EEP to communicate about development in a different way and reach new customers: “Three months after launching the Chureca Chic Facebook page, we got more likes than EEP did in 3 years! The whole point of Chureca Chic is to show people the social development work we do by reaching them through the artistic side. We start with a piece of jewellery that you can trace back to how it empowers women, whereas an NGO might begin with the message of empowering women and go on to say and we recycle to make jewellery. So it’s kind of vice versa.”

With Chureca Chic, EEP has found a unique way of empowering women in Nicaragua and raising awareness in the UK. Today, Virginia speaks proudly of her work: “EEP has helped me economically and with my self esteem. The workshops have been really helpful especially for women like me who have been physically and psychologically mistreated by partners. I now know about my rights and what laws protect me, we are learning much more here than just the recycling skills we are being taught. Now I feel different, I feel very content; I’m a women entrepreneur, a fighter.”

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