Bikes for the World

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Fabric of a Community

Dona Adela Bastos (seen right) lives in Upala Costa Rica. She owns her own business making and selling items she creates with her sewing machine. She is able to support her family through the sale of pillows, curtains, and intimate apparel.

Life in rural Costa Rica is idyllic. Towns are located off the main routes often accessed by small gravel paths. They are nestled beyond the pineapple fields and at the foot of coffee crops that loom on steep hills overhead. This peaceful seclusion, however, often cuts families off from the main artery of the country. This affects their access to jobs and income. It also impacts their ability to run basic errands for their families which become costly and time consuming.

While families have spectacular views of mountains and impressive volcanoes that make up much of inland Costa Rica, they are far away from the beautiful beaches that tourists come to see and where many of the tourism dollars land. Community members have serene lives but they are sometimes a mile or more away from the small businesses that even serve their communities.

Financially, these families struggle. Employment opportunities are sparse. Construction is a lucrative career, but traveling to distant job sites becomes a hardship for laborers. Likewise, many business opportunities lie on the outskirts of their communities or even further away. Without reliable personal transportation, some opportunities lie just out of reach for many people. Others spend a big percentage of their salaries on bus fare for lengthy commutes that often don't stick to published schedules.

FINCA Costa Rica, BfW's longest international partner,  works to improve the socioeconomic conditions and quality of life for the poorest families in Costa Rica, especially those living in rural areas. Their primary model to achieve this goal is through the establishment of community-run micro-credit groups- Community Credit Associations (Empresas de Credito Comunal, or ECCs). The ECCs are owned by local residents and provide financial services to their members that help them develop productive home-based businesses, such as carpentry, sewing, baking, petty commerce, and reinvest in their communities.

In this way ECCs are able to create their own small businesses in their own communities, many of them working right out of their own homes. Dona Adela, above, is a member of the ECC known as Canalete. This is the same community Bikes for the World visited in 2014. It is also the same area that was severely affected by Hurricane Otto last fall.

Bikes for the World donates containers of bikes to FINCA Costa Rica who helps distribute them among these ECCs scattered all over Costa Rica. The bike project, known as MiBici, helps create capital to support this micro-credit project and ultimately to help establish these small businesses that are the fabric of the community.

Additionally, BfW has donated over 300 sewing machines to this project since 2005. Some ECCs offer sewing workshops like this one in Pital El Encanto in San Carlos. A teacher is hired in the community to run the workshop and participants pay a fee to attend. Part of this entrance fee is reinvested in the ECC which helps provide those micro-loans to community entrepreneurs.

In this particular class there are 13 students, ten of them have little to no previous experience as seamstresses. The three who currently work as seamstresses will improve their skills to produce more intricate stitches and complex creations. The other ten are considering adopting this as a career to help support their families.

Luz Marina Morales Mora lives in San Francisco de La Palmera, also in San Carlos. We met Luz Marina during our visit in 2014. She sews for her family and neighbors, creating pillows, dresses, and other various linen items for personal wear and household use. She also makes and sells toy stick horses for children.

Our container that arrived last fall in the middle of the hurricane was redirected when its destined community of Upala was damaged by floods and mud from the storm. While the community no longer had the warehouse available to accept the 500 bikes in the container, they were able to receive the 26 sewing machines included in that container.

Mrs. Mirna Ordonez received one of those sewing machines to improve her business that was set up through her ECCs micro-credit program. Dona Mirna makes tents and mosquito nets and sells them to neighbors.

A replacement container of bikes was shipped from our South Carolina location earlier this month and is scheduled to arrive any day. These bikes will be distributed in communities within Upala.

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