Non-Profit, The Carrizo Project, Empowers Honduran Women
Gallery: Carrizo Project [8 Images] Click any image to expand.
As a medical interpreter in Honduras, Brook Courchaine, of Elysburg, was familiar with traditional aid organizations and how they operated. In 2009, she founded The Carrizo Project, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of Honduran women through empowerment.
"I saw an advantage to teaching skills as opposed to just giving them things," she said. Dz Empowering these women to help themselves really resonated with me."
Where do we start?
Teaching women basic sewing skills in order to produce baby blankets, purses and wristlets to sell was one of the first steps Courchaine's organization undertook to help village women learn to start them on a path to own and operate their own businesses.
"I thought, how could they not know how to sew?", said Sue Powers, a Michigan woman who took one of the Discovery Trips offered by The Carrizo Project. "It was because they don't have fabric. Everything they needed had to be donated."
What's it all about?
Powers, a devout Catholic, who has gone on missionary trips to Uganda and Mexico with her church, said the difference between traditional missionary trips and the Discovery Trips the Carrizo Project offers, in which village women teach a variety of classes to the American visitors, is huge.
"A lot of people go and paint something or help build something, but my perspective is why am I doing this when they're better at it and better qualified than I am?" she said. "Discovery Trips are interesting because they reverse roles. They think Americans can do so much they can't, but on these trips they teach us about things we don't know."
And that philosophy is at the heart of The Carrizo Project. "The trip is all about participation," Courchaine explained. "It"s for other people to learn what they can do. You can see it in these women—the realization that 'I do know how to do something.' That's really and truly empowering people and it's awesome to watch."
Who's on board?
While Courchaine serves as executive director, a full-time pro bono position, and travels to the region three times a year on donated miles, the project employs three villagers who shoulder the day-to-day work of driving to the villages to meet with women, and talk to them about running a business, including how to obtain a loan from traditional banks or how they can get a micro-loan direct from The Carrizo Project. Microloans, Courchaine said, are always paid back, frequently earlier than the due date.
"They know the ground rules," she said. "We're not giving any money. We're not buying anything."
Powers said the culture clash could be entertaining at times.
"They don't speak English at all, and a lot of us on the trip didn't speak Spanish beyond a very elementary level," she said. Still, language wasn't a barrier. "There was lots of laughing," she said. "Especially when I took a basket weaving class. We all learned I'm not a great basket weaver, and they got quite a bit of enjoyment out of the fact that they got to teach an American a skill they could do in their sleep."
Another memorable experience: taking a class to make chicken soup. "When we pulled up to the hut and I noticed there were three chickens running around in the yard, it suddenly occurred to me where we were going to get the chickens," shared Powers. "I thought, 'uh-oh...I know how this is going to end.'"
Ultimately, Powers got over her apprehension and even helped pluck one of the birds. "It was a fun adventure," she said. "You come away with such a different view of people in another country."
Courchaine concentrates on raising funds for the project through a variety of sources. Private donations through the organization's Web site, www.Carrizoproject.org, and items made by women, as well as coffee grown by villagers, are sold to help defray costs. Matching fund programs are set up with businesses that include Mobil/Exxon and Fidelity Bank. A recent fundraiser at a local winery went very well, she said, and they are hoping to hold another in the not too distant future.
"Taking people [Americans] who know what hope is, who know what success is—just standing elbow to elbow with them—is very empowering." Courchaine said. "Sometimes doing good means just being present."
Robin Crawford is a freelance writer based in State College.