A micro-enterprise program started by Samaritan’s Purse is changing the lives of women who live in the Altiplano in Bolivia
It was below freezing, and heavy, wet flakes of snow were falling on the dry grass in the Altiplano of Bolivia.GiveThe locals said it hadn’t snowed like that in 10 years, but they’re no strangers to cold. Their winters are usually dry, but chilling wind is a regular visitor to the area that sits at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level.
A group of women in brightly colored skirts and tall hats shuffled across the soft snow. Their shoes weren’t made for the weather. They were mostly slip-on flats, although one or two women had boots. None of them looked waterproof.
The women carried fabric tied up on their backs and towed children into an old building that used to function as a church. Beside it stood a new church built by Samaritan’s Purse.
The women took their seats in the old, unheated building and took out sandwiches. Most of them walked more than an hour and a half across the freezing terrain to get to the old church. They shared a quick meal together and then turned their attention to Samaritan’s Purse staff member Rene Rodriguez, who explained the women’s task for the day.
On that particular day, the women would be building sewing machines. The group usually gathered once a week for sewing lessons and to make clothes for their families, but several of their machines were old and difficult to use. They had just received new parts from the Bolivian State Department to make new machines that would increase their productivity.
It seemed a bit baffling that this group of women would travel so far in the snow to build sewing machines, but Rodriguez explained why it’s important to them.
“The reason we opened the project is because here in the Highlands, the culture is very male-dominated,” he said. “Women usually just stay at home. Their work is usually just to take care of the livestock and the children. We want to show them with this project that they have more capacities and talents, that they can support their families with the work that they do to improve the quality of life of their children and babies.”
Filomena Mamani, who used to always stay at home and help care for the cattle, said that her husband was resistant to the idea of her attending the classes at first. But once he saw that she was able to save the family money by making their clothes, he became supportive. Now she’s been attending classes for three years and is the president of the association.
“At first the women were a little standoffish, but now they’re very encouraged and excited and willing to keep working on this project,” Rodriguez said. “They feel like they can do a lot for their families.”
Church members and Samaritan’s Purse staff share the words of the Gospel while the women are sewing. Although many in the class are already believers, it gives them an opportunity to learn more about Jesus Christ.
“Women from the church and also the trainers from Samaritan’s Purse share the Word of God with them, and we also teach them the principles of stewardship,” Rodriguez said. “Also, we teach them the biblical perspective on family. We’ve seen about 10 women that started coming to this project who are now members of a church.”
One shy young woman, Graciela Ramirez, said that she plans to begin attending the church next door. One week while she was at sewing classes, the pastor saw that she was sick and prayed for her. His compassion sparked her interest.
The women hope to eventually sell the clothes they are making. Currently they are receiving training in how to make business plans, and they are learning to tailor clothes. As the program continues, many resistant husbands are beginning to support their wives. Some of them are even coming with their wives to the classes.
Throughout Bolivia, around 120 women are attending 12 sewing centers that Samaritan’s Purse has started. When they began coming, they didn’t know how to sew. But now they are able to contribute to their families in a tangible way, making them feel like a vital part of the family.