San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua
Duilio Jimenez and his wife Damarias have been working with Women of the Cloud Forest for over 8 years. They head one of many family workshops in the town of San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua, a community of over 5000 potters. With so much local competition and limited tourism, every workshop seems to be looking for an opportunity for a fair and steady market.
Twice a year we wind through the brick-lined streets to visit with Duilio and Damarias. The air smells like wood-fire smoke from the beehive shaped kilns that the artisans use to fire their pottery. Damarias usually greets us with a large bowl of chicken soup filled to the brim with chunks of root vegetables. It’s amazing how tasty hot soup on a 90-degree day is. We have seen their house transform from a two-room dirt floor structure, to a tiled showroom/store and open-air workshop with private bedrooms off to the side. We have seen them invest in indoor plumbing so that they could start receiving groups of visitors from mission teams and tour agencies. This additional revenue stream has helped them diversify their business and reduce dependency on our purchases, a concept that we encourage with all of our artisan partners.
Duilio and Damarias have been working pottery for the majority of their lives. They are very typical of the families residing in San Juan de Oriente who continue the process of involving all members of their household in pottery production/creation. What differentiates them though from many of the families is their ability to understand the challenges of exporting to markets in the US. There are strict deadlines, quality control issues and the constant push to “create something new” for the customers. Women of the Cloud Forest has been able to carve a niche in the US market for their ceramic pieces and starts to place monthly orders in January for shipment at the end of September. This system has allowed the workshop to make plans for their own growth but also steady employment for their workers.
For the production of Women of the Cloud Forest orders, Duilio and Damarias are able to offer employment for 6-10 other artisans. Their workshop provides good employment wages along with other benefits. Since their workshop is also a part of their house, the atmosphere is very low-key and homey. Damarias can be seen making morning coffee around 10:00am for everyone, preparing and serving a home-cooked lunch and finally providing a late afternoon coffee/snack break. Everyone stops and comes together during all of these breaks, enjoying conversation and the food communally. Many times when we visit, we spend days at their house, marveling over production and conversing with everyone.
When the orders are placed, Duilo, Damarias, and their team keep to a regular five-day-a-week work schedule. Damarias is very organized and keeps track of which designs are completed and which designs are in process so they make sure to complete the orders in the agreed upon time. Monthly, Jairo, our Nicaragua coordinator, comes to the house to check in with them, inspect the orders, and pack everything to create space for the next month’s work to begin.
Everyone works diligently. Last year, when the final luminary was packed, Duilio and Damarias arranged for a Saturday celebration excursion to Laguna Apollo (a beautiful natural crater lake in the next town) for all of the workers and their families. We were thrilled to hear about this. It reminded us that when you pay fair wages and good work opportunities, you empower and enable the artisans to care for their workers and ultimately their communities.