On a quiet, bricked street on the outskirts of Managua, Dona Mayra del Socorro Parrales y her husband, Don Jose Maria Carrillo, operate their small recycled aluminum casting business, Pewter Nica, out of their concrete block home. The couple has been working together for over 20 years in the art of sand casting, creating beautiful crosses, angels and other wall hangings for the local Nicaraguan market. Women of the Cloud Forest began their partnership with this family only two years ago after an introduction from their other casting artisans with whom they have been working with since 2010. Dona Mayra and Don Jose’s family business includes four full time employees who all work together in a very family like environment. Don Jose heads the casting portion of the business and works to guide each of their employees with much patience and care. All of the pricing and accounting is conducted through Dona Mayra who weighs the pieces and calculates all material and labor costs for each item. It’s a very peaceful workshop where much pride is taken in their work as well as their relationships with their workers. The employees earn 1 ½ times the local minimum wage and enjoy the stability of full time employment, something that is really valued in a country where over 80% of the population lives on less than $2/day. In addition, the raw material is literally cylinder heads, car parts and other scrap aluminum collected from garbage dumps. This use of the recycled materials helps to reduce landfill issues. This is the case of one man’s trash truly being another man’s treasure.
Through their partnership with Women of the Cloud Forest, the workshop has been able to fulfill a lifelong dream of moving their workshop out of their house and down the road to a small parcel of land. This new workshop has much better light and ventilation. The couple was thrilled that finally their home life and work could be physically separated. Also, with the 50% advance payment for orders, Dona Myra and Don Jose have been able to purchase and store more raw material thus increasing their earnings across their entire business.
Women of the Cloud Forest, maintains an in-country coordinator, who delivers all orders and payments to the workshop during the year. Amy Kofmehl-Sobkowiak, Co-Founder of Women of the Cloud Forest, visits with the workshop twice a year to work on new designs. We continue to be impressed with the craftsmanship of the workshop, their attention to detail and willingness to try new ideas that we bring. We have been working on a new line of Paper-weights, shoehorns and recycled aluminum jewelry that will be released for the 2017 holiday season. Don Jose’s eyes seem to sparkle when we present him with new designs and one can see his mind working as to how he is going to make the piece even better than we could draw on a piece of paper.
On a personal note, when I was visiting with the family this past January, there was a boy at their house who I assumed to be their son (he was around 13 years old), helping to count the order. Through conversation, as we worked through inspecting my order, I came to find out that this was their son, Diego, who they adopted eight years ago. I have seen similar stories over my 15 years of working in Central America. When Diego was only five years old, he was abandoned by his mother in the barrio of Don Jose and Dona Myra. Even though Dona Myra and Don Jose had three of their own children, they took this “street” child into their home and eventually legally adopted him. I continue to be amazing by the generosity and sense of social responsibility in the people and villages where we work.
We are excited to continue another season with Don Jose y Dona Myra. At the end of 2017, we will be able to offer their workshop a reinvestment through our artisan grant program. We are interested to discuss with them on how they can increase capacity and work to continue to reach other markets.