February 22, 2002

Mujeres Mariposas: Helping Women Work in the Colonias

by Greg Bloom

Mujeres Mariposas, a not-for-profit organization active in the Southern New Mexico colonias (low-income areas lacking infrastructure like sewage and water and gas lines), is dedicated to helping women get jobs and become self-sufficient through a training and employment program that is closely linked to vendors of high-end home and wearable art accessories. According to Deana Kessin, administrative director of Mujeres Mariposas, the organization provides daycare and transportation for women from Doña Ana County colo-nias so that they can train with the owners of small businesses that produce and sell luxury items such as jewelry, throws, weavings, and pillows. Kessin says that by the end of the twelve- to fourteen-week training period the women are ready to begin producing the high-quality items that vendors want and vendors have a work force that understands exactly how to make the goods they need.

In May, 2001, Mujeres Mariposas (Spanish for "Butterfly Women") began its first training session with six women. They graduated on September 7 and five of them have gone on to work part-time for Mariposas de New Mexico which sells hand-dyed silk scarves decorated with the company's trademark inlaid butterflies and dragonflies. The women work at home which suits them well because of childcare or eldercare needs and a lack of transportation. The piece work results in pay that translates to a minimum of $7 an hour but Kessin hopes that wages will be pushed toward $15 an hour.

Mujeres Mariposas also offers other possibilities to its graduates. According to Kes-sin, the organization can help women set up their own businesses through its incubation services. Working in this capacity, Mujeres Mariposas provides business classes, marketing assistance, and credit from a $7,500 revolving fund. Also, the vendors that work with Mujeres Mariposas can also receive business help from the organization.

Round II

Having finished its first round of training, Mujeres Mariposas is now gearing up to work with two more small businesses, one that produces home accessories and another that handweaves Alpaca wool into textile. Also, by June, 2002, Mujeres Mari-posas' will begin using a new, second training site in Anthony, New Mexico to better accommodate people living in neighboring colonias. The organ-ization's acquisition of a van will get women to the facility and on-site childcare will help make participation in the program easier for many of the women. Kessin hopes to train ten women in the Anthony building's inaugural class. So far Mujeres Mariposas has received more than one million dollars in federal and state grants from HUD, the North American Development Bank's Community Adjustment and Investment Program (CAIP), USDA and New Mexico Arts. In return for this, Mujeres Mariposas is committed to creating 70 jobs over three years and creating a program that can be reproduced around the country. To meet its goals, the organization has six employees, some full time, some part time. Kessin is the director of Mujeres Mariposas, and there is a full-time assistant, a part-time business development coordinator, a full-time life-skills trainer/client coordinator, a full-time educational coordinator, and a part-time childcare worker. In the spring, with the opening of its Anthony location, Mujeres Mariposas will hire an additional childcare worker as well.

Another crucial element in the success and growth of Mujeres Mariposas is the identification of new businesses that need trained workers. Kessin says that Mujeres Mariposas can easily coordinate with New Mexico or out-of-state companies to create a workforce with the specialized skills that they require.

Mujeres Mariposas Speak

Two women's words about the Mujeres Mariposas training program, courtesy of Mujeres Mariposas

Before Mujeres Mariposas
"I moved here two and a half years ago with my three children, two suitcases and three hundred dollars. We came from Querétaro, a state in Mexico, where we had our own home and a so-called normal life. I came with my children to offer them protection here. My ex-husband abused my children in a most horrible manner, sexual abuse... My oldest child, who is presently 12, went through a nervous breakdown at age 10 and required hospitalization on four separate occasions and then treatment foster care for ten months. My middle child is now being tested for epilepsy and my youngest child is waiting to start at DD-Preschool for emotional trauma. Thanks to a lot of professionals we are coming along. One very big problem for me has been to find a job that allows me to tend to the problems I face with three Post Traumatic Stress Disorder children and their specific needs. I had to find flexible hours for work. I found Mari-posas de New Mexico."

"I started going to classes to learn how to sew different kinds of materials. My mom and I had made quilts and clothes for family for years and wanted to improve our skills. I never thought I would be where I am now when we started to go to these classes. My family and I worked hard to have what we have now. My husband had to start his own business after he was hurt on the job, because no one would hire him after they found out that he had hurt his back. We worked hard and survived on what we made working for ourselves until he got hurt again. After he was unable to work we had to ask for help from the state. At the time we had four kids at home."

Training

"The training is extensive and the level of creativity and feedback are an excellent source for belief in one's possibilities. In today's world, where one has to work to economically gain self-sufficiency and where the standard jobs don't allow flexibility for a single mother or a mother's needs and those of her children, a great gap is created when children are let to their own devices without supervision."

"I have learned how to make patterns, put materials, fringe, beads and accents together and make them compliment each other. I've learned a lot about sewing, how to do applique, put in invisible zippers, make fancy trims and estimate cost and materials for a project. I'm learning marketing and computer skills... The computer skills are going to help me with managing inventory, internet research, graphic arts and writing. I'm hoping to have a little bit of time to start writing about what my life has been like from as far back as I can remember to this point. I can pass it on to my family or help others realize that there is always hope if you believe in yourself."

In the work world

"I'm able to stop getting AFDC from the state with the pay that I'm receiving now."

"Mariposas offers flexible hours and work at home and this provides a sense of well being for any mother who is alert to the needs of her children. A mother can be economically sound and she can raise her children with strong values and earn a living at the same time. It is truly enriching. And empowering!"

"Since I've been with this project, the relationship with my husband and kids has brought everyone closer together. My husband manages the household, takes care of the kids, school and gives me lots of support to go out and do what I have to do. My kids help out as much as possible to make things easier. They realize that this is something that will help all of us in the future."

"Our financial situation has been bad for a while now and I can see that there is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm starting to save money and hope to show my kids the benefits of saving and taking care of our money."

"When I look at when I first started this, I see that I was like a rose bud, just sitting there not even trying to open. Now I see a little color of what the rose bud is going to be. I hope that it won't be long before the bud opens all the way and I can see all that it has to offer."

Anyone interested in working with Mujeres Mariposas or that wants to contact the organization can call 505-647-5593 or email the group at mmariposas@zianet.com.

Greg Bloom is editor of Frontera NorteSur (FNS) <http://frontera.nmsu.edu>, an On-line news magazine covering the US-Mexico border. FNS is an outreach program of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico

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