Once again I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach sewing and quilting on another humanitarian trip. Our team would be teaching a group of 25 women who are starting up a sewing co-op in Niquinohomo, Nicaragua- January 2011.
We would be spending almost 2 weeks teaching various projects such as baby quilts, baby slings, blouses, tote bags and school uniforms. There was a team of 4 quilting teachers and 4 sewing teachers and then 2 very brave women who would be teaching crafts to the many young children from the village who were on their school break.
We arrived in Managua, Nicaragua on a Monday and were taken on a quick tour of the city to have a look around at our home for the next 2 weeks. Nicaragua is the largest country and is the poorest country in South America where 48% of the population lives below the poverty line and 80% of the population lives with less than $2 per day. This country is still trying to rebuild after the massive earthquake in the early 1970s and the end of their war in the 1980s. I was not expecting the poverty that was before me as we drove around, not knowing it was only going to be much worse in the village where we were teaching.
Tuesday was our first day of teaching and we spent a little over an hour driving through the country, up the hills to the church where we would be teaching. The road progressively got more bumpy and remote and some times we were worried our van wouldn’t make it up the hill or would tip over. Luckily we had an amazing driver Victor, who kept us safe and straight on the road!
Since most of our bags were delayed we were glad we packed our teaching samples in the carry on luggage. I was one of the 4 quilting teachers and our first project was a strip baby quilt. Pauline set up the cutting station and demonstrated how to rotary cut our needed strips and some colour theory with the fabric we had available. Maggie, Jane and I all worked on piecing the quilt top with our students and most of them caught on quite quickly. I showed them how to tie the quilts, as this was the easiest and quickest way to hold the layers together. By the end of the first day there was one baby quilt completed and so many more that were close to being finished.
Working along side of us was the sewing group where they were teaching how to make blouses, tote bags, baby slings and school uniforms. We based our projects on useful items these women would need and be able to sell to the local community at different markets.
Outside Ann and Diane were teaching the kids and young women various crafts which included pop can tab belts, beaded necklaces and bracelets, photo frames, fabric dying and paper crafts. They also played sports with the kids like beach balls and kites as well as played musical instruments. We were so thankful for sunny weather those weeks.
The week progressed with every student making a blouse; tote bag and baby quilt for themselves. Teaching the baby quilt was a wonderful project as most of the 25 women who were our students were teenage mothers and needed blankets for their children. It can get quite chilly at night during the winter months and most of these quilts were backed with novelty flannel fabric perfect for their children.
Towards the end of the first week we arrived at the Church of Hope to find that there was no electricity. This is quite common in the area so Jane came prepared with a binder of English and Spanish quilt block patterns and set the students up to learn hand piecing. Jane had been waiting all week to teach hand quilting and now was her time in the spotlight! She had beautiful batik fabric all cut out for samples and showed the students how to measure, cut and mark the pieces for hand piecing. They spent hours working on these blocks that would be assembled into a large sampler quilt.
I set up a small hand-quilting frame and taught 6 girls how to hand quilt on a preprinted baby panel. Once the students got the hang of hand quilting I stepped back and watched this Nicaraguan quilting bee. The girls were chatting and socializing much like we would do in North America at a quilting bee.
Mid afternoon the electricity came back on and most of the students went back to piecing on the sewing machines or sewing garments and school uniforms. Jane had 3 girls that stayed with her to continue hand piecing and these girls remained for the rest of the week with Jane. They seemed to really enjoy hand piecing as well as the chocolates and candy Jane had at her table. We can always count on Jane for treats.
Both Friday and Saturday the students rotated through all the stations and almost everyone had completed their required projects. Since some of them enjoyed hand quilting on the small frame, Gail set up the large wooden quilt frame outside with a large quilt top to hand quilt. There were a few girls and one teenaged boy that learned hand quilting. At the end of the day this boy was still hand quilting when the other girls had gone home.
On Sunday we went back to the church for their service. This was one of the best days of the trip. All week we had the luxury of having a translator named Henry. He was invaluable as none of our students spoke any English. Every time we wanted to demonstrate something or if someone had a question you would hear someone yell “HENRY” and he would come running over to translate. Henry was a big help during this church service since Pastor Julio only spoke Spanish. They are a very musical and energetic parish and their service consists of hymns where everyone sings and claps. Our group tried to learn a short song in Spanish to sing to the church members and participate in the service. During the service our team members were introduced and everyone shook hands and offered hugs. Then the congregation prayed over us and thanked us for coming to teach us sewing and quilting skills. They were crying and thanking us and it was a very emotional time. They expressed that we had given them hope that they can make an income and support their families and that brought tears to everyone in the church.
Earlier in the week an ice cream man pedaled his bicycle of ice cream down that bumpy road hoping to sell us some ice cream. Ann and Jane had a fantastic idea to have an ice cream social after church and made a deal with the ice cream man to bring back enough ice cream for everyone. Well he came through for us and brought his ice cream back on Sunday. What a treat on such a hot day for everyone to have ice cream. There was even enough extra for the young kids to have a seconds. It was a wonderful day.
Monday we were back teaching and since all our students had finished their baby quilts, we then started on some new projects. Pauline took a few of the more accomplished quilters and used the skills from piecing the strip quilt and started on a twin-sized quilt. Jane continued with hand piecing and I showed the other girls how to piece a string block. We were now having the girls work on projects that would be put together into a large group item that the co-op would sell. The Inn where we were staying was very interested in the work the girls were doing and after showing them samples they placed an order for 4 twin size quilts to use on the guest beds. Pauline’s strip quilt and my string quilt would be the first two quilts for their first order.
The rest of the week we finished up the quilts, uniforms and blouses. On our last day we lost power again as a gust of wind knocked down a tree and the power lines. We had to show them by hand how to attach the binding on the quilts and thankfully Pauline had brought a sample with the binding in progress so we used that to demonstrate.
That afternoon we had a meeting with the co-op members and told them how hard they had worked, how proud we were of their accomplishments and that we wished them well for the future of their co-op. Some of the students thanked us again for teaching them and there were more tears and hugs as we said our good byes.
The vision Pastor Julio has for these girls and the co-op is a very positive one where he wants to network with other churches and communities and rent booths at local markets so that these girls can sell their products. They have the supplies, skills and ambition to move forward and we are so happy for all the girls that touched our hearts on this trip.
Thank you to everyone for making this trip such a success.
The Canadian Quilter article- Summer 2011