In 2003 an old friend asked me if I would be willing to come with him down to Bolivia and try to develop some work for a sewing cooperative there. My friend Juan had developed a non-profit, solidaritybridge.org, which had been running medical missions to Bolivia along the lines of Doctors without Borders. This was the 10th mission of Solidarity Bridge with the intention of helping the poorest of the poor. Bolivia is a very poor country with many problems and the level of poverty there is something we rarely encounter here in the United States.
During that trip I was able to begin having the Wara Wara Cooperative sew children's dresses for Dharma. The co-op set the price for their work. We priced the dresses for sale at about what it cost to get them to us without adding any profit so that they were less expensive than others and would sell better. The idea was to provide work for the co-op members.
During my (April ’04) trip to Bolivia I met with the co-op which is making clothing items for Dharma and it is clear that our orders to them have made an enormous difference in their lives. There are about 50 indigenous families (150 people) in this sewing co-op and given the terrible economic situation in Bolivia there is no work available to them. Our orders have provided income and enabled the co-op to revitalize itself and get stronger. We provided work for 11 people when we started in May of 2003, now there are 55 people working on our current orders. The first year we have given them orders for over $75,000 thus far and that goes a long way in Bolivia. By Dharma’s willingness to sell these items at cost or close to it, we are encouraging sales and hence bigger orders for them.
The co-op is organized so that each member is paid for the work that they do, shares in the profits and the co-op itself retains some profit on each order which has been invested in 3 new sewing machines and some other needed equipment. They are currently using space in a kind of community center but are now with our orders planing to build their own workshop.
The members of the co-op expressed their appreciation for our help with a celebration in our honor, a plaque, a band, and a lot of hugging. I told them that we would try to increase our orders in the coming year.
While I was there, I made contact with another co-op.
One called Warmis - it's comprised of indigenous women who make clothing which is a mix of crochet and sewing. Very nice, but they have no market. We are in the process of redesigning the clothing items so they will be marketable in the USA.
This is the road to one of the co-ops and the daycare they have for the children of the women working there.