What initially started out as a women’s cooperative making braceletsout of cloth string, has blossomed in to a sustainable business and income for local women. A Waves of Hope volunteer a few years back brought the simple skill of bracelet making via a few instructional books to share with the local women of Manzano 1. Coco Loco provided a place for the women to meet and make their product and in turn sell their hand made items to the guests. The designs eventually branched out into necklaces, earrings, and finally on to hand woven purses and bikini tops. What makes these items special is the use of local shells that are literally found on the beautiful beaches in front of Coco Loco. Guests can take a piece of Nica, hand made by locals, to share with friends and family back home.
As a Peace Corps Business Development Volunteer in Chinandega, I immediately gravitated to Coco Loco and Waves of Hope’s sustainable approach to community development. Back in December of 2011, I had the pleasure of meeting the women who make this jewelry. I met them while they were teaching bracelet making to the Waves of Hope kids club. I immediately identified the potential for these women to take their talent and dedication to another level of jewelry making. With the support of Waves of Hope, the women and I worked together to establish unitary costs for their products and readjust their pricing. The women now understand accounting and keep a book of transactions. We discussed the importance of quality control and consistency of product. In March, I invited a fellow volunteer with her own jewelry business to come teach the women how to work with silver wire. This training allowed them to make the jewelry more sophisticated and of a higher quality. During these past months together these women have expressed dedication and confidence in their creativity to consistently create new designs and styles. Today their jewelry is selling very well at several different beach hostels/resorts in their community and in the larger cities of Chinandega, Leon, and Managua. Of course the majority of their sales comes from the heart of the entire operation and the lovely people that make Coco Loco and Waves of Hope so special.
When I first met these women I asked a few initial questions on what their personal goals were for the business. Without hesitation they all agreed that eventually they wanted to export their jewelry to the First world. I’m confident that these women are not far from their goal. Waves of Hope and I are looking for opportunities to make this dream come true for the women. With the help of Chris Ongcangco we finally have a marketing strategy and a catalog of the jewelry is in the works. The women have designated names and different styles distinguishing pieces by the use of shells or local seeds. Each piece will have its own name in Spanish and typically refer to something relating to the ocean.
As hard as these women have worked, this project has not been all work no play. I personally have enjoyed every moment of working with such enthusiastic and appreciative ladies. They have welcomed me in to their homes, lives, and most importantly befriended me. Of course there are always challenges when working in groups, but one particular woman, Norma, has made the business her priority and kept it alive, no matter the circumstances. As an entrepreneur at age 29 and single, Norma sets an excellent example for her community and the young women around her. Although life in the campo is simple, its not always easy in a machista culture and rural living presents its own set of issues.
Some of the challenges we face are as simple as getting raw materials from the cities out to where the women work. Despite the encountered obstacles, everything has resulted in success. I am very proud of their progress and their determination, which can sometimes be a rare quality for young women in this country.
If you have interest in supporting these women please reach out with any information that may help them reach their goal of exporting their jewelry. Hope you enjoy the photos!