Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hard Work Pays Off in Maria Nunez

By Scott Phillips, Regional Development Officer (Great Lakes Region) for Christian Children's Fund

Bom tardes!

After a quick stop at the local supermarket for some apples, and a few items of food for the road, we were back out of Diamantina and heading to the community of Maria Nunez.

Originally a prosperous mining town, the company working here abruptly closed the mines one day and moved out. This left the entire community with no jobs and no real future. The local population went into a depression and developed a problem with alcoholism. While this is usually a disease that tends to effect men more often than women, even the women in this town were hard core drinkers and not much more than that.

Eight years ago, a few of the women got together and decided that they had to do something to change the state of their community. A small group of them decided that they would try to grow some fruit and begin a business. They put together what amounted to little more than a dream and approached CCF to help with selling there fruit and a few vegetables.

After they were up and running they received a grant from Petrobas, the Brazilian gas company, and were able to build a building and expand their land. As we arrived at Maria Nunez, we were met by a group of over a dozen women: the core of the project! These women represented the 37 families that work with this special program. One member of the group passed away this last year, and the woman are amazed that her husband takes her place and works right along side them.

The building has a delivery area, a processing area, a juicing machine and a storage area. They have studied the market and local growing environment and have decided on growing passion fruit, pineapple and a local fruit that is very high in vitamin content.

They used to just have one crop a year, but now they have expanded to two crops a year. However, this year they have had to deal with a recent hailstorm ruining their crops and with discovering a type of blight that infects pineapple plants. While the group is understandably frustrated, they are committed to continuing on no matter what it takes.

As we talk, they each share their painful stories of alcoholism, depression, hope and hard work. As they talk of hope, one woman tells me “compared to drinking, a little hail and disease is not so bad. Thank God for Procaj and CCF.”

Eight years and they are still working hard against very challenging odds. Their biggest challenges right now are the loss of the crop and their husbands’ loss of work. Last year their business resulted in a net to each woman of 106 Reals for the year. Can you imagine all this hard work for the equivalent of only $42.40 USD for the year? But they continue as it is their only future as they see it and they are truly committed to a better future for themselves and their children.

Before we leave to look at the grounds, the women unveil a carrot cake and pineapple juice for us. The juice is literally just squeezed and the carrot cake is the most wonderful tasting cake I believe I have ever tasted. Certainly I have never eaten anything with so much love baked into it by so many with so much at stake in their daily work.

We spend an hour or so looking over the plants in the fields where the women break into song; beautiful voices that harmonize in a most amazing manner. The songs are of love, hope and the future. They are strong voices that quite literally cause me to begin crying.

No one wants to leave. The darkness is beginning to fall, but that does nothing to lessen the voices raised up in hope and song.

Finally our driver makes us move to the truck since he is concerned about driving after dark. We all share hugs and tears and smiles and they all want to know what I think.

All I can say is that I am humbled in their presence, that I now know truly what hard work can bring to a life and that I will carry each of them and their voices in my heart for the rest of my life.

Once in the truck, there is nothing but silence for miles and miles as we make our way back to Diamantina.

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