In North America, Mother’s Day is typically celebrated with family, flowers, or some kind of celebration. But in many countries, motherhood knows no such rewards. Rather, it represents an exhausting daily grind, absentee fathers, abject poverty, and generational hopelessness for both children and their mothers. In the developing world, millions of children are abandoned, subjecting them to starvation, violence, early addictions, and sexual predators. Many of these children are mothers themselves.
What has this to do with Opportunity? In Colombia, O.I. has “stepped up to the plate” to make a difference even in these circumstances...to help transform the phrase “mothers’ day” into a life-long concept of hope and a future for desperately needy pregnant girls. Our team’s story follows.
Huddled in the midst of decaying buildings, the immaculate exterior and professional signage of OPEN DOORS FOUNDATION in Cartagena gave our Insight team a heightened sense of anticipation. The cool interior, simply but well appointed, had a feeling of peace and stability. Tasteful pregnancy paintings hung on the walls, and every member of the staff greeted us with warmth and graciousness. Four young women stood by their sewing machines in an indelible atmosphere of “industry”, not that of a sweat shop. At the back of the building an awning provided relief from the heat in a lovely open-air gathering space. We’d seen nothing like this anywhere else in our travels!
OPEN DOORS is the first foundation to receive a loan from Opportunity International. Established by a young woman called Cleevas, the Foundation targets the extremely high rate of teen pregnancies among the poor. The clients are typically from the displaced communities outside the city; they have no access to even the most meagre help with their pregnancies.
The girls, from pre-teen to late teen, share universal disadvantages: no education, little or no family “support”, no training in even manual labour, and no understanding on either self-care or baby care. Without advocacy assistance, their lives would be a dead-end; their children suffering the same fate or worse.
But Opportunity, partnering with Open Doors, IS helping to provide the hand-up that may change destinies, for the Foundation provides sustainable holistic education with two key components: life skills and job training. Open Doors helps the girls from the time of their sixth month of pregnancy until six months after their baby’s birth. (At that point, the girls may continue to visit the program or become home employees.)
The life skills program uses both general community volunteers and a multi-disciplinary team of volunteer professionals such as social workers, nurses, nutritionists, personal grooming advisors, and lawyers. Further support is added through partnerships with donors and local companies who give items for the babies (e.g., diapers) and then teach the girls how to use the products. Financial contributions fund transportation for the girls to the clinic, basic medical care and extraordinary medical expenses incurred in difficult pregnancies and/or births.
The employment training component is managed by Cleevas and her staff, who train the girls as seamstresses. For the first three months they apprentice; after that, the girls are paid for their work. There is a ready outlet for the exquisite maternity and baby clothes they create, as the owner of the Foundation’s building is also the owner of the only--and upscale--maternity shop in Cartagena.
While the staff treated us to hot home-made pastries, the dozen-or-so girls (with good humour and patience) tried to teach some of us how to weave baby ribbon. Well groomed and relaxed, they radiated a visible sense of self-worth in spite of their circumstances. One of the value-added successes of the Foundation is the stories the girls share of not just receiving help, but for the first time, offering their support to one other, even to giving baby showers and gifts.
Cleevas’ current loan of $3,500 is almost paid. She has already trained and hired 18 single moms to sew for the maternity shop! “My dream is that each baby would become a good citizen and productive for society. We are trying to teach the girls to look to more than just a pay check...to also be “tentmakers” for the Foundation…and to receive and learn to give back.”
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