Women from a small community in San Pedro de Macoris have a new vision about their economic future thanks to a series of sewing lessons funded by Barrick.
Angy Peguero recalls the most challenging part of her sewing career so far: learning how to place a zipper on a garment.
“I really struggled with that,” she says. “You have to be very careful to avoid breaking the needle. And if that happens, well, there’s a whole other story on how to fix that.”
Nowadays, there are zippers in most of Peguero’s creations: household textiles, children’s clothing, uniforms for men and women, and purses, amongst others. It’s something she feels proud of—her perseverance and discipline to conquer the challenge. Five years ago, Peguero didn’t know how to turn on a sewing machine.
Peguero is one of 25 women from the community of Hoyo del Toro being trained in sewing as part of a partnership between Barrick and INFOTEP, a government-run vocational training institute. The sewing lessons began in 2013 and their goal is to teach skills that can be turned into a profitable business.
Knowledge stays with you forever.
The program is part of Barrick’s strategy to support partner communities in the Dominican province of San Pedro de Macoris, home to Barrick’s Quisqueya 1 energy plant and associated infrastructure, such as an oil pipeline that runs underneath the main road connecting Hoyo del Toro with the rest of the province.
“One element of our partnership with this community involves bringing an educational offering that suits their needs and interests,” says Soraya Cepeda, Corporate Social Responsibility Supervisor for Barrick in San Pedro de Macoris. “The women from this community always made it clear that they wanted to learn the skills to shape their own future. ‘I want to learn how to sew’, is what they always said. And that’s what we’ve based our support on.”
The training workshops and sewing sessions take place in the main room at the Hoyo del Toro community center. Sewing machines sitting on small wooden tables line the peachy walls of the brightly lit room. The women, who call their group the Mother’s Club, proudly show their work. One holds up a pretty red children’s dress with ornately patterned flowers. Another shows a square-patterned throw pillow surrounded by red fringes.
EGE Haina, a local power provider and owner of the twin power plant Quisqueya II, provided the sewing machines. Barrick is funding INFOTEP’s educational programs to teach the women how to use them, as well as additional tools and materials required for the training
Sewing is proving to be a strong economic opportunity for the group. Some of the women have found jobs in clothing factories at the nearby Export Processing Zones (EPZ)—fenced free-trade areas established to boost foreign investment and generate local employment opportunities. The Dominican government has created five EPZs in San Pedro de Macorís.
Most importantly, the newly-acquired skill has also instilled a spirit of entrepreneurship amongst the women. Many sell their creations to neighbors or clients in nearby communities. The additional income provides much-needed support in a community where more than 60 percent of the households live in poverty, according to a 2014 government study.
“Relationships at home have improved a lot,” says Altagracia Eusebio, a member of the sewing group and the President of the Mothers Club. “My husband is extremely happy. If he earns 50 pesos and I can bring an additional 25, that’s more money to buy the children’s school supplies or our food for the day.”
Eusebio says the group has plans to expand their small enterprise. All they need is some support with additional education. “An educated community makes progress,” she says. “That’s what we need. The more courses we take, the more our community advances.”
When Altagracia talks about the importance of education, the women nod in agreement. Statistics from the Ministry of Education help explain why the group places such a strong emphasis on learning and training.
The latest report, issued in 2011, indicates that only 55 percent of children aged 14-17 attend school in Guayacanes, the municipality where Hoyo del Toro is located. That’s well below the provincial average, which sits at 81 percent.
“If we learn skills about accounting or how to communicate with people when selling our things, we can turn this workshop into something like an enterprise that benefits everyone in our group,” says Carmin Fernandez, one of the group members.
Barrick is working with the group to obtain additional funding to buy industrial sewing machines. The goal is to create bedding and textiles for the neighboring hotel industry, which is sprawled across San Pedro de Macorís’ popular beaches.
“The best thing Barrick has done for me is that, instead of giving me the fish, it has taught me how to catch it,” Fernandez says. “That’s the most important thing, because if someone gives you the food, that will eventually run out. But knowledge stays with you forever.”