Katie Messick

Katie Messick in La Chureca

by Abhi Nangia and Anahi Santoyo

Located out­side of Nicaragua’s cap­i­tal city of Man­agua, La Chureca is a com­mu­nity of 1,200 indi­vid­u­als liv­ing in the city’s munic­i­pal dump. The com­mu­nity is severely under­served in access to pub­lic ser­vices and unable to sus­tain them­selves. Manna Project Inter­na­tional (MPI), an orga­ni­za­tion work­ing to empower com­mu­ni­ties in need through vol­un­teer sup­port and edu­ca­tional pro­grams, is con­tin­u­ing to develop ideas to help the com­mu­nity of La Chureca get back on its feet.  Through nutri­tion pro­grams, child spon­sor­ships, and health and well­ness pro­grams, MPI is work­ing with La Chureca to holis­ti­cally tackle the poverty that many, if not all, of the res­i­dents face.  

 Katie Mes­sick, Coun­try Direc­tor of MPI Nicaragua, has been work­ing hard to help the women cre­ate bet­ter lives for them­selves.  A Duke grad­u­ate from the San­ford School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, Katie is focused on find­ing sus­tain­able solu­tions to the prob­lems those com­mu­nity mem­bers in La Chureca face.

 At the moment, things have become com­pli­cated.  With the gov­ern­ment mov­ing the com­mu­nity of La Chureca to new houses at the out­skirts of the dump, uncer­tainty for the future has become an under­state­ment. Peo­ple in the com­mu­nity of La Chureca, espe­cially the women, need a sta­ble job.  But as Katie said: “These fam­i­lies can­not afford their new homes; now they have to pay water and elec­tric­ity bills up to $20 a month”. More­over, the recy­cling plant where some of the fam­i­lies of La Chureca worked is now hir­ing “out­siders”, leav­ing the com­mu­nity with­out job opportunities.

 An espe­cially inno­v­a­tive idea emerged from within the rub­ble of the trash dump.  Why not make jew­elry using the recy­clables in the trash dump to gen­er­ate income?  From this thought emerged The Female Entre­pre­neurs of La Chureca (FELC), a women´s coop­er­a­tive ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing jew­elry from recy­cled mate­ri­als. The Coop­er­a­tive offers sta­ble jobs to 23 enter­pris­ing, capa­ble women who oth­er­wise would not have any source of income.

Picture By: Becky Darling

Pic­ture By: Becky Darling

 Katie explains that one of the biggest chal­lenges is to cre­ate a coop­er­a­tive with women that once com­peted with each other for resources in order to sur­vive. Nev­er­the­less, The Female Entre­pre­neurs of La Chureca is mov­ing for­ward and the women are pos­i­tive about their future with the coop­er­a­tive. “They not only enjoy mak­ing the jew­elry but they also appre­ci­ate each other’s com­pany” said Katie.

Picture by: Becky Darling

Pic­ture by: Becky Darling

 As of now, FELC is search­ing for oppor­tu­ni­ties to expand their mar­ket access in order to pro­vide a bet­ter income for the women and maybe some­day expand the mem­ber­ship. Katie explains that they “will be able to pay more as we earn more and as this hap­pens we can alter the base amount and price for pro­duc­tion.” In order to achieve this goal Manna Project Inter­na­tional is cre­at­ing a part­ner­ship with Camino Nuevo, a stu­dent base group ded­i­cated to expand­ing the cooperative´s access to mar­ket, diver­si­fy­ing the prod­ucts and empow­er­ing women. More­over, FELC estab­lished a part­ner­ship with Wal­mart Mex­ico and Cen­tral Amer­ica, their prod­ucts will be sell in stores soon.

 A bright future is ahead The Female Entre­pre­neurs of La Chureca. This has been pos­si­ble because of the hard work of the women and the Manna Project vol­un­teers. Most impor­tantly, it has been pos­si­ble because of the incred­i­ble lead­er­ship of Katie Massick.