Gratitude is our Attitude

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brittany happy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Anita Smart has been the Executive Director of Natik since September 2010.  Below she shares her Thanksgiving reflections… 

One of the things that makes my job so energizing is the constant expression of gratitude from everyone, and for all sorts of reasons. The obvious sources of appreciation are the scholarships, the micro loans, help with homework and assistance with small entrepreneurial ventures. The most surprising indications of Natik-wide gratitude are the incessant email exchanges among all of us that are so often signed with ‘thanks’, and ‘gracias’ (it cracks me up how often these excited interchanges result in more work for everyone!).

Today I would like to express my humble gratitude for the loyal professionalism of this amazing amalgam of staff, board, fellows, interns, volunteers and advisers. Natik would not exist if it weren’t for everyone’s willingness to keep doing what they do: accounting, legal, design, website, banking, letter-writing, blog and facebook posting, setting up and running e-commerce projects, evaluating, reviewing, interviewing, filming, training partners to handle new or different accounting systems, running SWOT analysis, accompanying monitoring and evaluation, gathering, translating and sending letters to scholarship sponsors, taking and organizing photos, handling administrative data, carrying merchandise in suitcases to save on shipping costs and advising on development issues gives an idea of the range of the work done by a growing number of people.

Finally, today’s day of thanksgiving cannot go by without sharing my heart-felt gratitude for our devoted donors, whose faith in our vision carried us through rough times and difficult lessons. If we’d had to be financially sustainable from the beginning, we wouldn’t exist today, so thanks for sustaining us with such good will, conviction and generosity!

And to all: HAPPY THANKSGIVING 2013!

Oh, The Things You Learn: Fellowship at Natik

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Brooke Pike was originally motivated to work in the nonprofit sector after a Habitat for Humanity trip to Missouri during college.  In 2012, she became a Natik Fellow, and she is now a board member. She is especially interested in energy conservation as it relates to poverty alleviation in the US and Latin America. 

Living abroad in Latin America together was a goal for my husband, Elliot, and me. We had heard of Chiapas and had some context of the history and issues after someone from the Frayba Human Rights Center visited our graduate school in Vermont. We had never heard of Natik, or the IHF as it was named at the time, but we were drawn to the organization for its mission and approach to sustainable development — truly working with community members to realize change and specifically the change the communities wanted.

Elliot and I arrived late one night to what was to be our home for the next year of our fellowships. Tea and lentil soup were waiting for us on the kitchen table, caringly prepared for us by Anita, and the slight smell of chocolate was in the air. The first floor of the house is used by the owner to make gourmet chocolates. Fun fact — I don’t like chocolate. Never have. So there was no worry of me taking the chocolates that did not set in the molds correctly. Roisin on the other hand… 😉

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Over the next year, a lot of my work was done while sitting at that table where I had my first meal. Hours were spent hovering over computers — collaborating, researching and writing. Since Natik is a small organization I got to work on things I never considered before like designing websites, search engine optimization, professional Facebook postings, setting up an e-commerce store for artisan goods. I also had a large role in applying for the grant that we were awarded to continue the fellowship program for two more years. This is the accomplishment I am most proud of. I was able to help ensure that a program that was exposing me to such a variety of skills and personal learning would be available to others.

My fellowship came to an end in July and I was invited to join the Board of Directors. My learning has not stopped with the fellowship. In fact in my position as board member, I have still been finding opportunities to try new things and gain professional experience. The Board is in the process of writing our strategic plan for the coming three years. At first I was asking the wrong questions such as, “How do we want to expand our partner programs?”, “What quantifiable goals can we set for them?” What I did not recognize initially was that these questions were from my perspective as a Board member. The questions that need to be asked in regards to these goals need to be asked and answered by our partners. Natik’s organizational goals will be set to support them in achieving their own goals. This is how we will work to empower our partner communities. accomplishment I am most proud of. I was able to help ensure that a program that was exposing me to such a variety of skills and personal learning would be available to others. Natik is committed to the continual learning of all involved.

Since returning to the US, I’ve relocated to Denver. As I am job searching, I am continually referencing my work with Natik in cover letters and interviews. Natik is an organization of honesty, self-reflection and collaboration. These values held so strongly within Natik are what make this organization, unknown to me two years ago now a focus of my energy and heart.

Placemats?

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Dolores Vásquez Reanda is one of the most educated and influential women in Santiago. She graduated with a diploma in administration from the Colegio Teresa Martín in Quetzaltenango and she has spent years improving the marketability of artisan handicrafts and translating Spanish to the Tz’utujil indigenous language. She is the general manager for Just Apparel.

Just Apparel decided to experiment with making placemats, but there was a problem.

The majority of women working here do not own a kitchen table, let alone a placemat! They scarcely have enough money for tortillas; they eat between the dust and the hens. Who in Santiago Atitlan knows of placemats?

It is not surprising that the artisans had difficulties making products they did not understand; the cultural divide is broad.  Of the first twenty-three placemats produced, ten had incorrect patterns and needed to be redone. Several of the women made square placemats instead of rectangle ones because they did not think to account for silverware!

Stories like these show there are cultural challenges for the women of Just Apparel, but also that they have great ability and intelligence.  It did not take long for the women to teach each other to make the placemats correctly.  Working together they learned quickly, and now make beautiful placemats sold around the world.  You may see or buy the placemats on the Just Apparel website.

To those who buy, thank you.  And to those who cannot buy, thank you, because you understand the struggle – lo toca.  I am proud of the work that we do, and hope the rest of the world values it the same.

Placemat - Royal Blue with Fruit

 

Education Connection: From Zinacantán to Santiago Atitlán

xunka[1]Xunka and her sister Yoli work with the women’s collective Mujeres Sembrando la Vida (Women Sowing Life).  As part of their work in the community of Zinacantán, they recognized the need for a remedial education program for children whose parents do not speak enough spanish or have enough formal education to help their children with their homework.  In early October, Xunka traveled with Natik fellow Devin Graves, his wife Caitlin and director Anita Smart to visit Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala where the Natik partner Puerta Abierta is located. In this blog, Xunka reflects on her journey.

Our recent visit to Guatemala was one of those important moments, and it has fed my desire to strengthen our children’s projects in Zinacantán, Chiapas.

I observed Natik’s programs in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala —  the Puerta Abierta library, the scholarship program, as well as the preschool and kindergarten — and I learned about new techniques and processes I can implement in our own little Saturday tutorial program.

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In addition to learning from these personal interchanges, I also shared my own experiences and knowledge. I realize now we need this connection with other professionals who work with similar women and children and who face the same challenges.

I have returned to Zinacantan encouraged.  I am now certain that we can have our own space because we, the teachers and the children, are supported by others who are several years ahead of us.  I feel such encouragement and strength to see a dream can become a reality with the help of colleagues and friends.