The incredible life stories
of the grandmothers of Arlo
The incredible life stories
of the grandmothers of Arlo
At 96 years old Joana was still getting up at 4.30 am to prepare breakfast for her family – 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren. She would then work on her little vegetable farm and it would be hard to see her quiet throughout the day.
Joana shares the love and knowledge of pottery with her neighbour and friend Katerina, who has lived on the island of Atauro all her life! They also share the concern of not knowing what the next day will bring for their families and community. There are no formal jobs, food and water are scarce, education is poor, infrastructures inexistent.
They both learned the art of “Sanan Rai” – Atauro’s traditional clay pots – from their mothers. Katerina’s mother, Pele, started to teach her when she was 12 years old. Katerina would sit and watch her mother work and then practice by herself.
She thinks it took her at least 50 times to start getting it right! In those days they traded “Sanan Rai” for other goods so this was a valuable skill. Unfortunately, about 20 years ago people stopped buying “Sanan Rai” because they could buy metal pots and pans instead. So production stopped. And with that any interest from younger generations to learn this art. “It’s a dirty job and we can’t sell it” they said. With Empreza Diak’s support the Grandmothers of Arlo have now passed on their skills and knowledge to her grandchildren and over 25 younger women are using this tradition to build a livelihood. A tradition was revived and with that we are changing the life of this remote community.
Reviving almost forgotten traditions is bringing sustainable livelihoods for impoverished women and their families in remote areas.
This is preserving precious traditional arts and crafts but also changing the role of women in communities. Inspiring old women are now at the center of their communities as they pass on not only a livelihood but also an identity to the new generations.
“Before Empreza Diak started working with us we only weaved mats occasionally and none of the girls from our community helped. Now that I am weaving more and making money every week, my granddaughters started asking me to teach them how to weave. I am so proud that this art will not die with me” – Josefa, the leader of producers of Rapin Hirik (woven palm-fiber mats unique to Atauro)
When we first met Cristina in early 2014 she was in her early twenties. She was unmarried with one child. She was shy and had very little self-confidence or motivation – as most women survivors of Gender Based Violence that become institutionalized. She had recently returned home and had no source of income and no way of sustaining herself and her child.
First, Cristina had training on group work, building trust, gender equality. After that she wanted to get our foundational business training – focusing on how to start a small business, basic management, record keeping and promotion. Together we developed a life plan and identified sustainable income generation opportunities that she could pursue.
We did a business plan for a second-hand clothes small business and supported the initial product purchase. In October 2014 she started selling second-hand clothes at the community weekly market and from her home. Cristina’s confidence has since developed and she has started making independent decisions about her business that now generates an average monthly income of $150.
With the income generated she is now able to support herself and her family but also keeps money to reinvest in her business, now travelling independently to purchase new stock and starting other small activities, such as buying big sacs of rice – Timor-Leste’s staple food – when she travels to the capital Dili, that she then sells in smaller bags in her community, which cannot afford buying a whole sac.
Maria lives in Suai, Covalima district, only 180 Km away from Timor-Leste’s capital Dili but over 8 hours away by car, on a bumpy and muddy road. Despite the plans of having an oil pipeline and a refinery, which feeds the hopes of many in the south coast of the country, the current road conditions and lack of infrastructure make this an extremely remote and impoverished place.
Maria has four children. Her husband lives far in another district and only occasionally makes any contribution for the household. Maria says, “He abused me for years before I was able to go to the police. I went to a shelter and am now rebuilding my life. I don’t want more trouble.”
Maria is a hardworking woman. When the comings and goings of school children and neighbours slow down, she sits by the sewing machines she received from Empreza Diak’s Women Economic Empowerment Program and work starts again. She only stops to get wood and cook dinner, and then the noise of the machines begins again.
“There are a few tailors and sewers in town, but everyone is making school uniforms. I now make repairs and have just started making bags that no one else is doing so I am getting more clients,” Maria says, proudly adding that offering different products and services has been increasing her income on a regular basis. This is part of Empreza Diak’s training on business start-up and management. “Our methodology and materials are mind-blowing for these women who had never had access to capacity building opportunities like these before”, explains Joana Gusmão, Empreza Diak’s Program Coordinator.
Maria’s strength and determination together with Empreza Diak’s training and mentoring changed the life of this family. Maria now has a steady income and the confidence and tools to keep her small business, a success story that makes us proud. “Women like Maria inspire us to keep working to help others achieve the same level of self-sufficiency that she has now been able to achieve”, concludes Ariana Almeida, Empreza Diak’s Co-Founder and Economic Empowerment specialist.