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Tres Hermanas: Educating Women to Unite Communities
Tres Hermanas Co-op was started as a response to the state of our community of Chimayo, New Mexico. For too long Chimayo has been at the top of every bad list and the bottom of every good list. My family saw our community being ravaged by drugs and domestic violence. Politically, the people have never really had a leader that spoke for them or listened to their concerns. Economically, Chimayo has never had any industry to help lift it out of poverty. It is for this reason that, in 2011 several women got together and formed Tres Hermanas Co-op.
Our first order of business was to gain some knowledge about our community, so we have developed a survey and conducted outreach. What we found was that our community was tired of being disadvantaged socially, economically and politically. When you’re poor, no one cares about you. Tres Hermanas Co-op wanted to change that perception and create a positive view of our community. The funny thing about acting locally is that it has an effect globally. For example, an earthquake in Japan brings the global production line of cell phones, computers and cars to a standstill. Or a rebellion in a country halfway around the world raises our gas prices.
Tres Hermanas Co-op decided to try something new: listen to the community and let it tell us what it needed. You would be amazed at some of the things we heard. First, our community was tired of being underemployed and undereducated. Our children do not have access to the learning tools that wealthier communities like Los Alamos have. Have you been in our schools lately? They are like pre-prison camps. There are metal detectors and pat-downs, and if they don’t like you then they just suspend you. Please tell me how someone is supposed to get a quality education in an environment like that. If you don’t get a good education then you are doomed to a life of menial and sub-standard jobs.
In response to this, Tres Hermanas Co-op has developed a GED program with the state that will allow people to get their diplomas and improve their lives. In addition, the co-op is developing a community kitchen. Food is the one thing that unites people across the spectrum and across cultures. The community kitchen will allow people to produce and sell food in a safe environment that is regulated by the state. We hope to replicate the model that the Taos Economic Development Corporation has used. Finally, we have a functioning greenhouse, which is a step toward the community-supported farm Tres Hermanas Co-op is seeking to create.
The second goal is to help the community establish its own political voice, so it can speak for itself. For many years, political leaders have spoken for the community without ever listening to the people of the community. As a result, the community is left out of all the important decisions that affect them. Tres Hermanas Co-op is seeking to educate the community and inform them of their rights, so that they can be actors in their own destiny. We are seeking to do this by revitalizing the old traditions that have sustained us in the past. For example, we are reactivating the ditch associations, so people can begin to use them as a forum to air their issues. Tres Hermanas Co-op is also bringing back the matanzas (traditional public butchering) as a way to bring the community together. Last year we had the first annual community Halloween, Christmas, and New Year parties. These may seem like small events, but to a child that does not have a Halloween or Christmas gift, it means the world. All of these gatherings are ways that we are able to reach our communities and hear their concerns.
Our final goal is to help them to develop a strong vibrant and healthy community. To do this we must reach out to everyone. If we want our community to be safe, then we have to fight to make it that way. Tres Hermanas Co-op seeks to do this by providing various services. From behavioral health to domestic violence, we are seeking to develop programs for our citizens, so they can access them whenever they need to. Tres Hermanas Co-op does not turn anyone away from our organization. We do not care what color you are or what your sexual orientation is. We do not pass judgment on the heroin addicts or the alcoholics. Our goal is to create a healthy community where our children can play safely and our elders do not have to live in fear.
I know that these goals sound very lofty and idealistic, but every great thing that has ever happened in history started with an idea. Ideals are very powerful motivating forces. They inspire people to journey to a strange and foreign land in search of a better life. They motivate humanity to send a man to the moon and inspire us to throw off the chains of oppression. At some point we must all decide for ourselves if we are going to take the easy road and continue to be part of the problem or if we are going to chose the road less traveled and become part of the solution. Because the real truth is that I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper. Many people search for their purpose in life when all they have to do is look to their right and left. The truth is that we all sink or swim together. No one is an island. We are all intertwined with one another. In the final analysis, my life, my family’s life and the life of my community depends on everyone else. It does not matter if I am the richest man in Chimayo. If my community suffers, then it is only a matter of time before I suffer.
Andrez Juarez is a community activist working on social, political and economic issues in the Chimayo Valley. Tres Hermanas has applied for nonprofit status. In the meantime, donations in support of the initiative are being accepted by the New Mexico Alliance. Contact Juarez at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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