Fifteen women watched from a small crowd of spectators last Friday morning as a commemorative ribbon fell from across the doors of their dream come true: a newly constructed, modest hall to host the Association of Women of Guaitil.
After Julia Monar, international cooperation attaché for the German Embassy in San José, had performed the ceremonious snipping of the ribbon, the crowd flowed into the building, in the town of Guaitil de Acosta, flanking a curvy mountain road about an hour-and-a-half drive south of San José on the other side of the mountains.
The Association of Women of Guaitil S.A., a group of 15 Guaitil housewives who came together officially five years ago, plans to use the hall for storage and sale of the products they make, association president Ana Cascante told The Tico Times.
The women grow organic vegetables, such as cilantro, lettuce and cucumbers, and medicinal plants in their home gardens, and have been making natural toiletries, including shampoos and lotions, which they make for their own use. The new building will provide the association an outlet to sell these products to the public, Cascante explained.
Built with a donation from the German Embassy, the new hall will also serve as a training ground where the group hopes to receive instruction in massage therapy and aromatherapy – the art of healing with scented oils – to eventually set up a massage center there.
In August 2005, the women applied for a grant from the embassy, which approved their request the following month with a donation of ¢6.2 million (approximately $12, 300) for construction materials, according to a statement from the embassy.
The donation came from the embassy’s annual budget of 65,000 euros (approximately $83,900) for small projects by Costa Rican associations, Monar said, explaining that approximately eight projects receive assistance each year.
By November, construction of the Guaitil hall had begun on a lot purchased with funds raised by the association through raffles and the sale of tamales (a tradition holiday food of meat and vegetables tucked inside corn dough wrapped in banana leaves and boiled).
With a bank loan of approximately ¢1 million ($1,980), of which only half remains to pay back, and a ¢300,000 (approximately $600) donation from Grupo Giras, the Guaitil association’s mother organization in Acosta, the women paid construction company costs.
After construction was completed in February, the association added a kitchen and counter, painted and furnished it with chairs, and intends to continue decorating and possibly even expanding it in the future, Cascante said.
Construction of the hall, a monumental moment in the history of the association, comes after years of growth and change in its members’ lives.
Although the group existed two years before, it became stronger when it obtained guidance three years ago from Grupo Giras, an association of eight Acosta women founded by Catholic priest Alfonso Quirós in 1981.
Grupo Giras, which provides natural health and spa services approximately 17 kilometers away in downtown Acosta, arranged training for the Guaitil women, according to Ania Fallas, Giras president.
A psychologist from Universidad Nacional (UNA) and a nutritionist from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) gave three-our self-esteem and nutrition workshops to the Guaitil women every two weeks for a year.
“We had no knowledge that women are worth so much and they can achieve so much even if they are from the countryside,” Cascante said. “Before (forming the association) we were stuck inside our homes. Now we know sources of work exist.”
Giras has done the same for a women’s association in the neighboring town of Ococa, whose creation the group propelled in 2002, and which expects to become incorporated this year, according to Ococa Women’s Association president Lorena Navarro.
The 13 members of the Ococa Women’s Association, present during the inauguration of the hall, will conclude their self-esteem training this year.
The training “has helped us carry ourselves. We used to be too shy. It has helped us express ourselves and gain confidence,” Navarro told The Tico Times.
In addition, Giras contributed financially to the construction costs of the hall with funds the group received from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Giras shared $600 with the Guaitil women from a $7,300 donation UNDP made in October 2005.
According to Ana Carmona, associate of the UNDP small donation program, Giras could receive a total $20,000 in installments from UNDP. According to the terms of this assistance, Giras must contribute to the development of organic farming in the canton of Acosta, a requirement it meets by continuing to support the women’s associations of Ococa and Guaitil.
Grupo Giras provides its spa services twice a week, attending some 20 clients each time. The Giras women offer steam baths, massage therapy, medicinal plant therapy, Bach flower therapy, and sell natural products such as organic fertilizer, shampoo and lotions. A one-hour Giras massage costs ¢4,000 ($8), and prices for other sessions range from approximately ¢2,500-¢4,000, ($5-8) depending on the treatment required, according to Fallas.
The group is assembling a rural ecotourism project that could include organized trips to hot springs in the area and healing sessions at their center in downtown Acosta, Fallas explained.
For more information or to schedule a Giras session, call 410-0689.
How to Contribute
To make donations, request info, or offer training assistance to the Guaitil or Ococa women’s projects, call Ania Fallas at 410-0689 or Lorena Navarro at 410-3741.