Saturday, May 28, 2016

Manos con Libertad

With the new year came a change in one of my ministry sites. Although I was very sad to leave Fundación San Lucas (and more importantly working with my good friend Ariane), I had known for awhile that it was time for a change. For many months leading up to my departure, I'd been thinking about how nice it would be to find a ministry site where I could do something quieter with my hands that might help balance out the somewhat-to-always-chaotic atmosphere of my other work at Niños con Valor. And so I did. And I am now very happy to report that for the last 5ish months, I have found a new home working in the bakery at an organization called Manos con Libertad.

Manos con Libertad (or "Manos"), is an organization that helps support women that are currently or have been previously incarcerated. Here in Bolivia, children are allowed to live with family in prison and wives are allowed to live with imprisoned husbands. This means that women with a history of prison life don't necessarily have criminal records themselves (although many of the woman at Manos do, oftentimes for reasons relating to severe poverty). As is true in the US, imprisonment here in Bolivia is often associated with poverty. Manos works towards helping break this cycle by providing an opportunity for women to support themselves financially through the making and selling of hand crafted products. In addition to having a handicrafts store, Manos also has a restaurant and a bakery--both of which I can safely say from experience are quite popular.

At Manos, I work primarily with the woman who runs the bakery, who in order to respect her privacy, I will call Linda (which is not her actual name). She is wonderful. I honestly cannot be thankful enough to have found someone to work with who is as kind, patient (I make a lot of mistakes!), caring, funny, and strong as Linda. Even on mornings where we are SUPER busy filling orders and making sure all of the bakery items are stocked in the display cases downstairs, I always know that we're going to have an overall good time together. Her quick smile, easy laughter, hilarious one-liners, and abundant use of "thank you," make my time with her a real joy. 

Which brings me to what we actually MAKE in this bakery! Monday mornings are always the busiest since everything has to be made fresh for the week. The list of items that needs to be made typically includes empanadas and rollos (both types of cheese filled bread/pastries), chocolate cake, tres leches cake, lemon pie, chocolate and vanilla pudding, different types of jello, and a popular Bolivian beverage called mocochinchi, which is basically a rehydrated peeled and dried peach placed in a glass of sweet cinnamon water. AND Linda is responsible for making all this magic happen BEFORE noon, when she's expected to be downstairs at the display cases selling all these goodies to the lunch crowd. Now, it would be one thing if she was able to start working at o'dark hundred in the morning, but due to public transportation restrictions, 7:45ish (sometimes a bit earlier) is when she can get into Manos... I honestly don't know how she does it. Plus we're not even talking about the days when someone calls to place an order for that day, sometimes wanting it to be ready just a couple hours after they call in!

But enough writing. Here are a few pictures I managed to snag while at work a couple weeks ago. I'm sorry I don't have more to show, but it was a Monday morning, which means that due to my hustling, taking pictures wasn't the first thing on my mind!

Rollos on the left, empanadas on the right--straight out of the oven! You can also see some red jello cooling a bit in the back right.

The same rollos (on the left) and empanadas (on the right) all ready to be taken downstairs and put in the display case! Don't they look delicious?!? I think it's overall a good thing I can't eat most of the products that Linda makes, otherwise I might be quite a few pounds heavier at this point ;)

Here are the ingredients all ready for us to make our daily 20+ to-go cups of mocochinchi. On the left you have the rehydrated peeled and dried peaches (one will be placed in each cup) with the other two containers holding the sweetened cinnamon water. I'm not exactly sure why they are different colors...I think it might have something to do with their different volumes...

And here we have Linda prepping pizza crusts that are used for the pizzas sold in the evenings at the restaurant. I forgot to add that to one of her daily duties as well... I tell you, this woman is beyond amazing.

So now you have a brief overview of what I do at Manos :) However, before I end this post, I also want to take a minute and say how wonderful it's been working not only with Linda, but with all of the other phenomenal women employed at Manos. As a whole, I have found the Manos "family" to be incredibly open, warm, caring, and inviting. It didn't take long in this atmosphere for me to feel included and appreciated just for being me--the help I provided was just an added bonus! In a world that often demonizes and thinks of the formerly incarcerated (and sometimes their family members ) as "less than," I think it's good for ALL of us to remember that they're people just like you and me and should be treated as such--with kindness, love, understanding, and respect.