Come see us in Volcán, attend a class, order a quilt, or just hang out and talk. It is a great, happy group of women that will inspire you to create something.
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Las Hermanas de Acolchado de Volcán
In February 2012, Las Manos de Esperanza workshops started to provide adult vocational education to the women living in the Volcán area. The original workshops included cooking, child and elder care, and sewing. The sewing classes were a big hit and the women wanted a quilting class so we obliged them. The Soroptomistas International de Volcán acquired grant money to purchase 6 sewing machines, six large tables and 20 chairs, ironing boards, irons, and some basic materials. A local businessman donated our classroom space and we were launched. Local expatriate volunteers, a Peace Corps volunteer, and some Soroptomistas volunteered to teach the initial set of classes. We decided very early in the process that teaching women an at-home skill to increase their income and promote economic independence was our big goal. The other goals were to bring income to Volcán and recognition as a center for quilted arts. We also discovered a need to teach that charity begins where you live, fellowship, creativity via synergy, and show that cooperative work can accomplish anything. We have accomplished some of those goals but have much more to teach the women in our community, and much more to learn ourselves.
Over 250 women from Volcán, Concepción, David, Frontera, Puerto Armuelles, and Panama City have taken quilting classes in Volcán. The core group of four expatriate volunteers and three paid teachers, with help from the Soroptomistas, make up the personnel for the courses which run about nine months of the year. Through donations and purchases we have acquired 27 sewing machines and a long arm quilting machine, which is one-of-a-kind in Panama at this moment. When we lost our classroom space, earlier this year, the Guardia Phillips family donated a house for our use. When the Casa Azul or Casa de Manos de
Esperanza, built by the Soroptomists with community donations, opens in Volcán sometime in the next few years, that will be our new home. So this is truly a community effort and success story.
When the group started, the women gave themselves a name: Las Hermanas de Acolchado de Volcán, or the Quilting Sisters of Volcán, which is now the quilting guild that meets weekly. Membership is gained by showing up and sewing. The group votes on where and when they want to sew, what they want to sell, and what they want to learn. They continue to refine their skills and have enormous creative energy.
Past sales and exhibits include the Festival de Bellas Artes in Volcán June 22 -24, a month long exhibit at the Boquete Library, a sale day at the used book sale in Boquete, donation of quilted art to the Heliconia Conference group meeting in El Valle de Ancon, booths at different events, and the Expo de Manualidades at Atlapa Convention Center in Panama City. We usually mount an exhibit for Mother’s Day and Christmas. We may take another road trip around Panama promoting our ideas and our work.
Many of our women now sew and sell their creations on a regular basis. Currently we have ten quilts on order and in production, and have completed numerous quilts that were ordered in the last year. The income went to the women who made the quilts. Micro loans are provided to women to purchase better sewing machines. We have three sewing machine loans outstanding this year and have financed 5 other machines. We usually carry an outstanding debt of about $2000 dollars in materials, supplies, and tools for different members of the classes.
We are now working on teaching the advanced sewists marketing, timekeeping, product evaluation, and other business skills such as finding outlets for their work and seizing sales opportunities. We also teach basic educational skills in math, organization, reading, and art.
The biggest skills growth is in artistic creativity, exchange of ideas, courage to be creative and develop newer and better methods to do quilting processes that are time consuming and difficult. A woman thanked me last week for letting her come to the classes and create beautiful things. She said “ This fills up my heart.” I admit it fills up my heart also.
Our group has learned that there is synergy in working together, selling together and just talking together. Many times women bring a new, better idea to the class and we implement it immediately. We have also seen them become much more cohesive and supportive of each other, working together to surmount problems that could overwhelm just one person.
The group makes donation quilts for the community in every course, and we have distributed about 25 quilts to invalids and the elderly. They have raised money for one of their members to have surgery.They volunteer to wait tables at local fund raisers for the community. They are more than willing to donate time, resources, and work effort to each other and their community.