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Centro Santa Catalina


JUAREZ — South of the city the trash fires burn, sending a rolling plume of black smoke towards the sky. The Centro Santa Catalina is a compound in a very poor neighborhood that encloses several buildings including a church, a school and the workshop. In the organization’s words, “We are a faith based community founded in 1996 by Dominican Sisters for the spiritual, educational and economic development of economically poor women and for the welfare of our families.”

P1000537The women of the sewing cooperative line the walls of the workshop and tell their stories. Their children play outside. It is difficult to distinguish the pall of the trash fires from dusk. At times it seems later than it is. Then the wind shifts.

“I wasn’t the first one here,” says one woman, “but the others tell me they began by making coffee or tamales or piñatas. Then some people came to teach us to sew the things we make here. Every Friday we meet for prayers and later we started a school. Many houses here sink into the dump and there are places of land on which you cannot build. This group really suffered after the violence. Sister Donna, who started the group, was called home to Chicago and killed in a car accident. All the American groups stopped coming. We were afraid too but where could we go?”

L1002976P1000564“Some of the women would not be able to get a job outside because of their age. In Mexico it is hard for anyone to get a job after they are 40. This center is totally funded by donors and the things we make. When we sell we share equal parts to all the women of the cooperative. Sometimes you sell a lot, sometimes very little.”

When I was little Sister Donna would tell me to come to the cooperative. I didn’t want to. Now I don’t want to leave. You learn to value yourself as a woman, to be a better mother, a better friend.”L1003043L1003084

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