Partner Spotlight: Knitting for Nature Initiative
Over 10 years ago, a group of women came together in their native village of El Astillero, Nicaragua, concerned about the dwindling sea turtle population. After determining that many turtles were drowning from strangulation as a result of plastic bags discarded on beaches during low tide, the women formed an organization to protect the marine environment—including one of only seven nesting sites for this sea turtle species on the Pacific seaboard.
Since then the group, Iniciativa Tejiendo por la Naturaleza (Knitting for Nature Initiative), has become a force to be reckoned with: environmental protectors with an added bonus of a revenue source, both for original members and for women who have joined the group since.
We at FSD first became aware of the group through intern Cristina Tono of St. Mary’s College of Maryland who learned of the knitters while partnering with another organization nearby. Another intern, Kayla Chapa (of Miami University of Ohio), taught the women basic computer literacy, which allowed them to sharpen order processing skills and improve customer service--and grow sales as a result.
Knitting for Nature now has a workshop and store in El Astillero, where surfers and tourists from nearby hotels and resorts visit to make purchases and learn about their mission (their slogan is "One less bag, one more turtle”). Not only does the group clean up the beach and community by collecting plastic bags for their products, but they also are often invited to participate in environmental events to talk about their story and initiative in hopes of raising awareness on environmental issues that affect their community.
2017: A Banner Year
In 2017, the organization received FSD intern Luodan Rojas from Northwestern University for a 9-week internship. Luodan, who is studying journalism with a focus on environmental issues, saw this experience as a great match: she could use her skills to advance the organization’s development and execution of online platforms and build capacity in tech literary—and, ultimately, raise awareness and increase their income for the women and their families. During her internship, she developed a Facebook page and website; trained participants on how to update and use these pages for better marketing and publicity; furthered the organization’s capacity for tech support; and introduced the use of smartphones as a means of accessing these platforms through applications. Three women among the group are able to update the website and Facebook page, and following Luodan’s departure, the FSD team in Tola has been thrilled to see the women continuously updating their Facebook page as a means of gaining an even greater number of followers.
Our Tola site team has been able to follow up and continue work through a series of capacity-building workshops and technical assistance visits. These workshops deepened knowledge of marketing and publicity through online platforms, and the three women who participated in the training during the internship were also able to receive further training with the FSD Tola site team and continued amassing tech skills. The women now operate a successful online store for their artisan products, including a mobile sales/marketing platforms as well.
2018 Outlook: Skill-Building and Marketing Outreach
In December of 2017, the initiative launched an ice cream shop and snack kiosk through a micro-enterprise grant from one of their partners, Casa Congo, based in El Astillero. After 10 years of experience in making and selling their artisan products, this group of dynamic women is now poised to take on another micro-enterprise, especially important thanks to the growing tourism industry in El Astillero, previously a sleepy fishing village. Shored-up infrastructure and food production trainings have happened thanks to the grant; now, FSD continues to support the women by building their business administration skills--including traditional marketing and online publicity for this new venture.
A Partnership that Sustains
The women of Knitting for Nature manifest a strong commitment to their community, the environment, and gender equity. We see them as a particularly inspiring example of grassroots, asset-based community development. Indeed, they are a testament to our core belief the most meaningful change starts from the bottom up, builds off community resources and ongoing relationships—and not merely sustains communities, but grows them.
The advances we have been able to produce are also due to the long-term relationships we have been able to build in Nicaragua through Country Director Maria de Jesus Zepeda and Senior International Programs Coordinator Alexandra MacPhee. We look forward to continued success with the Knitting for Nature Initiative this year and in the years ahead.