Words from Sister Esther about the work of the Miquelina Foundation
Setting up the Miquelina Foundation meant that Sister Esther Castaño Mejia could make significant changes in the lives of the local women, many of whom had been forced into prostitution. She was able to offer hope and, in the process, create a community where these women made a difference, added value and created change in their own lives and those of their families.
I will always be involved with Miquelina, probably until the day I die. My aim has always been to develop these women not only into accomplished seamstresses but into women with both the skills and confidence to work in any company. By the grace of God, Nick Brown proposed that our professional seamstresses make clothing for Páramo in the UK. This has been a life changing partnership for all of us involved and one that I am very grateful for.
Partnering with Páramo meant that we all learnt a lot about business generally and exporting garments but, with Nick’s support and constant encouragement, we were able to overcome most obstacles. It was all very new to us but we enjoyed recognition and interest both locally and internationally which meant the world could see us go from marginalised women to professional seamstresses.
Nick coming to Colombia was God’s Will and the circumstances all fell into perfect place as the man that Nick was coming to see was no longer around and so, after a short discussion, Nick asked if we could make him a sample which we gladly did. Nick then asked if he could see the place we were using to make our samples and the MIQUELINA CREATIONS FOUNDATION was born.
Creating the Miquelina Foundation has enabled us to support the women who were forced into prostitution and teach them many transferable skills. It has meant that these women are able to send their children to school and build a Multiactive Cooperative which has resulted in 140 members getting homes, being able to attend to the community needs and becoming an integral part of the wider Bogota family.
Starting the Miquelina Foundation has always held the upliftment of local women at its heart. To be able to get these women out of prostitution and life of misery will always be the most rewarding process ever. To see these women thrive and, in many cases, set up their own businesses after the training we give them is inspiring. It has allowed them to earn money, feel secure and leave a legacy for their families. The Miquelina Foundation has reconciled a society. So far into 2019, we have 120 women employed with us.
The women start at 7am with a 10-minute prayer session given by one of the nuns from the Community of Religiosas Adoratrices. The women have two 15-minute breaks and half an hour for lunch. Work goes on until 3.30pm when the ladies go home. We offer them counselling sessions whenever needed.
The reason for being or main objective of Miquelina is, ‘A company that provides decent work to women who, due to different circumstances of life, have faced the problem of prostitution.’ This objective includes not only giving a job to attend to their basic needs but to their spiritual, family, psychological, recreation needs. An integral formation that manages to fill as many gaps of all kinds as they have had in their life. I always say that Miquelina is not only for making jackets but also for making people.
The most important thing of our job, it is reaching so many women that because of their social condition have been faced and forced to prostitution problem. Giving them the opportunity to become women with all the rights and duties of any citizen, it has been the most interesting and rewarding thing in our daily work. Páramo has been a pillar of strength and facilitated many opportunities to share our successes.
It means a lot to Miquelina to have the World Fair Trade Accreditation because it justifies part of our great mission in Miquelina; supporting the social work by a unified vision of building a better future for people and the planet and this is part of our task. Having opportunities for the disadvantaged, being transparent, believing in and protecting the environment.
The financial status of small producers and farmers for a fair payment; no discrimination and prohibiting child labour and good working conditions. It is an honor for us to have the label of our garments with the World Fair Trade Accreditation, which also means quality and professionalism. The work that Páramo does with the Miquelina Foundation has been life changing for many families. It has meant that women can be trained and upskilled and make a valuable contribution not just in Bogotá but from all around Colombia.
About Nick Brown
German trade publication Outdoor.markt held its tenth Trophy Awards during the OutDoor by ISPO trade show this year. The prestigious ‘Outdoor Oscar’ for Personality of the Year was presented to Nick Brown, owner and founder of Nikwax & Páramo, for 42 years of pioneering and driving change within the industry.
Nick’s actions and own company development was decades ahead of the industry. He challenged brands to consider sustainability in their business models long before CSR became a key part of outdoor industry brand strategy.
Vitus Wuhrer, son of Vaude founder Albrecht von Dewitz, gave an impassioned and heartfelt speech before presenting the award to Nick Brown. He described Nick as a maverick of the industry, for being “non-conformist, a trend setter, free spirit and a brave hero.” He said, “Nick built Nikwax with an extraordinarily high level of social and ecological consideration at its core. His range of products are water-based, instead of using harmful and flammable solvents. He also never used PFCs in his treatments, which is amazing.
“Today, the list of what he has achieved is very long – consisting of lots of firsts and onlys. He started Páramo Outdoor Clothing in the ‘90s, again built on high social standards, in South America. This brand was the first to sign the Greenpeace Detox commitment.
“These are two very successful brands driven by his pioneering spirit and are two very bright spots within the outdoor industry. Not only that, he is also a driving force in other environmentally engaged organisations. He is one of the founding members of European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) and is one of the ambassadors of the World Land Trust.”