Two years ago, there were only 18 mothers in CREAMOS. This recycled-jewelry company, a fledgling spin-off of the Safe Passage Adult Literacy Program, was just beginning to take shape. CREAMOS means, “we create” and “let’s believe” and was the first initiative in what has turned into Safe Passage’s Social Entrepreneurship Program.
The Social Entrepreneurship Program serves the larger mission of Safe Passage by empowering parents through practical education, greater income generating opportunities, and flexible and safe work conditions so they can break the cycle of poverty for their children. In addition to CREAMOS, Safe Passage now has a sewing initiative comprised of 28 mothers—with 89 children among them—and continues to experiment with new business concepts to expand the program’s impact.
The transformation is easiest to see in the mothers of CREAMOS. The group has grown to include 30 women—with 130 children between them—who are rapidly turning into sophisticated businesswomen as well as advocates for themselves and their children. Consuelo, mother of 5, worked in the Guatemala City garbage dump until the day she walked through Safe Passage’s doors and joined CREAMOS. She is now studying in seventh grade and pays for the school fees of her oldest son herself. Just two months ago, Consuelo confidently told her story in front 500 employees of Citibank at an event and jewelry sale.
“The impact is most visible when these mothers are able to go out and buy washing machines, stoves or beds for their families for the first time,” says Emily Coffin, the Social Entrenuership Program Coordinator of the past two years. “However, when they choose to invest in their own continued studies or the school fees of their kids, it really illustrates everything we want to see—that they value education to the point of wanting to invest in it themselves.”
Petronila, single mother of seven children, has gone completely blind in the time that Emily has known her. One would assume that this would preclude her from participating in such a visually demanding business, but she has managed to find her well-earned place in the company. Last year she invented the recycled gift-bags given to customers to carry their purchases. The company buys these bags directly from Petronila and she has continued her studies at a center for the blind in Guatemala City learning to read braille.
Through CREAMOS’ expansion, the company has shifted more and more responsibility to the mothers themselves. There are now four company departments, each headed by one of the moms. Consuelo is in charge of events, Irina of vendors, Leslie of inventory, and three others work together on recruitment and training of new moms. Each and every one of the 30 mothers is responsible for entering their own weekly inventories using Excel and they all have a basic understanding of complex concepts such as standardization, bulk pricing and taxes. Whereas two years ago, Safe Passage staff was called upon to assist the mothers at events and jewelry sales, the mothers are now handling all events completely on their own!
Emily was instrumental in securing a grant to make the program self-sustaining by 2014 and finished her two years at Safe Passage in June. Emily will begin to dedicate more time to managing CREAMOS LLC, which is CREAMOS’ new US-based entity. The Social Entrepreneuship Program has recently moved into bigger quarters and will be further expanding into recently-donated warehouse space in the next couple of weeks. The sewing initiative is already making the uniforms for Safe Passage’s kitchen staff with the dream of one day having the capacity to sew the uniforms for Safe Passage’s more than 550 students!
On what she will miss most, Emily says:
Creamos is a family—it is a place where the women feel valued. They have a support system, a place of confidence. We’ve had women lose children, and face many other challenges. Like any family, we also fight and lose our patience, but in the end it’s a constant source of support.