Ester is at home. It is 3 o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday, a moment of peace and tranquility, but someone knocks urgently on the door. It is a mother with a 4-year-old girl clinging to her legs and a crying, month-old baby. In Guaraní she says, “Ña Ester, mbohapy ára ojapo ndarokaruvéi hague” (we haven't eaten for three days). Seeing the hunger in the woman’s face leaves Ester speechless for a moment and she invites them to come in, responding in the language that helps make all Paraguayans feel comfortable, "Ejumi doña." She barely has anything to offer, but the little she does serves to stave off the emergency, at least in that moment. After a while, the baby and the mother are able to relax, and the girl begins to play.
Day after day, Esther realizes that this situation repeats again and again in the lives of women in her community. She recognizes that, given her limited resources, she must begin to imagine a novel, sustainable solution.
This is how, more than 14 years ago, Ester Boicetta decided to start what is now "Kuña Jero"--an association connecting the heads of households-- where vulnerable women are able to receive gainful employment and support through three different channels: 1) employment as domestic workers, 2) the production sale of planteras (concrete planter boxes), chairs and other items, and 3) sewing and selling sheets and tablecloths. The association also provides periodic training to members and provides technical assistance in order to help with the purchase of equipment and machinery for various projects.
Walking through her neighborhood, Ester recalls her years of service accompanying the monjas naranjas around the world and remembers that almost anything can be achieved through collaboration, cooperation and the power of community organization. While observing her neighbors - strong women, the kuña guapa, who are the backbone of these communities in Paraguay - Ester is moved to see how much they have grown. She is inspired by their determination, and the fact that they were able to bring about an organization committed to women, gender equality, and fair pay for domestic workers.
The road ahead
Today marks a new start as the association seeks to build a Cleaning Service Agency and provide gainful employment for all Kuña Jero. They aim to connect members who work as cleaners with public and private companies that require these services. In doing so, they hope to enhance employment transparency, while at the same time generating collective assets for their members and overcoming the labor exploitation of which they are often victims.
Through Moirū, the Association will establish participatory processes for decision making in Kuña Jero’s Board of Directors, while also enabling communication, participation and information channels for affiliated members. Part of their work plan is to bootstrap activities for two lines of services that they want provide together with their affiliates: (1) a professional cleaning service for homes and businesses, and (2) the design and fabrication of concrete based home crafts.
Moreover, Kuña Jero will also receive continuous support from the UNDP Accelerator Lab and the National Strategy of Innovation (ENI) on the implementation of their proposal. The women who are part of this association are looking forward to building a sustainable organization that could keep generating value for their communities. As an organization deeply embedded in a labor sector with high levels of precariousness and reduced access to social security, Kuña Jero will also receive support from the Participatory Lab for the Formalization of Employment, a lab created by UNDP in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, in the context of its learning cycles on formalization, cooperative practices and gender equality in domestic labour. Hola
Learn more about the Kuña Jero project on the contest's youtube channel and on the Wendá website.