Around the world | Presbyterian World Mission
Kristi Van Nostran builds ties between US Presbyterians and Salvadorans.
By Pat Cole
Presbyterian mission worker Kristi Van Nostran is bringing together US Presbyterians and Salvadorans in a project that is making history and changing lives.
The project is an all-women’s cooperative that produces and sells organically fortified chicken feed. It is run entirely by women and is among the first all-women organizations to receive a business permit from the government of El Salvador.
These women have banded together to answer the needs of their people. “We are able to feed our families,” says Amanda, the group’s president. “We are able to provide shoes for our children. Our children are able to attend school.”
The 50-member cooperative is part of the Joining Hands Network, a group that connects Presbyterians in the United States with churches and other organizations in El Salvador in order to address issues of hunger and poverty. As the network’s companionship facilitator, Van Nostran nurtures these relationships.
The determination of the women and the partnership of Joining Hands continue to help the cooperative thrive. The operation’s equipment and the feed components are housed in a concrete-and-cinderblock building that the women constructed. It sits on a rugged plot of borrowed land that the women cleared and leveled themselves. The group sells feed to another women’s cooperative, one that produces eggs and poultry to feed members’ families and sell to others.
Joining Hands spreads this model of cooperation and community by helping groups of organized women obtain small incubators so that they can participate in this sustainable food initiative.
Food security is a huge challenge in El Salvador, a country where one in five preschool-aged children is undernourished. Food security is just another way of referring to people’s access to food and, in the case of indigenous peoples, to their ability to feed themselves using sustainable and traditional methods, with full access to their own land (which is often bought up by transnational corporations).
Led by a woman named Edith, one community recently rediscovered the nutritional value of Ojushte nuts, known in English as Maya nuts. Ojushte nuts are native to El Salvador and are high in protein, fiber, calcium, and various vitamins. Some community elders remembered that the nuts had saved people from starvation during a famine many years ago. So Edith and other women in the community developed a process to roast and grind the nuts into flour that is used as a key ingredient in drink mixes and other recipes.
With the support of Joining Hands, the women are teaching other communities about gathering and processing Ojushte nuts. They are also sharing menus and holding cooking demonstrations.
Van Nostran says the empowering efforts of Joining Hands embody the work of the gospel. “I’ve heard it said that faith even as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, but don’t be surprised if God hands you a shovel. We really take that to heart and feel that we’ve been invited and called by God to be participants in the bringing in of God’s kingdom.”
Pat Cole is a communication specialist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
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