The story of Ana Ferraras
A widow in an impoverished region of the Dominican Republic describes her daily struggle to provide for her family, and her involvement in a TeleFood project that has mobilized a group of determined local women.
My name is Ana Nelida Herasme Ferreras but everyone calls me Neli. I live in the village of El Estero in southwest Dominican Republic, near the Haitian border. The area is arid and less developed compared with other parts of the country. I am 48 years old and a teacher in the primary school in the nearby town of Galván. In addition, I take care of my children and am the leader of a women's cooperative. For me, the most important thing in life is my work, my family and my community. [All photos: ©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri]
Here I am at home. I am a widow and have five children, two of them living with me, Niurka, who is 17 and Hamilton, who is 26. There are always many people at home, among them many of my grandchildren, nephews and neighbours.
Hamilton is a real gallero, he is very fond of cock fighting, like most men in the area. He puts a lot of effort into training his rooster and hopes to make him into a great champion. Personally, I don't like cock fighting because I think the animals suffer.
I spend a lot of time doing housework - cleaning, laundry, cooking. Today I am cooking moro - a typical dish made of rice and beans, which everyone likes. These ingredients, along with bananas, are the staple foods here.
My home is made of wood and was built by my mother 25 years ago on family land. I would like to build on to it and make some repairs, such as changing the corrugated sheets that make up the roof. They have holes in them that leak when it rains. Our little dog Ardilla guards the house and likes to play with the children.
Going to work
Each morning at 7:15 I ride to work with Niurka. Today our driver is Martin Alcántara, a neighbour who makes a living driving motoconcho. This is the name we give to this kind of taxi service. It's a very popular way to get around in my country.
Niurka gets off at her school in Neyba, three kilometres from here, while I continue another four kilometres to Galván, where I teach. In the Dominican Republic transportation is expensive, partly due to the high price of petrol. The ride to and from work costs me 100 pesos (US$3) every day.
My day as a school teacher
I teach at the state school Ofelia Medina, which has approximately 1 500 students. Most of them come from families who earn less then a dollar a day. Each morning we participate in the flag-raising ceremony and sing the national anthem.
The government is making a big effort to provide schooling to all children, but our school still lacks many things. We do not have computers or science labs and even textbooks are scarce.
The importance of education
Today I am teaching Spanish. Fortunately few students drop out of school. But there is a general lack of discipline. Unemployment has forced many parents to emigrate and the children are raised by grandparents.
My biggest dream is to see my children graduate from university. I managed to graduate as a schoolteacher, but with great effort, as I was already a mother and running a household. Now I earn some 14 000 pesos (US$400) a month.
My other main activity is working in a women's cooperative that we created thanks to a TeleFood project. We are 18 women, all of them living in El Estero.
We produce sazón, which is a spicy sauce used a lot in the Dominican cuisine. It is an all-natural product, without chemical additives, and we make it with celery, onions, garlic, peppers, vinegar, coriander, oregano and other spices. We also add orange juice, which acts as a preservative.
Inputs from TeleFood
We produce the sazón in a warehouse that was restored with the help of the Dominican Agrarian Extension Service. TeleFood provided all of the special equipment, including the industrial mixers, refrigerators and cooking utensils.
The final product, bottled and labelled, is sold locally for 40 pesos a litre (US$1.30). We also sell it in Santo Domingo at the main market, where it has been a big success.
A question of energy
Our main problem now is the frequent power blackouts in our area. We need electricity to run the mixers and refrigerators. That is why we try to organize our daily schedule according to when we know there will be power. Since the ingredients are costly, we must be careful not to start a batch that we cannot finish. We can't afford to waste anything! But we never lack our own energy. The cooperative has become a pillar of our community. We have learned to work together and we are very hopeful that our business will succeed. So far, we have made some money, not much, but enough to keep us going and enthusiastic.
If we have not made a lot of money with the cooperative, it is because the ingredients are costly. If only we could grow our own herbs and vegetables instead of buying them locally.
Our own garden
Here I am with Andrés Gómez, the local extension officer, at the site of our future garden. The soil is very fertile in our area, but there is no water.
The cooperative drew up plans and now work is underway to dig a well. My son Hamilton is also involved in this new project. We are very excited.
A vision for the future
I want progress for my community. We must modernize agriculture and create more job opportunities and income generating activities like the TeleFood project.
If we improve living conditions for the local population, the young people will be able to stay here and not have to move to cities or other countries to find work. Families could remain together and there would be a future for this land.