Rio Tercero is a beautiful city in the Province of Cordoba, in Argentina. Situated in a mainly agricultural and livestock area there was great industrial expansion here in the middle of the 19th century (one the most important factories, Fabrica Militar Rio Tercero, is sadly famous for the fatal explosions which occurred there in 1995) which brought with it great demographic growth. Today there are many social challenges, particularly in the outlying neighborhoods where violence is the order of the day due to lack of work and education.
Six years ago Estela, who is a dentist, was asked by her parish priest to take on responsibility for Caritas, with the specific task of introducing the spirituality of unity to this particular structure of the church. She began by asking people’s help coming out of church. If she could do it, with the little time she had what with work, children and grandchildren … surely others should be able to help as well.
So together with the team that was set up she went to visit families in the poorest districts: meeting many young mothers with their children and husbands who were either alcoholic or drug addicts. They opened the ‘Tienda’, a shop selling clothes for the whole family. When winter came everyone was looking for warm blankets … but there just weren’t enough to go around. They decided to make them themselves. A workshop was set up involving 28 young mothers.
As relationships grew, the women felt valued and appreciated. Estela suggested to everyone that they could include some meditation in their daily routine and to try to live a phrase from the gospel each month. When winter was over nobody wanted to leave. What were they going to do? “We had the idea of making bread”, Estela tells us. “We started with just an ordinary oven. We all brought some flour and yeast and would make bread together for our own families and then some extra to sell, sharing the proceeds. But it wasn’t enough. I updated the parish Pastoral Council about our activities and they encouraged me to go ahead setting aside enough money to invest in a bigger oven. We told all the parishioners about the initiative and everyone started to bring flour. In this way a bridge of unity was built between the people of the parish, which is in the centre of town, and the women from the outskirts who come with their children because they have nowhere else to leave them.” But it wasn’t possible to go to sell the bread with the children tagging along.
So activities for the children were started, with an extra-curriculum support programme and fun activities organized by the young people of the parish. “As time went by, the relationship between the mothers and their children began to change. We tried to help the children appreciate the work the mothers were doing and on their part, the children were also spurred on to study harder seeing the efforts their mothers were making to earn something.”
As time went on the business became public: the bread is now sold to several shops in the city and the Local Council has got involved setting up a development project. The result? – a real bakery! With 4 large ovens, all the necessary equipment and a large quantity of flour. A micro-business has been set up, where the workers themselves are the owners. At present there are 4 having responsibility for the bakery, serving schools, pizza shops and other bakeries on a regular basis.
“Even if it’s only a small business,” Estela observes, “It is still a source of employment; but the most important thing is the integral human formation that has been carried out with each person and with their families.” A process that continues to influence others.