The Gospel & Co-operatives
June 1990By John C. Cort
Estelle and Mario Carota are a remarkable couple. I met them long ago while they were living in the Boston area. Eventually they were to adopt 12 children, of all colors, in addition to several of their own. For a while they were homesteading on Prince Edward Island, but apparently that wasnt challenging enough. For the last six years they have been working in the mountains near Mexico City, helping poor campesinos organize co-operatives and distributing powdered milk, corn, beans, and other food donated by Catholic friends and the government of Canada.
After some time spent in Rome studying co-operative techniques, Mario has organized a Federation of Christian Cooperatives and is promoting the sale of handsome wool blankets, hand-woven in two of his co-ops, about which more later. Let me quote from a recent letter:
It is slow work trying to give very poor women an idea of working together in Christs name as a cooperative so they can earn enough to purchase a few essentials for their families. Only the necessity of getting free food persuades these mothers to leave their shacks and hovels.
Until the Mexican government began a milk program we served eight communities. Now we serve forty of the poorest isolated families who are too far away to take advantage of the milk program.
Four sewing cooperatives are making good baby and childrens clothing for their own families, also to sell and donate to four other communities that do not have sewing cooperatives. A Mexican friend, the owner of a textile factory, donates the fabric.
The Carotas tell of a credit union that must be almost unique in the history of banking and is also a model of how the poorest of the poor can help themselves and each other when they have the right spirit, which is the spirit of Christ derived from a study of the Gospel. I quote:
A remarkable example of the ability of the poor to use their own meager resources to be of service to their community is the zero-interest credit union in the barrio of San Martin in Malinaco. Its 20-odd members saved about US$400 over the past three years by bringing 25 to 50 cents each week to their meetings. The fund is used to make emergency loans to people in their community as well as to the members of the coop. The credit union makes these no-interest loans as a way of serving their community in the name of Christ. The miraculous part of all this, considering the incredible economic problems facing these poor people, is that all the loans have been repaid without fail. The revolutionary part is that, considering the total impossibility of their obtaining loans from any bank, this credit system is actually working to serve the poor. And in the process the poor are receiving spiritual development from their weekly sharing of Scripture and also great personal development from being the owners and managers of their own bank.
This inspiring example has now served to animate the newest Bible and prayer group in the barrio of San Juan to be of service to their barrio in the same way.
Because of the demand from poor Mexicans to start new co-operatives, the Carotas Federation of Christian Cooperatives, supported by the Canadian Embassy, is now building a training center and workshop to develop competent co-operators and also train people in weaving and spinning. Courses in Scripture will also be given, with the goal of producing co-operative missionaries who can go out to the rural areas and spread the Gospel of Jesus and the gospel of co-operation at the same time, each gospel supporting and strengthening the other.
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