Irene´s Example of How Mano Vuelta Works

The Mano Vuelta Campaign is a unique community response to the coronavirus crisis to collect and distribute food to people who have lost their livelihoods during this time.  It is also targeted at fostering a regeneration of historical/cultural strategies of subsistence amongst  elders and their families who need help in finding food, while rethinking their production alternatives. 

Doña Irene was one of the first participants in the initial campaign for food donations on the 2nd of April in Cahuita. 

Doña Irene is a 96-year-old lady who has lived on the outskirts of Cahuita since she was born. She raised her children by making the best tamales in the area, according to many residents. All of her children learned how to make this traditional food which is a key source of sustenance in the southern Caribbean and beyond. She raised her children on the back of her tamales.

However, eventually her kids followed their own paths in life, given the opportunities they had -- thanks to their mother’s tamales, combined with the opportunities offered by the public educational system and the arrival of tourism in the area.

Now that they have lost their jobs, Doña Irene and her family of children and grandchildren find themselves in the same critical situation as many elderly people in the area. 

At the launching of the Mano Vuelta Campaign, activists who collaborated with the Embajador@s del Mar brought this family the first bag of food; the whole family took a breath of relief, knowing that they would now have food on the table for two months, thanks to another family who donated the C25,000 (about $45 U.S.) that each weekly bag costs.

The donors, who live in San José and belong to an international organization, made their donation deposit directly into the account of the local food bank in Cahuita, which then brings food to Doña Mercedes and her family.

The Embajador@s del Mar and their collaborators, together with the census people in the food banks, created and now monitor a system whereby “the distribution of food flows almost without us touching either money or food, but only the hearts, conscience and the enormous flow of living culture in the Southern Caribbean and the indigeous territories of Talamanca,” according to a press release from the Mano Vuelta initiative.

The donation distributors raised the question: “And if we get any additional help so that you can go back to making your tamales and sell them to the community?” The most palpable result of this is that the family started to dream of reactivating their traditional way of life, during this crisis.

And so the Embajador@s and their collaborators got involved with seeking further support, with a small fund to revive the family's tamale business. In less than two days, a group of students from Universidad Nacional de Heredia (UNA), which collaborates with the Embajador@s del Mar, appeared and said that they will commit to contribute what is necessary for Doña Mercedes’ family to reactivate a way of living which enables them survive based on an element of the living culture of the area.

They are aiming to make 50 tamales, costing C2,500 (approx. $4.50 U.S.) each, with the donation for the dough, pork, fat, cumin, garlic, achiote, etc. 

“We already have our clientele and now with this situation we think there will be more,” said the Doña Irene's oldest daughter, who lost her job at a hotel in Cahuita and now is engaged in organizing the sale of the tamales and to keep generating resources to multiply the relaunching of the business.

These first food donations of the Mano Vuelta Campaign served to revive living culture, always localized, and provide evidence of what we in the Southern Caribbean have always known: The Southern Caribbean is not a tourist destination to exploit, it is a coastal community which lives off tourism, combined with other activities - old and current.  These have been revived in the face of  - this the coronavirus emergency, because these traditional endeavours have and still are the source of life for a sustainable and regenerative family economy.

And this is what it’s been like during these first days of the campaign Mano Vuelta, with every family of adults and elderly who already form part of the initiative, from the first donation during Easter Week.

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