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May 21st 2014

It was a hard life …
Trying to keep a head above water whilst teaching dressmaking to impoverished young women in Nicaragua and Ecuador.

Hazel Zeiner has always been interested in voluntary service overseas and in 2001 she was finally able to realize a long held wish. Unfortunately there was not much demand for radiographers, so she decided to offer her skills in dressmaking.
Hazel, who speaks good Spanish, first went on to work in Nicaragua, near Managua, where she taught impoverished women in the slums how to repair garments and make new out of old. This was a great challenge when necessities like scissors and tape measures were in short supply, not to mention sewing machines. Most of the work was done by hand by the women, who learned simple skills like sewing on buttons, making patterns and sewing hems and seams. Later her pupils were making school uniforms. On this project Hazel worked closely with Sister Dora of the Good Shepherd Sisters, who still continues to run sewing groups.
Here Hazel met the remarkable Father Joe Mulligan, a Jesuit priest from Detroit who has worked in Nicaragua for 30 years among the poor, disabled and sight- impaired and also known as a ‘peace worker. ’ Another colleague with whom Hazel still remains in touch is the Mother Superior Elizabeth Azevedo, a ‘wonderful, lively, open-minded and very clever lady’ and just Liz to her friends.
For various reasons it became time to move on and this was to Cuenca in the south of Ecuador where she taught dressmaking, mainly to women prisoners but also to young women who had little schooling and worked in the large market. Here she lived in the village of the Caritas director Padre Fernando Vega, situated at 2,600m altitude.
When Ecuador was revisited in 2003 and Nicaragua in 2006 and 2012, Hazel was delighted to see how the sewing projects continued. She was also happy to meet old friends and see how children had grown up, some of them having profited from the opportunity of an education. Others had used their dressmaking skills to improve conditions for their families.
In 2012, the Axamer Konrad Piok met Aida, who ran the women’s department of the Caritas in Cuenca, at Hazel’s home in Birgitz and he became interested in her ideas for an irrigation system. This was the beginning of his involvement in the ‘Solidaritätseinsätze.’ He now coordinates follow-up projects every year, in Ecuador, including the laying of pipelines for irrigation, building projects and the teaching of butchery skills by a retired master of the Innsbruck Butchers’ Guild.
Hazel is delighted to see how the work continues and hopes to visit Nicaragua and Ecuador again in the not too distant future. We thank her for this fascinating insight into conditions in two countries which are in great need of assistance in their development but are rarely in the public eye.

Lynne Hilber

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