SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – It’s one of the most violent cities in the world, in one of the poorest countries in Latin America. And the families who live in the areas known as the “slums” are the poorest of the poor.
But some of the women from the poorest areas of San Pedro Sula in Honduras are providing for their families by creating the most beautiful hand-sewn quilts to sell to Americans online.
It’s a skill they learned from a San Antonio mother of nine.
If it seems like an unlikely scenario, it is.
From San Antonio to San Pedro Sula
The Kimball family moved from their home in Stone Oak to Honduras to expand their growing business. Courtney Kimball’s husband, Trent, is president/CEO of the San Antonio-based Texas Armoring Corporation. He was looking for a place to build a new manufacturing facility and saw an opportunity to help the people in a place he grew to love while serving a mission for his church as a young adult.
"With the caravans and the wave of immigration to the states, we wanted to find a way to help our southern neighbors by creating jobs so they could stay in their home country, Courtney Kimball said. “We just wanted to help with more than handouts.”
Trent could have traveled back and forth between San Pedro Sula and San Antonio, but in September of 2017, the Kimballs decided to move to Honduras with six of their nine kids, who ranged in age from two to 15.
“I cried daily for our first six months here,” Kimball said.
She missed family members, friends and her life in San Antonio and felt isolated in a country with a language that she didn’t speak and worried often about the safety of her family in a city known for its violent reputation.
For months, Kimball was apprehensive about venturing out of her secure, high-rise apartment without her husband.
Her windows offered a beautiful view of the tree-covered mountains, but she often looked below the treetops at the shanties and wondered about the people living in them.
“I felt like I had every excuse not to go (to those areas) especially because of safety issues.,” Kimball said.
As the months passed and her Spanish improved, she felt drawn to get out of her comfort zone -- way out of her comfort zone.
She went into the city’s poorest areas and met some women who would become some of her closest friends.
“These ladies are funny, smart, caring, and incredibly thoughtful. They would do anything for their children and I could relate,” Kimball said.
She knew she wanted to help them in any way she could. She often brought them clothing and other items from friends back in the U.S.
But what they really needed was a way to earn money.
“Most of these women do not have any sort of income. It’s day-to-day survival of trying to grow, trade or find ways to feed their families,” Kimball said. “Many of them had children at a very young age and are unable to take even menial jobs, which are few and far between for women of their socio-economic background.”
One Common Thread
Kimball got the idea to start One Common Thread after a 12-year-old girl asked her if she knew of a way that she could earn $5.
“At the time, I was busily making a wedding quilt by hand for my oldest daughter, The quilt I was making would take 2,000 hexagons. I offered to pay her $10 to cut out 500 hexagons.”
It’s a task that would have taken Kimball a couple of weeks to accomplish, but her young friend completed the work in less than a week.
“She was so fast, good and efficient. I paid her double and she was thrilled,” Kimball said.
The next day, the girl’s mom called asking for the same opportunity. Then, more women started asking about it. Suddenly, she had a workforce of eager women that she didn’t want to let down.
“That’s when I called my sister in Utah and asked if she could help me market quilt kits to other hexagon quilters like me,” Kimball said.
For the first six months, Kimball and her sister covered the weekly payroll. Once they had enough inventory, they put the products online.
“I have taught the women how to make several different hexi creations, such as kits, wall hangings, table runners, quilts and baby quilts. Each of these items is set at a price decided on between the women and me. That way, when they decide what they want to sew they know exactly how much I will buy it from them. That guarantees they will get the agreed-upon price,” Kimball said.
By selling the products online, they’re able to get more money than they would by selling the products on the streets of San Pedro Sula. Kimball said 100% of the profits go back to the women.
The women have taken a course on starting a business and learned about taxes and shipping costs.
Kimball requires them to open a bank account to keep their money safe.
“If I just hand a woman $200 cash, she is susceptible to being robbed or killed,” Kimball said.
After nearly three years in Honduras, the Kimballs are planning to return to San Antonio this year, but her work will continue.
Hope for the future
Kimball and her sister are working to turn One Common Thread into a nonprofit organization, and they hope it will keep growing to help provide jobs for many other women.
Kimball calls her time in Honduras “life-changing.” She recognizes the growth it sparked in her own family and wants her new friends there to recognize their potential.
“I would love to see these women’s children go to high school and then maybe get a trade school certificate or even a college degree. I would love for them to be a part of the growth of the business and help other women help themselves,” she said.