By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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A community center — painted the color of violets — opened for seminars and business development for the women of rural Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state.
The center, in the city of San Cristobal de las Casas, is owned by the Mujeres de Maiz sewing cooperative, so now the members are free from dependence on a landlord.
The center, supported by Sequim's Mujeres de Maiz Opportunity Foundation, is only one of the accomplishments to be celebrated Saturday night with a Mexican-style dinner: a vegetarian meal alongside a marketplace of goods from two continents.
Day of the Dead benefit
This is the Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, dinner and auction to benefit the foundation.
Since its beginning, the event has marked the Day of the Dead, Mexico's occasion for remembering ancestors and loved ones who have died.
There are differences this year: The gathering is in a new location, and it has two musical auctioneers.
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Masonic Hall, 700 S. Fifth Ave. at Pine Street in Sequim, and after the meal and silent auction, married musicians Cort and Kia Armstrong will step up.
Guitarist Cort and bassist Kia will steer the live auction of just five items, including a handmade drum from Chiapas and a Mexican skirt with three-dimensional embroidered flowers.
Tickets are $20 at the door only, to include the multicourse Mexican meal.
Molly Rivard of Port Angeles works with her fellow Mujeres de Maiz board member Steve Gilchrist to plan, cook and serve the feast at the Masonic Hall, and for the first time this year, beer and wine will be available at the no-host bar.
Judith Pasco, then a Sequim High School Spanish teacher, established Mujeres as a nonprofit in January 2006, hoping to raise money for a scholarship to be awarded to a young woman in rural Chiapas.
She named the foundation Mujeres de Maiz — women of corn — in honor of the sewing cooperative and Mexico's basic form of sustenance.
With the help of supporters nearby and far-flung, Mujeres now funds scholarships for 17 secondary-school and college students.
The organization also has contributed to children's programs in rural Chiapas, computers for the community center and eye examinations and glasses for the rural women.
The members of the Mujeres foundation seek to work in partnership with these women as they build up their own communities.
To sharpen her point, Pasco quotes Melinda Gates, who said, “When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else.”
The Mujeres foundation holds several fundraisers, including a Mexican breakfast in March, a garage sale and a “Men with Guitars” concert in May.
But Saturday's Dia de los Muertos dinner and auction constitute the biggest event.
Silent auction items
Also new this year are auction items Pasco brought home from Turkey. An avid traveler and handicrafts collector, she's assembled 85 silent auction items this time around.
With help, of course. Pasco's husband, Bob, contributed an auction item: home-baked and delivered bread, and the highest bidder gets to choose what kind.
He bakes the traditional way, not with a bread machine, Pasco noted.
Also up for bid are beginning knitting lessons, handmade Mexican clothing, a Turkish rug and carpet bag, and a journal-making class with Sequim artist Martha Rudersdorf.
Rudersdorf is a longtime Mujeres board member, serving with Rivard, Gilchrist, Sandy Reed, Cathy Van Ruhan and Linda Finch.
Pasco's memoir, Somewhere for My Soul to Go: A Place, A Cause, A Legacy, will be available at the dinner for $18.
In it, she tells the story of how she, with the support of friends in the United States and Mexico, conceived and built the Mujeres foundation.
“Sometimes, I can't believe it,” Pasco said.
Mujeres has received a top rating from www.GreatNonprofits.org and is featured for the fifth consecutive year in the Alternative Gifts International catalog (www.AlternativeGifts.org).
The Sequim Sunrise Rotary Club and Trinity Methodist Church have supported the foundation, while Sequim's Soroptimists, contributors for years, keep members updated on Mujeres in their newsletter, the Soroptiscoop.
Much more information about the foundation's activities can be found at www.MujeresdeMaizOF.org; by writing to Mujeres at P.O. Box 1954, Sequim, WA 98382; or by phoning 360-683-8979.
Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at email@example.com.