Steve and Sandy Jacoby manage Sheep Not Goats, a registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization that they formed in 2013 with the goal of improving the lives of poor people in Nicaragua, the poorest country in Latin America.
2018 has been a difficult year for the people of Nicaragua. Peaceful demonstrations in April turned deadly, and within a few months government-sponsored groups had killed over 500 of their fellow citizens. Tourism ceased immediately, and almost all mission trips (an important part of the Nicaraguan economy) ceased and are just now picking up again. All this has taken a heavy toll on the economy and thousands of Nicaraguans have left the country to find work elsewhere or simply to escape the repression, separating families and increasing the vulnerability of just about everyone. As 2018 has just come to a close, we want to share what we’ve been up to recently and offer thanks to God and to those who have provided financial support and encouragement this past year.
It is always a challenge to come up with an idea that can actually improve the lives of families living in poverty. It’s even more challenging to come up with an initiative that is sustainable and reproducible with reasonable investment, yet that is exactly what God brought to us in January of 2018. It all began in July and October of the prior year when we had our first two grandchildren. I (Sandy) knitted a unique “sheep blanket”for each of them, hoping it would be their “security blanket,” something perfect for the crib, car seat, stroller, and eventually for them to carry around without tripping over it. After some friends of our daughters saw the blankets, they began asking if I would be willing to knit one for their babies… and that was the genesis of Sheep Dreamzzz. We took the idea back to Nicaragua where I recruited and trained women to make the blankets. One year later, Sheep Not Goats employs 23 women who make high-quality blankets and are paid for each one they produce.
Nicaragua is the poorest country in Latin America, and due to political unrest and violence in 2018, the economy is in much worse shape than it was just one year age. On average, a woman has her first child at 19 years of age (the lowest in Latin America), and in 40% of Nicaraguan households she is the main provider. With fewer and fewer jobs available, it has been exciting to see the women who knit on our farm empowered to care for their families through steady employment. These women include single mothers, widows, and women with husbands who are unemployed. In addition to feeding their families, some have been able to improve their living conditions.
The knitters come to our home Monday through Friday for three hours a day to make Sheep Dreamzzz baby blankets, which we later bring to the US. The blankets are mostly sold through our website and also on Etsy. Every time we travel to Nicaragua, we bring hundreds of skeins of yarn. On the return trip we carry blankets. The days of bringing down favorite foods and conveniences are long gone! It’s now all yarn and blankets.
Because costs are steady and adding more women or locations only requires an up-front investment in on-site training, the Sheep Dreamzzz ministry is both sustainable and reproducible (as long as we are able to sell blankets). For this reason, we hope to add more locations with more knitters. Recently we visited Bogota, Colombia, and currently 10 women are practicing there so they can earn income in the near future. We are in conversations about adding Honduras and are always open to whatever doors God will open. Donations are accepted on the Sheep Not Goats website to help with the expansion as well as costs that are not specific to a blanket, such as knitting needles and promotion via social media. And of course each purchase not only provides a luxuriously soft baby blanket, but also provides a woman in the developing world with desperately needed income as well as the satisfaction and healthy pride of caring for her family through the work of her own hands.
Since February there has been a weekly breakfast outreach for the elderly. Partnering with others in the community, we feed approximately 20 elderly people a nutritious meal each week. Sheep Not Goats pays for the food and triciclo rides for those who can’t make it to the breakfast location on foot(although many do). These breakfasts take place every Thursday, whether we are in Nicaragua or not.
During the height of unrest and roadblocks which kept food from reaching stores, SNG raised funds to purchase and distribute food for families in Managua and Malpaisillo. Helpers in both cities received funds, shopped for food basics, packaged it, and distributed it to people who really needed it. This and the breakfasts for the elderly described above are supported via the ‘Family Food Support’ donation category on the website.
We are sometimes asked about advice for others that have a heart to help abroad but are unsure where to begin, so we came up with the following thoughts:
- Read books about helping the poor and study the scriptures (OT and NT) on the topic
- Begin doing things on your own where God has planted you today
- Get and keep your personal finances in order. Mountains of debt make one a slave to a first-world income and drastically reduce one’s ability to step out on faith in this area.
- Try to spend a month abroad in a place where there are great needs. Connect with the church there to find members who are serving regularly with whom you can work and possibly stay. All of our best ideas came after we left the US and were living in Nicaragua. You really can’t figure it all out up-front!
- Choose a language to learn and get started with it. If you already know it, learn it better.
- Get advice and ideas from the books and from people who have experience. We would be happy to help!