ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Hammocks with a Purpose

Updated on February 9, 2012
One of Antonio's supporters created the image for the new cafe -- CG
One of Antonio's supporters created the image for the new cafe -- CG | Source

It's easy to think, when you first walk into Tio Antonio's hammock shop in Granada, Nicaragua, that it's just one more tourist-oriented tienda. More interesting than most, of course: the hammocks are actually being made here, by young men and women, and you can watch them create a high-quality hammock from skeins of colorful cotton yarn. Many visitors end up buying hammocks in the nearby town of Masaya, where they're both cheaper and more varied...but plenty buy them here (from about US$30 - $60), once they look around and realize that the store's unique.

Those young workers, fingers moving deftly across the hammock jig, wrapping red yarn here, tying green yarn there, almost faster than the eye can follow? They're deaf, or mute, or both, or mentally handicapped in some way; others are blind, sitting at tables in the back room, sewing or cutting or carding or otherwise preparing hammock components. Two young men sit behind a desk in the public area, to answer questions and direct visitors; they seem able to use all five senses, but you can't quite tell. And that illustrates a major theme here – that you can't judge a book by its cover, that superficial impressions can mask ordinary, and extraordinary, depths. You don't have to be “perfect” to contribute to the world...and we're all “imperfect” in some way.

Tio Antonio is Antonio Prieto, a chef who moved from Madrid to Costa Rica in 2006 to manage a hotel. But he discovered, after a few months, he didn't like Costa Rica much...and while traveling north into Nicaragua, found a country mas simpatico. One stormy day, driving to Antigua, Guatemala, to check out business opportunities, he ran his car into a ditch near a village called Quezalguaque, and a local family offered him shelter. One night turned into two, three, four – thirty-seven, ultimately, as Antonio found, to his surprise, a new family (only later did he learn the storm was a hurricane, and that it killed more than 800 people in Guatemala). And more: the oldest child, 13-year-old Cano, was deaf, and mute...and Antonio wondered whether he could return some of the hospitality he'd received. He could: Antonio asked a doctor to examine Jorge, and a few weeks later, largely through funds raised by friends in Spain, the boy was fitted with special hearing aids. Within months Cano's ululations had become recognizable speech, and improve to this day...and his story, the inspiration for Tio Antonio's Hammocks. Many original donors continue to support the over-arching non-profit, Tio Antonio Centro Social, where today Cano does a lot of the heavy lifting – literally, as he's fuerte, working out at a gym almost every day.

When we meet Antonio – “we” being me and Lloyd Merino, an intern at my Spanish-language school here, Casa Xalteva – he tries to deflect attention away from himself. Why? Because journalists and other visitors, when encountering “do-good” organizations, often focus on the the “rescuers,” with whom they often identify, rather than the people being served. But anyone serious about non-profit work knows problems are solved at their roots, by helping people help themselves...and that the majority of seemingly “imperfect” people simply need the opportunity to shine their individual light. Starting with Cano, Antonio realized that for the price of a fancy dinner in Costa Rica, he could help a child find a path to a better life, and greater independence, and a measure of equality. Yes, I may be “reading in” some of the above – even with Lloyd's excellent translation, I couldn't understand some of Antonio's points, in both Spanish and English...but in any case, the tienda speaks for itself. It stands as an alternative to what Antonio calls “gift culture,” in which donors do “good things” for the wrong reasons, or to the wrong effect – to feel better about themselves rather than solve on-the-ground problems permanenty, or in ways that create dependency among recipients rather than self-reliance.

Antonio lives upstairs in this large, old, classic colonial building near the center of Granada. Early on, he rented rooms to tourists, but they proved more trouble than they were worth (noise, alcohol, illegal activities), and Antonio derived far more satisfaction from giving a few "difficult" kids a place to sleep...and eventually, to work. He admits, sheepishly, he's adopted eight or nine children – he clearly can't help himself – and every week new children show up (sometimes through the medical clinic held at Antonio's home on Mondays). The hammock shop, in many ways, is only the tip of the iceberg, because while the work is important both financially and developmentally, Antonio insists his young workers go to school as well...and along the way, learn to manage their finances, run their own lives, and – of course – become models for other kids. Three of his charges will graduate from high school this year.

Antonio's newest project is Café de las Sonrisas, a small restaurant that will open behind the hammock shop in mid-February, and will be almost completely run by his differently-abled workers. (At last count, there were around 30 full- and part-time workers.) The cafe will be, he says, the first such restaurant in Latin America, and the fourth on the planet, and an indirect result of his inability to get other local restaurants to hire “his kids.” Antonio sees the cafe, like the other arms of his non-profit, as “investing in people,” and hopes up-close-and-personal contact with his employees will demonstrate to cafe customers, and others, that the disabled aren't so disabled after all.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)