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HemlaYou've got to have collateral (and teeth)

An active member of the Immigrant Women's Association of Manitoba, Helma Rogge Rehders was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1942. She took up painting and drawing seriously when she spent time in Africa in the 70s. Helma is mother to three adult children and now lives in Winnipeg Beach where she is a founding member of the Winnipeg Beach Arts and Culture Cooperative.

Helma says:

I thought myself pretty well off at 49 years of age. I had a job in the arts as a director of programs. It paid well, I liked it, and then the bottom fell out of funding to special interest agencies in the 90s. Suddenly I was out of a job.

I tried to find another job in the arts but I could not succeed in crossing over into different disciplines. I attended a retraining course and finally landed a part time job as a telemarketer. It had not taken me long to understand that I needed to create two different CVs and act two different roles, one for the employment market and one as the artist I was.

I tapped into the University Pension at 55 years of age from my divorce. I knew I could not last as a telemarketer for a long time as it was mindless and demeaning and I really didn't have my life before me, it was behind me, although I always felt that I will live well into my 80s. My mortgage was impossible to sustain so I reduced my housing costs and moved out to the country with my partner into an old cottage that needed upgrading. Those were fabulous years - I was even awarded a Manitoba Arts Council Grant in 1996.

Helma's artNow my life is art and art is life. It barely pays the bills but so what. During the summer months I open a little art gallery in my studio and enjoy tourists and art lovers who see my sign on the highway and turn in out of curiosity. The revenue has been covering my art costs. It's fun and I get to stay at home by the creek and at the lake.

The only thing that must never happen to us is to get sick or have to have to go to the dentist. The sick part we've managed rather well - but there is dental work to be done but cannot be done.

Do you have any idea how much bridges and caps are? A bridge is $1,800 today, how much next year? One cap is $600-800. I have three front teeth capped and two bridges. This was done by my very good dentist when I was younger. At that time I thought the good times would go on forever. If I add up what needs to be done the total is $5,400. That is not taking into consideration possible cavities and other work to be done on old teeth. I am wearing my 12 year old bridges and caps, God forbid they give out on me any day.

Should my caps break and my bridges, I'll have to pay for the rest of my life to the dentist. I keep praying - and I watch what I bite into. I hope I can last for awhile, because should it happen while I work as a banquet server I'll lose money not working because no way will they let me come in without teeth.

Can we save up before we do the dental work? Well, my partner is working on rebuilding a cottage into a new home, which will be for sale when it is finished. We expect a profit although we mortgaged both our home and the new house. This way he has work and is doing something worthwhile and what he enjoys. You could call this project our insurance for an income. Some of our friends call this 'buying ourselves a job by mortgaging ourselves'.

Helma's artThe moral of the story is, aging is not for sissies. My intuition told me that I will have to make my life here in such a way that I never miss what I can't afford like travelling, eating out, giving gifts to my children, buy entertainment, new clothes, etc. My partner and I are definitely not good for the economy except for sure for the dental lab and dentist. Are we between a rock and a hard place? Yes, and we know it. But we are positive, affirmative, resilient and always convinced when the time comes the money will come.

On moving to the country I switched my banking to the local credit union. In all my dealings with personnel I felt confident and always felt that my business counted, that they were very much there to keep my business a going concern within the community. Women seem to be very successful entrepreneurs in Manitoba and in the world for that matter as has been proven in developing countries when credit circles were established for women. Being self-employed on the bottom wrung means just being in debt to the credit union which in turn facilitates development at the local level.

I guess you could say you've got to have collateral (and teeth) to make it in this world!

10 years later
Looking back we had a good run while working hard on our home, my career and carpentry work. As Canada came out of one recession into some years of fantastic spending on consumer goods that included my artwork. Then came the collapse of the banking system. The sudden serious illness of my partner meant loss of income on his part and loss of income for on my part while he was in hospital. We were blessed with CPP, OAS and the GIS and a roof over our heads. I have gone back to waiting on tables to make just enough to pay down a loan. The Kidney Foundation pays for the home dialysis. I am healthy and our income is so low that we benefit from how our incomce tax is calculated. Soon I will turn 69. I continue to practice my creativity in poetry and paintings. Our income goes around in our community, just what money should do: property tax, maintenance of house and car, gas, groceries, second hand clothes (if really needed) and once in a while paying for a movie, concert, a new pair of socks, shoes and long underwear.

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