‘A Divine Shape’

Costa Rican mother begins family business turning used tires into art

August 29, 2022 | Be Inspired

Each year, the world discards billions of old tires.

If not recycled appropriately, used tires can end up in landfills, taking up vast amounts of valuable space due to their hollow, rounded shapes and potentially causing irreparable harm to the environment with their tough and durable construction.

People call them “end-of-life” tires. They are worn, maybe damaged, tires that have fulfilled the purpose for which they were originally created. Most people looking at used tires in a heap see them for what they appear to be — useless.

But not Martha of Costa Rica. When Martha sees used tires, she sees the potential to mold them into “a divine shape.”

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Martha, mother of sponsored child Kathia, works from her family’s home in Costa Rica to shape old used tires into flowerpots or planters that she sells in her community or via social media.

rising from thorns and sun


When Martha was a little girl, she dreamed of learning how to embroider and paint on fabric. Having grown up in a rural and mountainous area of Costa Rica, Martha never got the chance to go to school, but instead, worked with her parents on a farm, harvesting oranges, yucca and pineapples.

She calls harvesting pineapples the hardest job she ever had because of the “thorns and sun [lack of shade],” but she loved working in the fields and the female friendships she made under the hot sun.

Now at 38 and a mother of four, including Unbound sponsored youth Kathia, Martha lives in a semi-urban area and had to find other, more creative ways to help support her family along with her husband Victor, a day laborer. For a time, she made and sold snacks to students and administrators at a nearby school, but when the schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the family was at a loss for how to make ends meet.

Two months into the pandemic, Martha’s friend shared some crafting videos with Martha via WhatsApp, and she realized her family had many of the things they needed to begin improving their situation.

“We had some bushes in some tires,” Martha said. “We took the five tires we had, we [emptied] them, we painted them. I post them on WhatsApp … on Facebook, and I go where the neighbors can see what we have.”

Together, the family worked to turn the old tires into colorful pots, or planters, that resembled open flower petals. Kathia lays the artwork and outlines the petals, while Victor cuts the shape out of the rubber. Kathia and Martha then paint designs along the rubber, customized to any client’s request.

Now, Martha’s tire art business provides her family with more income than what she could previously make working in the fields and selling snacks daily at the school.

Photo 1: Martha’s daughter, 17-year-old Kathia, helps draw the designs that adorn the tire planters. Kathia has been sponsored through Unbound for almost 15 years and dreams of becoming a veterinarian one day.

Photo 2: Martha (foreground) and Kathia paint used tires. The family received funding from Unbound to support their business, and they used the funds to purchase tools to cut the tire rubber. The business has done so well that the family now works by order only and sells the tire planters for just over $12 per planter.

Photo 3: The family’s home is in a semi-urban area. Since being a part of the Unbound community, sponsorship support and additional funds from Unbound have helped the family pay for their home and health care costs for one of the other children. “Unbound to me, they are an angel, an angel that the Lord has put in my life,” Martha said.

used tires as art begets ever-expanding dream


Unbound believes that families facing barriers to poverty hold the answer to improving their situations. To this end, Unbound works with the families of children to help them acquire and use skills to increase the family income. More than 35,000 families have started a small business or established a livelihood while participating in the Unbound sponsorship program.

In December 2021, Martha’s family received assistance from Unbound through a pilot program called Small Business Accelerator, which is meant to help entrepreneurs scale their business by providing a small infusion of capital. Martha used this funding to purchase tools to expand her tire art business.

Martha sources damaged tires at car repair shops, workshops and at any other locations where old tires have been thrown out as waste.

“I feel so happy that I fix something that … was useless,” Martha said. “Something that was already destroyed and according to them was useless, I come and make a pot.

“Look at the beautiful shape it is taking … the tire is taking a divine shape. … I am giving life to something that was no longer useful.”

Customers travel many miles to purchase the family’s custom artwork, with one customer taking as many as seven pieces during one visit. To scale up her business, Martha hopes to build a dedicated workshop in her home and has plans to eventually make animal figures out of the old tires, shapes such as chickens, toucans and geese, which the family can sell for a higher price than the planters.

Creating the planters from home means that Martha can be more present for her children, and she dreams of nothing more than seeing them complete their studies and become professionals. Martha herself has finally gotten the chance to attend school, too, and recently passed the first grade.

“I [had] to fight to keep going forward,” Martha said. “I gave myself the courage and the strength that at the time, I felt like I [couldn’t do it], but look, here I am. Today, I am my own boss.”

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Martha (right) with sponsored child Kathia, has been able to accomplish many of her dreams because of her ornamental tire business, including getting to work with art and going to school for the first time. Her dream now is to watch her children become professionals and continue expanding the family business.

Look at the beautiful shape it is taking … the tire is taking a divine shape. … I am giving life to something that was no longer useful.

— Martha, Mother of Sponsored Youth in Costa Rica


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