Guatemala in Crisis
Lauren Vaske - Executive Director - Sharing the Dream
There’s so much going on here in Guatemala right now, and I’m told very little is being reported in the U.S. news. Since October 2, Guatemala has been paralyzed by 24/7 protests and roadblocks. The protesters are demanding the resignation of the Attorney General and two other government officials, who have been key figures in attempting to invalidate recent election results and keep the president- elect and anti-corruption candidate, Bernardo Arevalo, from taking office in January.
I arrived in Guatemala at the end of September and have been living through the difficult situation along with the Guatemalan people. I want to share what it feels like to be here right now. In addition to roadblocks and protests affecting the rest of the country, Panajachel, the town I’m based in, has additional restrictions. Businesses are only allowed to be open from 6am-10am, and all routes in or out of Panajachel are closed. We are effectively cut off from the rest of the world. Last weekend saw us with food scarcity and panic in the market. Luckily, food supplies have somewhat normalized, but choices are limited, meat is almost non-existent, and prices are sky-high. The large grocery stores have stopped opening, because they have nothing left to sell. I find it exhausting to spend so much time thinking about survival. But as hard as I find this situation, I know that it’s 10 times worse for the local people.
With multiple strategic points blocked for two full weeks, it's a struggle to get necessary supplies around the country. The price of food has more than tripled, and food supplies are scarce in many places. If you struggle to survive day to day and have just spent your entire week’s grocery budget on a day of food, what do you do? You likely don’t have any savings, and your only option is to go hungry.
This is a situation facing several of Sharing the Dream’s communities. In Chichicastenango, the town is entirely closed for 23 hours of the day. School has been canceled, and even with virtual tutoring sessions, our scholarship students are once again falling behind academically. I’m worried about the impact this will have on their future success.
With the high food prices in Santiago Atitlan, our elders are unable to afford food apart from the Elder Center meals. Last Friday, we ran out of propane gas halfway through cooking lunch for the elders. There was no propane in the area, and we had to improvise a wood fire to finish lunch and give the elders masa to make tortillas at home. Without a way to cook, our only option was to send the elders home with staple foods. Not doing anything is not an option. I’m worried the elders could literally starve to death.
Our artisans in Solola and Chichicastenango are required by their town councils to take their turn at the protests and must pay the equivalent of almost a full week's wages if they are unable. There is no meat, chicken, or eggs available in these areas, and what little food is available is almost 5-6 times higher priced than normal. These are areas with little economic resources, and the pinch has made the situation there extremely difficult.
October is a busy month for our Artisan Development team, with weekly shipments of products to the US for fall and Holiday sales. Almost all of our artisan groups have pending product orders, but the roadblocks make it impossible to turn the product in so that they can get paid. Even if we could get the product, we can't get it out of the country. Unfortunately, we likely won’t get this product in time for several important events, but canceling orders is not an option. The artisans need our support through these product orders, because without the orders, they have no way to survive.
I was already planning to send out a fundraising appeal this month to ask for your support in keeping our programs running. This crisis makes your gifts more important than ever as we continue to feed the Elders, purchase items from our artisan partners, and sponsor students.
Please make a gift today to provide that much needed support and help our friends make it through this crisis.
With gratitude for your generosity,
Friends of Sharing the Dream in Guatemala
Meet the master weavers who make your favorite scarves and table linens!
Located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala sits the agricultural community of Chua Cruz, home to our partner weaving group La Estrella. These talented artisans are master weavers and use the traditional backstrap loom to make beautiful scarves, placemats, and table runners.
Sharing the Dream has been working with La Estrella for 20 years. The group was originally formed so that the weavers could afford to send their children to school. The women didn't have an income, so they had no way to be able to pay for school supplies and tuition. They decided to work together to sell their weavings and try to find new clients.
When La Estrella was founded, there were 20 members. Over the years, members slowly left until the most dedicated weavers remained. Today, La Estrella is made up of 8 women, including a new generation of weavers. With the product orders that they receive from Sharing the Dream in Guatemala, these 8 women are able to provide for their families.
La Estrella is one of our longest partnerships with an artisan group, and the threads run deep. Over the years, La Estrella has received multiple workshops as part of our Artisan Development program, including quality control, color combination, and new weaving techniques. The skills they've learned in the workshops help the artisans to create unique, high quality products.
You can support artisans like the master weavers of La Estrella by making a donation to our Artisan Development program or purchasing a product from Sharing the Dream. Your purchase provides an income for the artisan who made the product, and as a non-profit, we use the profits from product sales to help support our programs in Guatemala.
Meet the artisan group that makes your favorite cooking utensil!
Spread across northernmost department of Guatemala are the artisans of the Spoon Makers of Peten. These artisans live and work in remote communities. By day, they are trained health promoters, providing basic care in villages where the nearest clinic is hours away. By night, the artisans are spoon makers, carving unique wooden products by hand. The artisans volunteer as health promoters, and the spoons provide an income. In addition to providing fair wages for the artisans, the group donates 25% of their sales back to their medical project to purchase medicine and supplies.
These unique products are made entirely by hand without the use of power tools. First, the artisan traces out the design on a piece of wood. The wood is purchased as cast-offs from local carpenters so that no trees are cut down.
After the outline is traced, the artisan scoops out the bowl before using a machete to get it down to the rough outline.
Then, it gets carved by hand. The spoon is sanded three times with different grades of sandpaper. Finally, it receives a beeswax finish, making it food safe.
These unique products can be purchased in our two brick and mortar retail locations, online and wholesale to other retailers.
Interested in learning more about wholesale pricing? Email us at email@example.com
Last year, Sharing the Dream sponsored a successful reforestation project in Guatemala. We partnered with Bio-Itzá, a Guatemalan NGO that manages a tropical forest reserve in northern Guatemala. The Bio-Itzá forest reserve provides the vine used to make Maya Cross jewelry carried by our stores. This sustainable use of the forest provides income for local indigenous artisans and their community.
Like other tropical forests around the world, the Bio-Itzá forest reserve is under stress. Illegal poaching of valuable mahogany trees together with fires spreading from ever-expanding agricultural lands surrounding the reserve are taking a toll. In response to these concerns, we launched a fund-drive last year gathering donations as well as earmarking a portion of our Maya Cross jewelry sales for the project. Following a successful campaign, the much-needed funds were sent to Bio-Itzá and used to plant thousands of seedling trees in the forest reserve in November. This large effort was assisted by personnel provided by the Guatemalan Ministry of the Environment, the Military Reserves, and the local municipality of San José.
Once established, the young trees in the Bio-Itzá forest reserve will grow quickly in the tropical climate. The growing trees will store carbon, removed from the atmosphere, helping combat climate change. They will provide critical habitat for the myriad of plant and animal species living in the tropical forests including iconic species like the jaguar, howler monkey and scarlet macaw. The forests will also help sustain the Maya Cross vine which depends on large tropical trees for survival.
The connection between Bio-Itzá and Sharing the Dream was established by Dr. Craig Spencer, recently retired professor of Biology at Augustana University. Craig began teaching a tropical ecology course in Guatemala in 2006, working with Bio-Itzá and their forest reserve. Over the years, he helped develop the Maya Cross jewelry project. After trying to sell the jewelry out of his Augustana office he eventually connected with Diane Nesselhuf, and the rest is history! Craig currently serves on the Board of Directors of Sharing the Dream and enjoys volunteering in the Sioux Falls store.
You can support this important effort and help to reforest the Bio- Itzá forest by purchasing a wood item during the month of April, by purchasing a Maya Cross product all year long, or by making a donation to the reforestation efforts. You can also purchase the Maya Cross products wholesale. To order or learn more, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
A New Scholarship Program Activity
At Sharing the Dream, we believe in sustainable solutions. We believe that in order for a project or program to be sustainable, participants must be involved and have a say in what we do. We are continually getting feedback from our program participants and designing programs, projects, and activities based on that feedback. The School for Parents is our newest Scholarship Program activity.
Last year, we conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the Scholarship Program to ensure that we are making the largest possible impact. We interviewed scholarship students, parents, teachers, and community leaders for their feedback. One thing we kept hearing was a desire for parents to be more involved in their children's education. The majority of the scholarship students' parents didn't have the opportunity to go to school for longer than a few years, and they didn't feel comfortable navigating the school system. They wanted to learn how to better support their children in their schooling and help them to be successful. The School for Parents grew out of that expressed desire.
The School for Parents are monthly workshops for the parents of our scholarship students aimed at helping parents to better support their children at school. The interactive workshops are held round table discussion style, and parents are encouraged to participate and share advice with one another. The workshops are taught by local experts, such as psychologists and teachers, and the topics are chosen by the parents.
July was our first ever School for Parents workshop. Last month's topic was "Self-esteem: Getting to know yourself and your children". The workshop was given by a psychologist from our partner organization, La Puerta Abierta. The participants learned what self-esteem is, how to help their children to develop good self-esteem, and how self-esteem affects children at school.
This month's School for Parents topic was "Emotional Support". To start the workshop off, the participants played an ice-breaker game to get to know one another. Then, they played a game about emotions and discussed the emotions that children oftentimes experience at school, such as happiness, fear, sadness, and anger. Parents learned ways that they can support their children through these different emotions and how to identify a larger problem, such as depression or anxiety. Throughout the activity, the parents were able to ask questions, share their experiences, and support one another.
Help us to continue to provide these tools to the parents. For only $50, you can sponsor a School for Parents workshop and help parents in Guatemala to better support their children.
A letter and update from Founder and US Director, Diane Nesselhuf
Many days I feel like my life is upside down. Topsy Turvy….. out of control. I used to enjoy watching the news in the morning but now I don’t want to hear about another crisis. How do I take control of my life? I need to take my own advice that as a counselor I have given to many students, as well as to my own kids. Chunk it off. Don’t be overwhelmed. Do a little at a time and soon hopefully the big chunk will be done.
Good advice. Now to just do it. Now to do it for Sharing the Dream. We have opened both of our stores but only for limited days and hours. As most of our volunteers are older retired folks, we are missing many of them right now so we can’t have the store opened as much. We are practicing a lot of safety measures in our stores. Hand sanitizer when customers enter and leave the store, encouraging wearing a mask, sanitizing surfaces after each customer, and using social distancing. This is all great, but we still need customers. If you are in the Sioux Falls or Vermillion area, please stop by one of our stores. We have a nice safe space for you to shop. We are open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
We are adding items to our online store and we appreciate everyone who has bought products. This has been a big help. Please remember our online shop when it comes to buying gifts. We will be adding more wood items and mugs soon.
We really appreciate the donations that have been coming in to help us survive right now. We don’t take any donation for granted, and we are so grateful for your support. Thanks to your donations, we have been able to continue delivering food to the elders so that they can stay safely at home and not be hungry, provide work to more than 100 artisans so that they can feed their families, and continue to employ our seven Guatemalan staff members.
Life in Guatemala is at a standstill for many people. The virus has spread in most of the communities and there are still many restrictions. Most people cannot leave their communities. We are still able to have our staff working and we are able to provide work for many of our artisans. Just this week we did a Zoom call to work on some new fabrics. Thank goodness for the internet. We are chunking things off down there little by little and working with our artisans to support themselves.
As a retired educator, I always appreciated being recognized by students or parents. A good way to do that for teachers who have helped you out this year, teachers you know who are retiring, and for the mothers and fathers who for the last three months have been teachers, please consider giving a donation to support tutoring sessions for the scholarship students. If you haven’t gotten a Father’s Day gift yet, this makes a great gift for the father in your life. Include your email and a note that it’s a gift along with your donation, and we will send you a printable card so that you can recognize that special person. For just $15, you can sponsor a full day of virtual tutoring sessions or for $75 you can sponsor an entire week of virtual tutoring sessions. Any amount makes a difference. These virtual tutoring sessions are so important for students in Guatemala so that they don’t fall behind in school during these difficult times.
Please be safe. Wear a mask and keep that physical distance. Thank you again for all the support.
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala
A letter and update from our Founder and US Director, Diane Nesselhuf
Most of us have choices. This week, I chose to have my grandkids come and visit. They are 7 and 3. As they get older they will have activities and more friends and might not want to spend this time with Grandma. I have decided that I will be very careful in my life. I won’t go to a place where there are crowds; I will wear my mask when I go out in public, and I will keep on sanitizing. I won’t, however, be fearful. I won’t give up seeing people who make my heart happy.
As I think about these choices that many of us have, I think about our friends in Guatemala. I have been in correspondence with many NGO’s (non-government organizations) that are there. Many of these groups are doing food distributions. This is really important. Guatemala has had a national lock down several times and may have one coming up for 15 days. In a country where so many people live in poverty, this will be devastating for many families. Many of these families have no choice except to ask for food. I think the artisans we work with in many communities do have choices. They have choices, because we are offering them work.
Our philosophy at Sharing the Dream is to give work, not handouts, but in this time of turmoil and starvation what do we do? It would be easy to start handing out food bags. Is this the right thing for us? This question has been on our minds for weeks. This past week, the Guatemalan staff asked if we should start distributing food, as so many people are hungry. It would be so easy to do this.
It is hard to decide, so we stepped back and did some research. We contacted several friends in communities where we have programs. We learned that there is a lot of food distribution going on, and that like any tragedy, most of the resources come immediately. What we need to do for long-term sustainability for families is to keep on giving people work. Through the generous donations we have received, we have been able to do just that. It is difficult for our Guatemalan staff to get the orders and money to the artisans, but they have been working very hard to do it. We have been able to purchase from eight groups. This week, we will have a shipment come up that includes ceramic mugs, jewelry, and scarves. These orders were all done during the past several weeks. People are eager for work.
I think we may have to reevaluate what we are doing every week. This week, the staff took food to our elders again. We have asked them to look at the elders’ extended families to see how they are doing and if they are able to get food. We are also looking at our scholarship students’ families. In Guatemala, like in many places, when the food first comes it goes to people who know how to work the system and the people who really need it don’t receive it. There may come a time when most of the other organizations that do food distributions leave and we may have to step up. We will be there then. We will do it with thought and with preparation, but for now we will stick to our philosophy of giving work.
Sharing the Dream is in these communities permanently, and we don’t want to be seen as the hand out organization. We want the local people to know that we believe in them and we expect accountability. That may be in the form of a good artisan product or our scholarship students doing their volunteer work. We want people to move forward, and I think the best way to do that is to believe they have worth and merit and can sustain their families.
We can’t deviate from our mission, which is to create long term sustainability. This is really hard now. We are so thankful for all of you who have donated and bought items in our online store. We could not do this without you. Because of all of your help, we are able to stick with our mission. We will be reopening our Vermillion store and Sioux Falls Marketplace on June 4th. We will start by opening Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I don’t foresee us having lots of customers. If there is another surge in the virus, we may have to close again. We want our volunteers and customers to be safe. We are really counting on our online sales at this point, so we thank everyone who has done an order and who has passed the information on to friends and family.
I would also like to do a big thank you to many of you who gave part or all of your stimulus check to us. I know there are many organizations who need our help right now, so thank you for believing in Sharing the Dream. With your continued support we can continue to provide work for our Guatemalan friends and partners.
We will keep you updated. Until then be safe, wear a mask and love those people dear to you.
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala
A letter and update from our Founder and US Director, Diane Nesselhuf
We are all in this together. I have lived for seven decades, and I have never experienced what we are experiencing now. Many times in my life I have seen different parts of the world go through a traumatic event. There have been wars, natural disasters, shootings, and other awful things. When this happens, people circle around those who have experienced the terror and are able to comfort and help them. Who circles around us now? The whole world is within the circle. This seem insurmountable. It is up to us to reach within the circle and help each other.
Just like every place in the world, our friends in Guatemala are in the circle. In a country where poverty is already an everyday occurrence, the pandemic only adds to the people having to live day to day. Here in the U.S. most of us can buy food for weeks as we have refrigerators and freezers. Our friends in Guatemala rely on the local markets to buy much of their food every day. Many of these markets are now closed. There are several organizations that are handing out food. This is a blessing for many families. Our philosophy at Sharing the Dream is different. Of course we give food to our elders, as they have no other way of receiving food. We have continued delivering food to them the past several months and will continue to do so.
We have been placing product orders with our artisans. It has become more and more difficult for the artisans, as many cannot travel out of their communities to buy the materials they need to fulfill the orders. Our staff has had to rethink how they do their day-to-day tasks. How do we get money to our artisans when we sometimes can’t get to the bank and artisans can’t get out of the village to receive it? In Santiago where we have many programs, the government has shut down the village so that people cannot go in or out. We have asked our staff there to stay home for two weeks. This is difficult for them, as they really want to go to the office to get things done. Their health is important to us.
We will continue to place orders, and as things clear up in certain areas of the country, we will be able to get the orders and the money to our artisans. This takes creative thinking. This takes all of us together to reach each other in the circle. You don’t have to be physically present with another person to touch them. Many of you have already done this by your orders from our online store and your donations. We are truly thankful for all of you who have contributed and ordered from our website. You are making a difference. Since our two brick and mortar stores are still closed, ordering online is important.
I love this quote from Harriet Tubman. “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
You may think that it doesn’t seem like much when you give an order or a donation. It does make a difference. It makes a difference to the artisan who now has money to feed their family. It makes a difference to the elder who has a meal. It makes a difference to our Guatemalan staff who can quarantine themselves tor two weeks knowing that they are not losing their jobs. All of us together can continue to reach for the stars to change the world.
We have added to our online store, and we are offering a spring sale. Please check out our sale page online. There are some great deals.
Thanks again for being a dreamer. Thanks for reaching out in our world circle and making a difference.
Be safe. Wear that mask and keep the physical distance.
Sharing the Dream in Guatemal
A Letter and Update from our Founder and US Director, Diane Nesselhuf
Tuesday is Giving Tuesday Now. I wanted to write a note, but I didn’t want to just ask for a donation. I wanted it to be meaningful to all of the people who have been so generous.
I have heard the expression, what goes around comes around. I wasn’t always sure what that meant. Sometimes I have seen it in negative terms. I now see it very positively with Sharing the Dream.
Many of you have given donations and bought items from our online store. Does it make a difference? How does it come around?
I saw that happen last week. Because of your giving and buying, we have money to buy artisan products so that the artisans can buy food and feed their families. Seven of the artisans groups we work with have benefited. Who are these people?
We ordered fabric from a foot loom group high up in the mountains of Guatemala. This group is one of the poorest groups we work with in Guatemala. We will be using this fabric for newly designed kitchen items. Who will sew these products? A group of sewers we work with in Chichicastenago.
We ordered baskets from two different groups; the pine needle baskets will come from a group in the mountains called Adelanto. Our volunteer in Guatemala, Oonagh, is working with this group to design beautiful baskets with thread in them. You can see some of these baskets online, and new designs will be coming soon. We are giving orders to two of the back strap weaving groups to make matching table runners. These will be beautiful. We also ordered fabric and scarves from these groups.
The second basket group is in the jungle. It is called Amasaja and is a group of over 50 women in two villages in Chiquimula. They use palm and coconut leaves to weave baskets. We gave them a large order, too.
We ordered ceramic mugs from a group that is around Lake Atitlan. They gave us samples of new designs and we ordered over 50 mugs. This will help them to survive.
We gave a big order to the Sharing the Dream bead group for jewelry. They were lacking orders and had been working on new designs. The eight workers will be filling this order from their homes.
It takes a lot of work to coordinate all these activities while still making sure that the elders are getting food and hygiene supplies and our scholarship students are being tutored. That is where the staff in Guatemala comes in. Your donations help us to continue to pay their salaries so that they can keep doing good work and help their families and the hundreds of families that we work with to sustain themselves.
So what goes around comes around. You have donated or bought products. That money is used to order items from our artisan groups. When we receive these products, we will sell them and have more money to continue to buy more products. You are not giving a one-time gift. Your gift multiplies over and over.
We have many other groups in Guatemala we want to order from right now and who need the orders. With your support we will be able to do this.
These times can be the worst of times or the best of times. It is how we look at it. I hope there is a silver lining for each and every one of you. Stay healthy, practice social distancing and if you are out, please wear a mask.
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala
A letter and update from our Founder and US Director, Diane Nesselhuf
Life is hard.
Yes, life is hard. I think we are all feeling that at different levels. It reminds me of a story I just heard from a man who had recently arrived in Guatemala.
The man said he had been in Guatemala for a few months when he was invited to a Guatemalan’s home. The local man introduced him to his family, which included sisters, brothers and his mother. The newly arrived man saw a faded brown photo of an older man on the wall. When the local saw him staring at the photo he said, “That is my father. He is dead.” The man said, “I am so sorry,” and the local man replied, “Life is hard.”
How many of us would say that after someone sees a photo of one of our loved ones? I don’t think I would nor would most people. So, what does that mean to me?
It means that most of us are very fortunate in this country. (Not all of us, I understand that). We are now facing a time in our lives where we might be reevaluating our priorities. We might be saying, what really counts in life? What am I living for? How do I make a difference? These are all good thoughts. They make us more humane, they make us better people.
The organization Sharing the Dream, like families, also needs to reevaluate our mission. Our mission statement is, “Friends of Sharing the Dream in Guatemala is a volunteer based fair trade organization that reduces poverty in Guatemala through collaborative partnerships with Guatemalans.” I don’t think our mission has changed right now. How do we collaborate and work with our elders and artisans? Many times when hard times hit, our first response is to give out food. We must do this with our elders as they have no other means of support. What about our artisans?
I was visiting with our Guatemalan director, Lauren, the other day, and we were talking about how we work WITH our artisans. How do we work so they feel equal? We decided that giving out food wasn’t the answer. If we truly want to be in partnership, we must give them work. Many of our artisans have been asking us for work. We need to prioritize the needs of each group and also see what crafts we need here in the U.S. This is where you come in, our American partners.
I want to thank all of you who have given a donation and/or bought items from our online store. We have seen great results. I was looking at the results from our online store from March 1 to April 25 last year and compared it to this year. We have sold 10 times more than last year online. Hurray!!!! This is vitally important since our two stores are closed and we don’t have any outside sales. What about our donations using the same comparisons? We have taken in 3 times more than last year. What does this mean? It means we can give our artisans work. Our jewelry makers were out of work, but we are giving them a big order. We can order fall fabric so that our weaving groups have work. A basket group in the jungle needs work desperately, so we are going to order baskets. We always give the artisans 50% upfront so they will have money to start the order and money for their families.
Your orders and donations are having immediate results. We are not giving handouts; we are giving work. Thank you, and thank you from the artisans in Guatemala.
Our volunteers here in the states are working, too, from home. They have been helping us write some postcards that we were able to purchase thanks to a Thrivent grant.
Please continue to think about our Guatemalan friends. Please refer your friends and family to our online store and tell them about our mission. Your donations and purchases are making a huge difference.
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala
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