Today is International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to celebrating women and their achievements worldwide.
Sharing the Dream is fortunate to work with many amazing women across our programs. Many of the artisans are women, the elders at the Elder Center are primarily women, the majority of the scholarship students are girls and young women, and Sharing the Dream is led by women.
We have found that by working with women, it improves their self-esteem. This improved self-esteem means that their entire family, including their husband, looks at them differently, and oftentimes treat them with more respect and equality.
Woman also invest in the health, education, and general well-being of their children and family, which leads to positive changes in future generations.
Today we want to share the story of one of the amazing women that we are so fortunate to work with, Concepcion Quieju.
Concepcion is one of Sharing the Dream’s elders. Concepcion is a war widow, and her husband and two of her sons were kidnapped and disappeared by the military during the Guatemalan Civil War when they were on their way out to work in the fields. Even though the family searched extensively, their bodies were never found.
As a widow, Concepcion had to work very hard in order to provide for the family. She wove the traditional clothing of Santiago Atitlan, and she broke down gender barriers by going out to collect firewood in the mountains- a task traditionally considered men’s work.
Concepcion’s family was again affected during the mudslide from Hurricane Stan in 2005 when her daughter was buried under the mud. The family also lost their house and had to live in a temporary housing settlement for many years while the Guatemalan government built new houses for the survivors.
Despite the hardships and suffering that Concepcion has endured, she continues to fight for herself, her family, and others.
Concepcion is active at the Elder Center, where she participates on the advisory council, and she regularly volunteers to help out making lunch for her peers. She has been active in helping out with the land title for the new Elder Center, and her dream is to see the new Elder Center completed.
Please consider making a donation to the Elder Center Construction Fund to help make Concepcion’s dream come true.
Isabel, STDG's Artisan Development Coordinator
Reflections from US Director Diane Nesselhuf
I have been in Guatemala for six weeks. As I reflect on my time here, I have so many stories I could share of the relationship Sharing the Dream has with the people we work with. I will share one of these stories.
Years ago, there was a little girl who lived in a mountain village who wanted to go to school, but her father had died and there was no money. Even though she was just in middle school she would go to school during the day and weave on a back strap loom at night so that her family would have some money. She did this by candle light as the house had no electricity. She only ate tortillas and salt for many years and was thin from not having proper nourishment.
A man brought me to this village and introduced me to this very shy little girl who didn’t speak a lot of Spanish. Would Sharing the Dream be able to find a sponsor for her so she could continue with school and not have to weave into the night? A woman from Vermillion, Vicki Fix, said she would sponsor Isabel, and she did. She sponsored her through middle school and high school.
Isabel spent her last few years of high school in Guatemala City. At that time the Sharing the Dream office was in Guatemala City. We thought it would help Isabel if she could live in a room at our office and help with the cleaning for her rent. She did this for several years, and we discovered she had a gift for weaving, designing, knitting, crocheting and after sending her to sewing lessons, a talent for sewing. She then started as an assistant to our artisan development coordinator. She worked during her last few years of high school and started college. College wasn’t easy for Isa and she didn’t have the skills needed there to be successful. She continued to work for Sharing the Dream and when our artisan development coordinator left she was hired in that position.
Isabel’s shyness disappeared little by little as she became more confident. She was able to eat better, and her health improved. When we moved the office to Panajachel, she moved with us. This was much closer to her home village.
Years later, Isa is still our artisan development coordinator and doing a great job. She is married and has two darling little boys. Last night, I took Isa and her two little boys out for dinner. Isa’s husband works during the week in Guatemala City, but joins his little family on most weekends. The boys ate a hamburger and French fries. The boys' chubby little cheeks showed that they did not have to eat just tortillas and salt. They had on clean matching shirts and jeans, and their hair was slicked back and combed. Although Carlos, the older one, was a bit shy, they both looked healthy and well loved. Carlos goes to pre-school just a few blocks from their small apartment. He loves school, and Isa is proud of his accomplishments.
What a difference having an opportunity made for this shy little village girl. Isa is poised, accomplished and is a terrific mother who is proud of her family. She was given a chance. That is what most people here need. As my friend Barb said, “people here are intelligent, they just don’t have the opportunity to be educated.”
Through the years Sharing the Dream has had many scholarship students. Isa’s story is just one story among many. This year we have 25 scholarship students. It will be interesting to hear their stories in a few years and how this opportunity made a difference in their lives. Thank you to all of you who sponsor and have sponsored one of these students. You have made a huge difference for not only the student and their families, but for the student's future family.