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.
Meet the artisans- Meet one of our weaving groups, CEDEC
CEDEC is a weaving group from the Guatemalan state of San Marcos, high in the mountains close to the Mexican border. This talented group of weavers works on the foot loom to make fabric that can later be used for bags and purses.
In the early 80’s, Aurelia was invited to participate in some workshops about women’s rights and indigenous rights in a town a few hours away. After attending the workshops, she was so moved by what she learned that she returned to her village and began to tell other women about all of her new knowledge. The women then formed together to create the Community Development Center (Centro de Desarrollo Comunitario-CEDEC) . In the days when the group started, there were 45 members. That was more than 30 years ago, and now the group has dwindled down to seven dedicated members who spend their time making typical fabric for the region where they live. They generally sell their products in the market in the nearest town which is about an hour away by microbus. Buses only come in and out of the village sporadically and many people walk if they have somewhere they need to be. The small village where the women live is very rural. It’s located in the western mountains of Guatemala and surrounded by beautiful panoramic views of the Guatemalan countryside.
The women are fortunate to have a weaving center, which was built in 2009 with financial support from Sharing the Dream and some wonderful donors. The center now holds nine foot looms where the women work. The center offers a quiet, focused workspace where the women can weave in comparison to the often hectic environment of the home.
Recently, we visited the women at the weaving center to do a workshop to them about quality control and combining colors. Part of the focus of the Artisan Development program is to give workshops to our various artisan groups about various topics which will be helpful for their work. Our goal is to ensure that all of our artisan groups have the capacity to find new clients and produce quality products so that they receive repeat orders.
The women in the weaving group have, on average, five children each. One of the encouraging things that we heard was that even though the highest level of education among the women is 4th grade, almost all of their children have studied and earned their high school degrees. Some have even gone on to study university courses. In a country where only 48% of males and 44% of females attend secondary school, it was encouraging to hear that the women have made education a priority for their children (“At a glance: Guatemala, 2013).
You can purchase products made with fabric from Cedec in our stores and in our online store soon!
Meet the Artisans: Meet our glass blowing group, Copavic
Meet Copavic. Copavic is an artisan owned cooperative in Cantel, Quetzaltenango. They make beautiful glassware using recycled glass. Copavic was founded in 1976 as a way to provide income for young people during the 36 year civil war. The cooperative was founded by a glass blower who was looking for a new opportunity after the glass factory where he worked closed. Together with other interested artisans, they built the ovens and the factory little by little. Now, the cooperative has 20 members and provides work for up to 38 artisans when they are in production. Due to the high costs of heating the ovens and the difficulty in finding clients, the group only produces their beautiful glassware a handful of times a year. When the artisans aren't producing beautiful glassware, they dedicate themselves to working in the fields or to weaving cortes, the traditional skirts, using large foot looms.
The products are made from all recycled glass. People drop off glass at the factory year round, which gets cleaned up, the label removed, and broken in to smaller pieces that can be melted down.
After the glass has been prepped and is melted down, the artisans begin to form it in to their unique products. There are seven stations in total, and each station has a master artisans and two apprentices. The group provides all of the training on-site, and they are excited to say that they are once again drawing interest from young people who want to learn the art of glass blowing. The artisans move around each other in what appears to be a well-choreographed dance, moving between the ovens and their work stations to blow, mold, and form the glass product.
Once the item has been formed, the artisans fire it under a modified blow torch and place it in a large brick oven to be fired at the end of production. The products get fired for 24 hours before they are finished. Once they are done, they are left with a one-of-a-kind glass, cup, or pitcher.
Meet the Artisans: Meet our pine needle basket artisan group.
Meet Adelanto. Adelanto is a group of women artisans from the rural highlands of Guatemala. They make decorative pine needle baskets that are so beautiful they could be considered works of art. Adelanto was originally founded by a group of war widows and orphans after Guatemala's bloody 36 year civil war as a way to support themselves. The group started by making and selling woven bracelets. They have since learned the art of pine needle basket making. New members have integrated over the years, and the group is now 17 women strong.
In order to weave their baskets, the women must first gather pine needles. After gathering the needles, the women put them to dry. Once the pine needles are sufficiently dry, the group removes the ends of the needles. Using plastic raffia, the group begins to wrap the needles and raffia together in to the desired shape.
You can see Adelanto's work in our online store or by stopping in to one of brick in mortar stores.
Last Friday, the Open Door School and Library, La Puerta Abierta in Spanish, hosted the elders from the Elder Center at their school. The school children planned a day of activities for the elders, including arts and crafts, games, songs, and a snack. The day provided many opportunities for inter-generational sharing, and smiles and laughter abounded. It was great to see the elders enjoy themselves and forget about their worries. Thank you to La Puerta Abierta for the great day!
October 1st is the International Day of Older Persons, a day established to fight discrimination against the aging and to raise awareness of the situations of older people. In Guatemala, as in many countries around the world, older persons are often forgotten about or are left to fend for themselves. Without families who are able to care for them, many elders are forced to continue to do hard labor or to beg on the street in order to survive. Many elders never leave their houses, and when they do, they remain invisible while the rest of society rushes around them. Our elders face similar conditions in life. The Elder Center is a place where these forgotten persons can feel like human beings again. It's a place where they can receive nutritious meals that so many depend on to survive, access to the medical care that they so desperately need but are unable to pay for, and social interaction. Help us to continue to provide this essential care by sponsoring an elder or making a donation to the Elder Center.
Meet Santiago, our new scholarship student who comes from a village outside of Solola. This is his first session with tutor Antonio. He will come on Fridays to do his tutoring and volunteer work. His mother is with one of the weaving groups we work with called Las Estrellas. She has never been to school so she signs the paperwork with her thumb print. Santiago is now in middle school and his mother very much wants him to graduate high school.
We have all of our students for this year but if you would like to sponsor a scholar for 2019, let us know and we will start looking for that special student for you. School runs from January - October, 2019. Scholarships are $200 for elementary, $300 for middle school and $500 for high school.
A scholarship provides: A year of tuition, school supplies, and an opportunity for these students to pursue their goals.
Learn more about Sharing the Dream's scholarship program.
I have been in Guatemala since February 5th working with our Sharing the Dream staff. We've had many meetings with artisans, other NGO’s (non-government organizations) staff, the board, and people who have heard of us and drop by for a meeting.
I have been thinking about many of these meetings and the philosophy of Sharing the Dream. When I meet with people they sometimes ask me if my background is in business or design. When I answer that it is in neither, it is in counseling, they sometimes look at me perplexed.
When I encounter some of the fair trade NGOs and businesses here in Guatemala, I see that their main goal is to grow and bring in more money I am not faulting this, but I believe that Sharing the Dream is different. Coming from a non-business background, I try to ensure that when we work with our artisans we are actively fostering sustainability. For us, the artisans come first and not the profit. A few of these large Fair Trade organizations call the people they work with "producers." In contrast, we call the groups we work with “artisans."
Many of these organizations have designers that are not based in Guatemal, and some of these designers have never even met with their “producers." When this happens, the organization usually owns the design and the “producers” can’t sell it for several years. I understand this. Because they are paying a lot for the designs, they can’t have anyone copying it and need to sell it. We need these organizations because they are giving work to hundreds of people.
Sharing the Dream is smaller and our philosophy is to work with the groups so they can learn how to design their own products and market them to anyone. If we believe in sustainability for the people here we must work this way. The Sharing the Dream staff offers workshops to our groups on design, quality, marketing and other things that will help them move on the continuum line to sustainability. The greatest success we can have is when one of the groups we work with does not need us because they can do their own designing and marketing. Let me tell you this takes years and years, it doesn’t happen overnight.
We want Sharing the Dream to be sustainable too, so there has to be a business aspect. We are fortunate to have two boards that help with this goal. We have a great board in the U.S and they make sure we are always in the black. We have a wonderful board here in Guatemala made up of artisans and other interested people. We just had a board meeting last week. I will include a photos of that meeting. This board is remarkable too as they have good ideas on how we need to move forward.
I am so proud of our staff, boards, and volunteers here and in the U.S. They “get” it and it is making a huge difference to the artisans.
The people we work with are artists, and we need to treat them as such.
Greetings from Thailand. I am here on a working vacation but it wasn’t going to be about Fair Trade. My niece lives here and we are working on a few book projects together. She is a writer and is helping me do some writing.
When I got here I remembered that several people on the Sharing the Dream board suggested that maybe it would be good to have some fair trade products from other countries that are different than our Guatemalan products.
I joined a digital women’s Chiang Mai nomads group and asked about fair trade. I didn’t think I would get much response. I did however, I heard about three groups so I decided to check them out. I have visited all of them and it has been really interesting. All three projects work with refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma). These refugee camps are located in the Northern part of Thailand. Some of these camps have been there for 30 years, and some of the people have lived there that long. The people in the camps cannot leave and have no chance at earning a living. They almost completely rely on donations from NGO’s (non-government organizations). The fair trade groups I met with are working with people in these camps to continue their tradition of back strap weaving and helping them make items that will sell in the international market. Thus helping them to have some income.
I learned about one group that works with caladium fiber to make cloth that they use for bags and journals. These are really quite interesting. Another group that I am interested in dyes cotton and weaves some patterns that are different than our Guatemalan weavers. There is also a group that stamps different patterns on woven fabric.
I would like to show you some of the products and see what you think. Let’s have coffee Saturday Jan. 27th at the Sharing the Dream store at 10 AM. I will share some photos, and talk about the products. By then they might be priced so that you could even buy something new and different.
Come experience life in the ‘Land of Eternal Spring’
Diane, director and founder of Sharing the Dream, is taking a group to Guatemala in early February, but for your convenience, here are the next trip dates:
Sharing the Dream’s philosophy is that we travel to Guatemala to “be” with the people instead of “do” for the people. We believe it is important to understand that we are on equal terms with them.
The Guatemalan people are very kind, respectful people who have built a relationship with the Sharing the Dream staff and have taught us a lot over the years. Throughout the trip you will have the opportunity to listen to their hopes and dreams and learn about their vibrant culture. We will be welcomed into their homes to learn how they make their beautiful crafts and about their work with Sharing the Dream.
If you are interested or have any questions, please contact Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala
Diane Nesselhuf is Sharing the Dream in Guatemala's director and founder.