Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Guatemala! Part 2!

This post is a little harder to write, partly because the artisan organization is more complicated to explain, and partly because of my response to meeting them. When we left the girls home of Casa Hogar I was full of joy and excitement seeing how these girls are flourishing. The other artisan group left me a little confused, but I think I have come to an understanding about it. But let me back up and introduce you to these beautiful people.

Years ago a man named Edgar was working for an NGO, helping people get micro-financing loans to start their own business. But he was frustrated at the fact that either the people didn't know how to take care of the money they were making or didn't have a place to sell their products. So he started his own organization and has employed people all over the country of Guatemala. On Wednesday Edgar brought some of his artisans to us and explained the process. 

This is Edgar and Rosa. Rosa leads a group of artisans who go all over the area and buy these shirts that are called Huipil (pronounced wee-peel). They are works of art and each design represents a different group of people in the country. Her group finds the used Huipils and gives them to Edgar.

This is Marta and she leads the group that buys traditional skirts from all over the area and gives them to Edgar. Marta was telling us that she has 4 children who have gone through university. Even Edgar was amazed at that. Only 2% of Guatemalans graduate from universities. 
Edgar then takes the skirts and shirts to another group up in the mountains and they cut it all up into pieces and gives the pieces back to Edgar. He then takes the pieces to another group outside of Antigua who make our products. We got to go visit them. 

These artisans sew our Turtle Backpack, Mosaic clutch, and Mayan clutch. Each Mosaic clutch you order looks completely different because they are made out of the Huipil shirts, so they are all beautiful pieces of art. They were working in the home of one of the artisans and it was the worst living conditions I had ever seen in person. That was the part I had a hard time with. It made me wonder if we were doing enough? Paying them enough? Setting them up for success? But these people were proud of what they were doing. They dressed up nice for us because we are their business partners. Most of them don't work there actually, but work in their own homes, which is great for the mommas and their babies. One of our founders on the group said this was her third visit there, and even though it looked very sad to us, she could see improvements they had made. They had a stove now in the kitchen instead of an open fire. They had built onto their home, and even though it was tin walls and dirt floors, they were renting out space to another family to make more income. One of our CE's was carrying her personal Mosaic clutch and those ladies were so excited to see that an American lady loved their bag.  

Since I've been back, I've been thinking about them the most, wondering if we are really making a difference or not. I'm reading a book called A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Its a book all about the different things people are doing around the world to help others. The chapter I read last night really helped me understand that we are helping these artisans get out of poverty. Researchers have been looking at groups who are entrenched in poverty, and noticing that many are spending what little money they have on alcohol. They are depressed and stressed because of their situations and see no hope. Their depression leads to a lack of cortisol in their brains which leads to a lack of energy and sharp thinking, which keeps them from wanting to work hard to change their lives. But when researchers offered the gift of hope, whether that took the form of livestock,
a monetary loan or simply encouragement and job training, their lives literally changed. They worked harder, had more energy, saved money instead of spending it on alcohol, sent their kids to school, and began climbing the upward cycle of success. Now their financial situations may still qualify as poverty levels in our eyes, but the hope they had changed their whole demeanor. 

"When lack of hope creates a 'poverty trap' the proper response is to inject hope." (p 124)
"The best three letter weapon against poverty is spelled not AID, but JOB." (p 128)

These artisans are working hard to make our products because it gives them a purpose, they make something beautiful they can be proud of, and there are people depending on them. They set the price they want for their products and when they earn it they can be proud of what they are doing to take care of their families. So while parts of this trip made me sad at first, I can see the difference we are making and I am more passionate about what we do. 

I'll have one more post with the fun stuff we did! Chocolate and coffee!

Monday, October 05, 2015

Guatemala! Part 1

Last week I was honored to join 12 other women as we traveled to Guatemala to visit our artisan groups who make products for Trades of Hope. These trips are called "Vision Trips", hopefully giving us as Compassionate Entrepreneurs a bigger picture of what we do, and how it truly is life changing for the people we partner with. I'll be honest, the week before I was petrified and really had to ask myself why. I finally decided it was because I didn't know what to expect and wouldn't be in control of the situation. And face it, being with a group of women for a week that you don't know can be a scary situation. But all my fears were for naught, because it was an amazing week, I made great friends, I learned a lot about being flexible and taking what comes, and meeting our beautiful artisans in person was so eye opening and comforting in many ways.

We spent the first two nights in Jalapa, which is not a nice place to visit. It is on the path that the drug cartels take through the country, and we had extra security. But the hotel we stayed in was beautiful, and took very good care of us. Our reason for going to Jalapa was to visit Casa Hogar, a home for girls. It is not an orphanage. Most of these girls have parents who love them very much, they just can't afford to give them the life they desire. Some of the girls are there because of abuse in their families and the government has put them there to keep them safe. It is a very safe place. They are loved there with a passion by Madre Claudia and the other nuns helping her. They run a tight ship, though. Each older girl has a younger girl to take care of and each girl has chores to do. They wash their own clothes. They learn how to make tortillas. They keep their rooms with rows of bunk beds spotless. The older girls braid everyone's hair and that's how Madre Claudia can tell from far away if each girl has been cleaned up for the day. The younger girls go to school there and the older girls take a bus to school each day.

There were some very sad stories. The profile picture on Facebook right now is me holding a baby, and many have asked me why I didn't bring that baby home. Well, since her momma was standing right next to me, that wasn't necessary. Her momma is a teenager who was raped by someone but she and her baby are safe and happy in the home, and are healing emotionally, physically and spiritually. I won't post the picture, but we met another girl who is 12 years old and 8 months pregnant from a rape. The evil in this world just boggles the mind sometimes and breaks my heart. But those baby girls will now grow up in the home where they will be safe, and hopefully not ever have to experience that evil. I prayed for that sweet baby girl that I was holding, that God would protect her from evil, that she would grow up knowing love, and safety, and that she would one day live a full productive life, and be a world changer in her community. God has great plans for her!

So how does Trades of Hope play into this amazing place? Some of the older girls who are doing well in school and are responsible are picked to either work in the jewelry room or the sewing room where they make our products! The money they earn goes back into the girls home or pays the oldest girls who have already finished school and are actually hired to run the sewing and jewelry programs. They make our Identity bracelet and Julia necklace, as well as our Susy bag and headbands. They are working on some new products for us too! They are earning enough to give a very large check to Madre Claudia each month which supports the home, and she so appreciates the consistency of the money coming in. Because of the amount of sales we have been making, they are also about to hire three more girls who are finishing up school to work there more full time while they begin university. They are very excited to be a part of this program. It gives them job security, confidence, pride in their work and skills that will help them in the future.

I can't really put into words the experience of meeting these girls. They met us as we got off our bus, singing, and each girl gave each of us a hug! It was a long line of hugs, and I treasured every one. They were excited to braid some of our hair. We gathered in a big circle and the girls went around to tell us what they hoped for their futures. Many want to be doctors, lawyers, teachers and business women like us! At the end of they day they did a program for us with singing and dancing, and then we had a dance party and even though we didn't speak the same language, the language of music, dancing and laughing is universal. The sweet girls were so excited to show us their work. We got to do some shopping and purchase some products they make other than the TOH ones, and I spent entirely too much money. But to have a young lady get so excited that you are buying the necklace she made, well, it was money well spent. CE's who have been with TOH for awhile have a charm necklace, and they gave each of us a charm they made of the calla lily, the flower of Guatemala, and a charm of a silver fingerprint that they put our initials in. I am so proud of those charms! And then when they left, they all lined up and waved goodbye. I wanted to cry.

That was just one day of my trip. It was a sad day, but when we left the home, we all commented that we weren't sad at all. We were joyful, and excited for the future for those girls, and for what we could do in our businesses to help them. They had joy, and that joy was contagious!

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