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!