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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