By Norma C. Wilson
Part two of a five-part series
Into the Highlands
In January I traveled with Sharing the Dream in Guatemala’s “Fair Trade and Indigenous Cultures” tour with my husband and STDG Board member Jerry Wilson, filmmaker Charles Nauman, weaver Grete Bodogaard, environmentalist Dana Loseke and information technologist Ronda Harrity.
On our first day out of Guatemala City, we descended a steep, dusty path to Artisan Development Director Isabel’s home in Chuacruz. There we met her grandmother Santos, mother Maria and niece Sandra. Maria is a member of La Estrella (The Star), a group of weavers who create scarves using a foot loom donated by Sharing the Dream.
Isabel and Maria led us up a steep path, past a bin of drying corn, to an adobe building that housed the loom. Nine women and three of their children waited on benches around a dirt floor carpeted with fresh pine needles. Turquoise threads stretched across the loom.
Thirteen-year-old Victoria was learning from older weavers, just as Isabel had. Many of the women are widows with children, and they expressed thanks to Sharing the Dream for the foot loom, which makes their work faster and easier, and for marketing their products, which helps them sustain their families.
Our next visit was with Asociación Maya de Desarrolloi, a backstrap loom weavers’ cooperative, dying center and fair trade store in Sololá. This co-op, formed in 1987, now markets the work of 180 backstrap weavers from six rural villages in the nearby highlands. Their products are woven of bamboo, rayon, and cotton fibers, including chenille.
In their spacious, modern building, we observed the dying and drying of many-colored threads. Besides backstrap weaving, the women use sewing machines to make handbags and other accessories.
We descended a steep mountain road to Panajachel on the east shore of thousand-foot-deep Lake Atitlan. There we visited Oxlajuj B´ atz´, Mayan for Thirteen Threads, a non-profit indigenous women’s empowerment and non-formal education organization founded in 2004 by Mayan Hands. Their fair-trade store, resource library and community space is housed in a beautifully refurbished building with courtyard.
Development director Cheryl Conway, originally from Ireland, said the organization offers artisan classes such as rug making, and makes micro loans so that women working in their homes can purchase supplies they need.
They also encourage women to work with others by requiring that a group seeking a first loan of $200 must include at least five women. After the women repay the loan, they can apply for a $300 loan, and once that is paid back, a loan of $400.
We loved the abundance of flowers and trees in Panajachel—roses, a deep red geranium, calla lilies, moon flowers, an Easter lily, papaya, lemon, orange and grapefruit trees, and a flowering bush we hadn’t seen before, the camarón, with coral colored flowers in the shape of a shrimp.
We were thrilled that a hummingbird joined us there. Beneath a lavender-blossomed jacaranda tree, we gazed across Lake Atitlán at the camel-backed volcanoes, San Pedro, Atitlán and Tolimán.