When Women Band Together – My Visit to 6 Villages

It was so interesting to see the difference between the men and the women in the six different villages we visited in Huehuetenango – the part of Guatemala where a lot of migrants live due to lack of opportunities. We spent a week in the area, trying to understand what the challenges are to creating local economic development that will allow them to put down roots – real roots – and stay. We saw communities where they grow coffee, others where they grow cardamom, and others where they have a lot of wood. But there’s no organization. I visited to see how they can get better markets, better access, and better prices for what they create.

As we came to each village, the leaders of the village came to meet us. In four of the six communities, these meetings included none of the village women. But you know me – I think it’s important that women are represented.

In the last two communities, women did come to our meetings, and for me, they were treasures to be discovered. In this one community, there were 30 or 40 men and about eight women. The women were sitting, not on chairs, just on the floor on the side of the room, like what they had to say was not important. After all of the men spoke, I turned to the women and said “I’d really love to hear from you.” Of all of them, Daniella was the one to speak out, and she started telling me all that she does – and invited me to her home to see.

Daniella was raising chickens, growing corn and beans, and she was growing other native crops. Her house was beautiful, with an open wood stove, and corn hanging from the roof to dry and use for seed. She kept a very neat, though very humble, home, and she fed us until we could not eat any more!

She inspired me so much. For many people, to visit this village, you would think, “This village is so remote! No running water. No electricity. How could anyone live here?” But Daniella was so connected to abundance. She and her husband saying “this land grows anything,” and feeling so blessed to be born where they were. Unlike a lot of Guatemalans who feel like they have to leave in order to prosper, Daniella and her husband had found a way to stay. It was magical to see that.

Then we went on to another village, and again, it was the men talking and the men expressing their needs and what they wanted. And the women were quieter, but when I asked them, “Tell us about you; tell us about what you need.” They said, “Come, come with me.” So we walked with them for around 10 minutes. We went into a home, and there was a small adobe room that had benches. And on those benches there were like 30 women weaving. They were weaving beautiful textiles. So, as I come into the room full of weavers I asked the leader, Juana, “Tell me about your group.”

She told me they’d been getting together for eight years, twice a week, to embroider, to make clothes and hoping to find a market that would buy them. At one point they found a market, but they never got paid for their goods. For me to see this young 25 year-old leader getting women together was so amazing. To be honest, I’m guessing the group is more than sewing. I’m guessing it’s a support group, and I’m guessing the women feel like they can talk about anything they want to when they’re together.

In this whole area where no one was organized – the coffee producers were not organized, the cardamom producers were not organized – these women WERE organized. They lack the legal structure, but they’ve been organized and working together for eight years.

For me, it’s beautiful to see what people can create. It’s so easy when you have organized women, and women with visions to bring markets, to bring opportunities. It was fascinating to see that it was women organized in this community. As we move forward, we hope to find markets for them. We hope to provide them with opportunities they’ve been dreaming for and have never given up on – to connect them to Wakami so that they can achieve the dreams they have.

As we work to connect local artisans with global markets, we hope to hear less of what the men said – “We don’t want to leave, but sometimes there are no opportunities here” – and more of what we see happening in other places. “We can stay in the land we love and have the dream right here.”

The soil is fertile,and the dreams are beautiful. It’s a matter of creating the structures that bring economic development and enough opportunities for people to be able to stay in and on their own land with their families, and for them to prosper.

Maria Pacheco