Guatemala City, at a 5,000’ elevation, lived up to its reputation as “The Land of Eternal Spring.” The weather was perfect. There were clean streets and sidewalks almost everywhere, as well as numerous markets that sold colorful woven textiles, leaves for wrapping tamales, and everything in between.
In certain parts (zonas) of town, the goats came right your doorway, ready to be milked. There was also a great deal of traffic, a lot of air pollution, and guards with guns everywhere.
For much of my visit, I stayed with Elsa at her beautiful home, high in the hills, with Guatemala City far below.
During my first week, I worked with the UN Women / ONU Mujeres. With Eugenia Close as the Coordinator of Economic Empowerment, this group has been working to empower rural women. For this project, they selected two leaders in each of four communities in the Polochic Valley. For safety reasons, it was decided that we would all travel to work in Antigua, rather than work in the villages. The women traveled for 8 hours to get to the workshop. For two of them, it was their first time leaving their community.
We had two translators, Elsa translating from English to Spanish, and Kimberley translating from Spanish to Q’eqchi’.
They learned coiling, crocheting, and cordage-making, using recycled plastic bags and used clothing. They were all skilled, and learned quickly. They made lots of baskets/canastas and bags/bolsas. They helped and taught each other. They will share their skills in their communities.
The women expect to be able to sell their work in their local markets. Unfortunately, competition is intense, and they will be compensated very little for their labor. One benefit of this work is that the cost of their materials will be low. The UN Women will be working with them to help develop outside markets, with the possibility and hope of developing a more reliable income.
We all stayed together, working and eating, at a beautiful hotel, Casa Cabo.
While there, we experienced a tremor from an earthquake, and watched Volcan de Fuego puff as we ate our meals.
Some evenings we ventured into Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Guatemala City Garbage Dump covers over 40 acres, is 9 layers high, and has 970 trucks and 2500 trash pickers a day. Vultures are always circling overhead. There are occasional fires from escaping methane gas. The pervasive putrid odor is an assault on your senses.
In 1999, Hanley Denning, a young woman, decided to do something for the children who live in the community surrounding the dump. She started Safe Passage / Camino Seguro. You can watch a great video about it here.
Despite her untimely death, her legacy continues. Camino Seguro
provides education, books, and food for nearly 500 children who live in the community, ranging in age from 3 to 21 years. Its goal is to break the cycle of poverty, emphasizing life skills and perseverance.
Creamos is the Social Entrepreneurship Program of Camino Saguro. With Hannah Sklar as the Project Leader, it involves women who live in the community, zone 3, surrounding the dump. Creamos’ vision is “to create a community of healthy and independent women… (and if we) develop both financial and emotional skills, they will have the ability to change their lives, families and communities.”
We, Christina Chiribo, the translator, and I, worked with some of these women for a week, teaching them to coil baskets of recycled plastic bags and fabric scraps collected from the sewing room. Hannah expects to be able to sell these baskets, along with their poignant stories, for 50-70 Q ($6.00-$9.00) to tourists coming to witness Camino Seguro and Creamos. This is a large amount of money for these women.
They danced for us, showed their yoga moves, shared their babies, and were very proud to receive diplomas on the last day.
Bonifacia gifted me with her first basket, so that I would always remember her.
It is hanging in my studio, and I will always remember her.
So many thanks....
Christina Chiribo was an amazing translator for the workshop at the dump. She also proved herself to be a very good babysitter for Justa’s grandson.
Mari Flor Solis, Dirección Ejecutiva at Fundación G&T Continental, which supported this trip by paying for my airfare. Mari Flor jumped right in to learn to make a basket on the day she visited.
And special thanks to Elsa Asturias, without whom this trip would have never have happened. Thank you. I will always remember.