Nothing brings a smile to Felipa de Jesus Lopez Estrada’s face quite like the topic of her daughters, Gabriela and Victoria. Though she may have just finished discussing her family’s difficult economic situation and the challenges she and her husband have endured, the moment her daughters are mentioned, the worries disappear. A concerned and tired woman is instantly replaced by a beaming mother who can’t contain her pride.
“The oldest really wants to be an astronomer,” Felipa says through laughs, unable to say where the girl got that idea. “She just loves to study everything that has to do with space and stars. She spends all her time looking up at the sky!” Her youngest, she explains, wants to be a lawyer. Despite the pride she feels, Felipa does admit that her daughters’ boundless ambition has created some unease for her and her husband. In order for them to reach their goals, she acknowledges, they will need to keep studying, something that won’t come without heavy costs. And, until a little over a year ago, Felipa did not think it would be possible to provide them with that opportunity.
Felipa’s journey with Mercado Global began last year, when she joined the Ajkem cooperative in her community of San Andrés Semetabaj. She had been with the group years ago, before they had heard of Mercado Global, when they had come together to learn how to use sewing machines. Eventually, Felipa decided she could not keep up with the time commitment and had to leave. She returned when the group was invited to join Mercado Global, and has been an enthusiastic member ever since.
“It has been such a wonderful experience because I have learned so much,” Felipa says. “We’ve made traditional bags, and now we’re learning to use a loom. Little by little, we’re learning new techniques that will be so beneficial to me and my family.”
One program that has been especially valuable to Felipa has been Mercado Global’s Domestic Market Access Program, which has recently been implemented in partner communities. The program teaches partner artisans the skills necessary for success in Guatemala’s local markets. With trainings that teach sewing and weaving techniques, coupled with an education in business management, artisans are able to be more independent and generate additional income through their own local businesses.
Through the program, Felipa has learned embroidery and other useful techniques that she can use for products to sell in her community. Not only does she hope to use this additional income to contribute to her daughters’ education, but she also hopes the new knowledge will benefit them in other ways. “The things I’m learning are great because now I can make things for my daughters and invest less money in clothes for them,” says Felipa. “I am also able to teach them the techniques I am learning so that they can do it for themselves. It has been so helpful for us.”
Mercado Global’s impact within Felipa’s home also goes well beyond the added income generated through new techniques. She also credits the nutrition and personal savings trainings her group has received as part of the Community-Based Education Program for improving her family’s quality of life. “We’ve been taught how to manage our money better, and take note of how much we’re spending on a daily basis,” notes Felipa. “That all helps, because you’re not always aware of where our money goes. You just buy what you think is necessary at the time and don’t put much thought to it.”
The group, Felipa says, has learned how to properly budget as a result of the trainings. That, paired with lessons on health and nutrition, have completely changed how she shops for food. “Sometimes we have the bad habit of buying a soda, for instance, without thinking twice about it. Now I realize how much money goes into that. On the other hand, buying a juice is a lot more cost effective and nutritional as well,” says Felipa.
Going forward, Felipa sees a door of opportunity that she did not see a little over a year ago. Though she and her family still face hardships and the future is anything but clear, her involvement with Mercado Global has provided a path for her to contribute to her daughters’ education.
“More than anything, we want them to study so that in the future, they have a way to defend and provide for themselves,” says Felipa. “Because without an education, life can be very, very difficult.”
Cristobalina Colaj Mux tried to calm her nerves as her sister introduced her to several women. She looked carefully at the faces of these women, who together would soon form a cooperative with Mercado Global. For years, she had worked 12 hours for six days a week sewing traditional Mayan clothing and still struggled to support her seven children and her husband, who could not find work due to the loss of his arm in a terrible accident. Her sister assured her that the group would offer steady work weaving fabrics for products to be sold around the world as well as provide free education and skills trainings. It all sounded like a dream.
Cristobalina had never been part of a cooperative before; this would be her first. How would she manage the work, collaborate with the other women, and use her new income to improve the lives of her children she wondered. She felt both nervous and excited at the same time for her journey ahead.
Like Cristobalina, other women artisans are being empowered by Mercado Global’s programs in ways they never thought possible. We see the remarkable results time and time again. From investing income to send their daughters to school or applying lessons from our trainings to create a side business, our partner artisans are becoming agents of change in their own lives and in the lives of their families and community members.
We have found that managing and dealing with change is not always easy. In many cases, our artisans are experiencing many “firsts” — their first cooperative, first leadership position, first savings account, first child to go to school, and the list often goes on.
Doing anything for the first time requires the support of close friends and teachers and self-confidence. And so we have built our most popular and well-received training program around these the fundamental concepts. We call it the Power to Change program.
In the program, women bond over exercises that encourage honest conversations about personal and community challenges, such as leadership and gender dynamics. They discuss barriers to making changes in their lives and those of their families and learn ways to take action to overcome those barriers. After participating in the exercises, the women feel more self-confident and independent, and the group becomes more cohesive and close-knit.
About the program, Cristobalina said, “It has taught me about leadership and self-confidence, and I feel more empowered after every training. It’s never too late to make a change.”
Three years after joining her first cooperative, Cristobalina is a remarkable example of an agent of change. She is a respected leader within her cooperative and community. All of her children are enrolled in school with two already graduated.“Every day I wake up so thankful for Mercado Global, the work they provide to me, and the new chance they provided for my family. It’s something I will never take for granted,” said Cristobalina with a big smile.
Last week, we had the honor of hosting Emmy-nominated host of Top Chef, award-winning author, and advocate for women’s health, Padma Lakshmi, at our headquarters in Panajachel, Guatemala. The Love, Loss, and What we Ate author joined us with her daughter for five days of adventure and insight into our work to educate and empower women in the highlands of Guatemala.
The trip provided opportunities for cultural exchange, but also a chance for the pair to learn more about the barriers our artisans face in the areas of nutrition and women’s health and for Padma to share her experience and knowledge on these topics.
During our first community visit to San Andres Semetabaj, Padma sat in on a women’s health training focused on cervical cancer awareness and prevention. It was a beautiful mix of Spanish, English, and Kakchiquel, the indigenous language of this cooperative, spoken around the room as the Co-Founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America engaged with the women on their personal experiences and shared her knowledge on the importance of early-detection.
On the third day of the trip, we went to a partner cooperative in the community of San Jorge to attend a training focused on malnutrition. The artisans learned the difference between undernutrition and malnutrition, the importance of a balanced diet, and the dangers of popular sugary drinks and food for children, as Padma provided her personal tips for incorporating healthier foods into your diet. With Guatemala having the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world, receiving the education and resources necessary to lead a healthier lifestyle is crucial for our artisans.
Later, the group bridged the gap between language and culture through a love of cooking as Padma and her daughter showed the artisans how to make pickled peppers, straight from Padma’s recent memoir, while the artisans taught the mother-daughter duo how to make traditional corn tortillas.
An advocate for women’s health around the world, we truly admire Padma and her work to empower women to lead healthier lifestyles and were honored for her to experience the Mercado Global model at work.
For more photos of Padma’s trip, check out our Facebook album here.
One main road leads to Las Cruces San Andres Semetajab, a quiet town in the Highlands of Guatemala. The streets are lined with a few tiendas or convenience stores, its fields are filled with corn and other vegetables, and women and men walk about in their colorful traditional Mayan clothing, known as traje. Despite its beauty and serenity, the rural and isolated location makes it difficult for the town’s talented artisans to access markets and earn income from their craft.
With the support of Mercado Global, a group of extraordinary women came together and took a collective step to change their futures. They were inspired by stories of women from a local Mercado Global partner cooperative. After several meetings with Mercado Global, they decided to form their own cooperative with 15 women and officially launched in April 2016 with the name Tejiendo Conocimiento or Weaving Knowledge. The launch marked the beginning of the women’s journey to become more skilled artisans, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.
In mid-May, Mercado Global held its second set of bi-monthly trainings focused on advanced sewing techniques and healthy cooking. Speaking in their native language, known as Kaqchikel, our two Community-Based Education Trainers made the women feel comfortable and confident in learning new skills and information about their important everyday decisions. Despite their early morning shyness, the women opened up during the day, sharing their experiences along with smiles and laughs as they practiced sewing and stirred the ingredients of the day’s recipes.
These trainings are exemplary of the two types of classes offered by Mercado Global — those focused on technical careers and those focused on empowerment. Through technical trainings, women discover ways to advance their careers as sewers and weavers, while the other classes equip them with important life skills, such as financial management, nutritious cooking, and leadership.
The indigenous women we partner with are the heart and soul of Mercado Global. Our mission and vision originated with the goal of empowering women to break the cycle of poverty and become rural entrepreneurs.
We would like to introduce you to Lorena, an inspiring young woman who has utilized our microloan, education, and technical training programs to transform her life as well as her family’s.
My name is Lorena Chiroy Pixtay and I am 23 years old. I grew up in a small community called La Fe with 11 siblings. Family is everything to me, everything I do is so that they can have a better life.
When I was 10 years old, I had to drop out of school to support my family. With a large farm, we needed as many hands as possible to harvest our crops. Our livelihood and the importance of maintaining the farm were my family’s main priorities and education quickly became an afterthought.
When I wasn’t helping on the farm I worked in Guatemala City, two hours from my home, at a tortilla shop for 12 hours a day to earn more money for my family. The job required me to cook over a hot stove, making hundreds of tortillas a day. I always daydreamed about another life for myself but I never thought it would be possible.
One day, my mother was invited to join a weaving cooperative and work for Mercado Global. After working with them for a year she seemed so much happier. I didn’t realize that work could inspire that kind of fulfillment, but I soon found out exactly what she meant.