One of the first artisans to partner with Mercado Global, Julia Par Yaxon began working with Executive Director Ruth DeGolia when she was 18 years old, and she still has vivid memories of Ruth playing with her oldest son, Sergio Rodolfo, when he was 4 years old. Now he’s about to graduate high school and attend university to achieve his dream of becoming an accountant.
According to Julia, Mercado Global has come a long way since then, as have the women from her cooperative, Tejiendo Conocimiento. Partnering with Mercado Global, they have been able to learn new techniques and improve their products, accessing new markets and a better income. Says Julia, “Mercado Global has allowed us to better understand the story and value behind our traje, our language, and our way of life. We are able to learn the intricate weaving techniques of our ancestors, and preserve our culture that is slowly disappearing.”
In the future, Julia says she hopes to see more demand for the products she makes using these techniques, as her community still suffers. “I hope that more women participate in our cooperative, and aren’t forced to wait for their husband’s income. I know how difficult it is to support my two sons through high school. I see other women that have many small children, and it’s extremely difficult to provide food and clothing while also sending them to school.”
Julia notes that for her, Mercado Global not only provides a source of income, but a reason to be proud of her talents and heritage. “Among our community, we are the leaders and we have a respected reputation as women artisans. Mercado Global has empowered us to be leaders within our community, and given us the opportunity to preserve our culture and make it known to the world."
Fresh carrots and fruit licuados, or smoothies, are essential ingredients in the home of artisan Gloria Liliana Elizabeth Xiquin Sosa of Mercado Global’s Santa Maria cooperative. For Gloria and her family, good nutrition is not a simply a choice, but a necessity.
Many generations of Gloria's family suffer from disease related to poor nutrition. Both of her parents have Type 2 diabetes and her extended family, including her grandparents, uncles, and aunts are also diabetic. “When I was a child, our family’s eating habits were not good,” says Gloria. “We ate a lot of fried chicken, fries, soda. Things like that. Thankfully my siblings and I are healthy now, but looking at our family’s health history, it really makes you think about how important it is for us to eat well now.”
When Gloria’s son Roni was just sixteen months old, he contracted pneumonia, which led to an extended hospital stay. During this time, Roni also struggled with malnutrition, which only worsened his condition and brought about a whole new set of challenges for Gloria. Nursing Roni back to full health proved to be very difficult and highlighted the importance of eating healthy for the family.
From this challenging time, good nutrition has become an incredibly important part of their lives. As a partner artisan with Mercado Global, Gloria receives access to health and nutrition trainings. These trainings have helped her in her mission to improve her family’s eating habits and understand the potential dangers of consuming unhealthy foods. “Many times, I come home after a training and say to my mom, ‘Did you know about this recipe, or that this could be done this way? Let’s try it,’” says Gloria. “The trainings have also helped with feeding my son. Like a lot of kids, he’s picky about what foods he eats. Now, I’ve been learning new ways to make food that he’ll actually eat and enjoy.”
Increasingly, the family is finding that their diet is not only helping them to prevent diabetes and malnutrition, but also making them feel healthy, energetic, and happy. Gloria is often cooking new healthy recipes, and each family member is asking for more of their favorite nutritious ingredients.
In addition to this, Gloria has found that eating healthy has had other unexpected benefits. Mercado Global trainings on personal savings and budgeting, combined with the nutrition trainings, have made her realize that eating healthy is also a lot more cost-effective. “I’ve come to realize that certain unhealthy foods are so much more expensive,” says Gloria. “A can of Coca-Cola, for instance, is about 15 quetzales [about $2 USD], only lasts one serving, and is not at all healthy. If you instead buy a papaya, for instance, it costs only 8 quetzales [about $1 USD] and you get enough for three licuados.” This realization, Gloria says, has helped save her family a lot of money that they can put towards other important purchases.
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.