It was a crisp, cool morning in the Highlands of Guatemala, about an hour’s drive outside the city of Solola where Salvador and his brother (our drivers for the week) drove our hardy group of Mercado Global enthusiasts to observe and meet the members of the La Fe artisan’s cooperative.  Isabelle, a 25-year-old artisan who is the vice-president of this cooperative, met us along with six other women and their children as we got out of our two vans.  La Fe is a small community on a ridge that runs into a lush green valley in the Highlands.  It is also an area of extreme poverty.  In the community the women greeted us with warmth and kindness.  They were proud to show us their art and handmade goods.  They showed us their two electric sewing machines that allowed them to do more technical work at a faster pace than ever before.  They were appreciative of the global markets that Mercado Global was creating for them.  Each and every one emphasized how much they wanted to work.

In the small compound there was an open pit fire with a large kettle hanging from a tripod with a huge stew of turkey, vegetables and broth.  Smoke from the fire was in the air.  Chickens, turkeys, dogs, and children were running through the compound.  We were lead into a “community room” in a cement block building which was actually a room off of one of the bedrooms of our guest.  The floor was dirt.  The men were out back building a community school.

Isabelle shared a remarkable insight with our group.  When asked what Mercado Global meant to her, she said it meant meaningful work.  It allowed her to take a micro-loan and purchase an industrial sewing machine.  Through the increased work she and her colleagues could produce, she was able to pay off the micro-loan, send several of her sisters to high school, one to accounting school, and purchase 2 acres of farm land for her father to work!  The smile on her face and those of her cooperative members was enough to know what Mercado Global meant to the La Fe community.

The next day our group traveled to the Churacruz community.  Several years earlier a Mercado Global supporter, Sadie Bronk, a young
woman from Northern California, had raised over $10,000 as a Bat Mitzvah gift to give to the Churacruz community for the construction of a kitchen, computer class room, and purchase of six HP computers for the local elementary school.  The community is still raving about this gift and the benefits it has brought their children and community!  The community lavished praise on us as friends of Mercado Global for the work done on their behalf.  However, they were always quick to say, “It is work we desire.”  They are proud of their weavings and jewelry.  They are proud that they are able to make high quality products for a world market.

The compound we visited in Churacruz consisted of three large cement block buildings.  There was no open fire pit in the center but a building that housed a large kitchen with an oven.  The floors of the buildings were made of cement and there were no chickens or turkeys running around the center of the compound.  It was cleaner.  One of the large cement block buildings housed 4 large looms where the women came and worked each day (these looms allow the women to work 3 times faster than a backstrap loom).  In addition, there was a room with 4 industrial sewing machines.  In this compound, we were also served a delicious stew with tamales.

The Churacruz cooperative has worked with Mercado Global from the beginning – for nearly 8 years.  It was interesting for me to compare and contrast the difference between the La Fe community and the Churacruz community.  La Fe has worked with Mercado Global for only 2 years.  The women and children of the Churacruz community seemed healthier and their home environment was much cleaner.  They had a fruit tree in the middle of their compound rather than a fireplace!  All the children in the Churacruz community are attending elementary, middle, or high school.  They appeared to be better organized than La Fe.

I was impressed by what I saw –the enthusiasm of cooperative members from both communities, the pride in their work, their eagerness to work, and the obvious improvements derived from the work these cooperative members are doing.  I was impressed by the educational sessions provided by Mercado Global staff to begin to educate the cooperative members of things they need to know to direct their own affairs and maintain healthy living environments.  I came to appreciate the value of basic public health – safe running water, defined areas for trash disposal, and no open fire pits where young children roam. 

I made a commitment to Mercado Global to help their Educate to Empower (E2E) campaign by making a substantial financial donation that will allow them to continue the educational activities that are crucial to the long-term success of these cooperatives.  A group of family medicine residents from University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio will be traveling to the Highlands of Guatemala this September to work with Barbara from Mercado Global and the artisan cooperatives to better understand the health care needs of these impoverished communities.  This will be a “win-win” situation for all parties.  The impact each will have on the other will be tremendous.  Mercado Global is helping to touch all our lives, and we’ve never looked so good!