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Mercado Global microloans empower artisans to do more

Posted on June 12, 2014 by Katie Freitas-Seitz

Last week, Mercado Global staff traveled to the Guatemalan highland town of Nahualá to witness something exciting. Through our microloan program, which offers a flexible way for artisans to purchase much-needed tools and equipment, one of our partner artisan cooperatives had just received a brand new foot loom.

A foot or treadle loom is a large, stationary loom operated with a series of floor pedals. Known as a telar de pie in Spanish, these looms are more expensive than back strap looms and have traditionally been used by male weavers since their introduction in the 15th century. (You can learn more about back strap looms and foot looms here.)

The cooperative (known as La Esperanza, or “hope” in Spanish) which received the foot loom was able to partner with Mercado Global last year in large part due to a Mother-Daughter Insight Trip that visited our Guatemala operations in June 2013. Artisans from La Esperanza were key producers in our recent Comptoir des Cotonniers capsule collection, receiving advanced weaving training to complete the order. The intricate triangle brocade pattern that they mastered can be found on the Madeline Tote, the Marabella Clutch, and many other pieces from our Spring/Summer 2014 collection.


La Esperanza artisans are currently being trained to use their new double-wide foot loom by the Mercado Global community staff. Constructed with six pedals (four more than the traditional design), the loom will allow the artisans to weave more bolts of fabric in a shorter amount of time, increasing the cooperative’s production capacity and breaking down gendered labor barriers in the process.

Mercado Global’s donor-funded microloan program is an important complement to our work in Guatemala. With access to microloans, indigenous women entrepreneurs can purchase equipment that allows them to work more efficiently and increase their income. Once a Mercado Global loan is paid back, it is reopened to generate a new opportunity for another artisan. This revolving loan fund structure ensures that gifts from our donor community will go on supporting our partner artisans and their families in a sustainable and impactful way.

Congratulations to La Esperanza on their new foot loom!

Posted in Guatemala, Microfinance, Training

Doubling our impact in Guatemala

Posted on February 20, 2014 by Laura Santana

As part of our expansion campaign, we have partnered with the Government of Guatemala and the World Bank, as well as individual donors to provide 70 artisans with the training to improve their skills using industrial sewing machines. This will open up immediate opportunities for at least 23 artisans to participate in our revolving loan program to receive their own industrial sewing machines, and open the door to dozens more artisans in the future. Thank you for helping our partner artisans gain access to this incredible opportunity!  

The training is taking place at our office, where artisans can individually work on industrial sewing machines and receive guidance from MG’s production team and trainers. The first “graduating class” is pictured below and completed the program on January 24th with a contagious excitement that was quickly spread around the office.

Artisans stand proud after completing training

Here’s what some artisans have to say about this program:

“I enjoy the opportunity of learning new skills, techniques and silhouettes…I think this will help me improve the quality of my work and expand my work possibilities.” - Maria, partner artisan.

“I already own a machine but I didn’t know how to do leather work with it. I’m very excited to try what I have learned here from Mercado Global and help my fellow artisans.” - Catalina, partner artisan.

Delia Mendoza, Guatemala Programs Director, comments on this program: “This training program represents an amazing opportunity for Mercado Global…we are getting the chance to train current and new partner artisans, and immediately pair them with the sales orders that we have lined up. I can see the women’s eagerness to be part of the training, you can see them happy and filled with pride when they realize that they are capable of learning new skills.”

At Mercado Global, we are increasing our efforts to make ethically-sourced products and the empowerment of women a reality worldwide.

We would like to extend our gratitude to all of those who are joining this movement!

Artisans at training session at MG's headquarters in Guatemala


Posted in Empowering Women, Entrepreneurship, Guatemala, Market Access, Training

Empowered Women Create Healthy Communities

Posted on November 07, 2013 by Kayla Kohlenberg


Recently, a team led by Dr. Mori J. Morikawa from University Hospitals Case Medical Center, Cleveland, OH, completed their third visit addressing the health needs of artisan communities in Guatemala. Building on their last visit, they provided trainings covering topics determined to be need attention areas. Considering the holistic wellbeing of the women, activities ranged from exercises to help alleviate neck and back pain to the components of a balanced diet, from safely dressing a cut to self-empowerment.

During the empowerment discussions, the strength of the women present was inspiring. Small comments would detail the hardships they have faced in their lives, such as losing family members in the Civil War or not being able to afford to go to school, however these stories were outshined by smiles, giggles, and clapping, as their determination to change their lives and the lives of their families filled the room. When asked the question, “Why did you join Mercado Global?” the answer, over and over, was similar: for a better life.

This resolve to improve the wellbeing of the community highlights what is so unique about Mercado Global. Educating and empowering artisans through business training and community-based workshops sets Mercado Global apart as an innovative, comprehensive, and pioneering force to help these women break the cycle of poverty. Dr. Morikawa, Head of Case Western University School of Medicine – Global Health Track, recognizes this, saying “Women are the key in global health… Seeing them engaged in asking questions, and Barbara (Quieju, Business Skills & Asset Development Program Coordinator) so animated in interacting with them is really a special experience for me.”

One such remarkable moment emerged out of a teambuilding activity in one of the communities. Asked to come up with a collective name, the women were at first very hesitant. Soon though, many original names started flying, until an idea came from a new member of the cooperative. She quietly suggested “Mujeres Artesanas Luchadoras,” or the group of “Women Artisans Fighters,” because, she said, “We are fighting for something.” With a vote of support from the rest of the group, this became their united name.

The team from Case Medical Center continues to develop the health curriculum, concentrating on empowerment activities. They plan to create a new, collaborative approach to community health, in which the artisans become agents of their own change, in the trainings as well as in their lives. Using their new confidence and learned skills, they will become decision makers, directing the health topics to address their communities’ distinct needs as they continue to pursue new opportunities changing their future, and the lives of their families. 

Posted in Community Development, Empowering Women, Guatemala, Health, Partnership, Training, Women's Empowerment

Case Medical Center and Mercado Global Expand Partnership

Posted on March 25, 2013 by Mori J Morikawa, MD, MPH

Earlier this month, myself and a consulting team from the University Hospitals Case Medical Center, Cleveland OH, visited Panajachel, Guatemala to better grasp the picture of MG artisans’ health issues. This was a follow-up of the assessment we conducted last year.

In order to evaluate what the artisans and their families are suffering from, we employed different methods: group discussions, one-on-one interviews medical examinations, and a “transcend walk” - a visit of an artisan’s home to experience and better understand their culture. The graduates of the Global Health Track, the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health, and one of their residents, joined me to volunteer their time and skills.  Doctors Kate Conway, Leon Gedgeon, Hisam Goueli, Aaron Lear and Kerry Lecky were joined by Riley Asher, as a logistics assistant and my wife, Hikari, a health education and community development specialist.

We visited communities in Comalapa, and Santiago Atitlan. Taking advantage of the dry weather, we did some activities outdoors. Even dogs joined us, of course! After the group discussions, we set up stations for checking blood pressure, visual acuity, and weight and height for children, and physical examinations. With detailed preparation by the MG staff and the facilitation of their training coordinator, Barbara Quieju, everything went as we planned in the limited time frame.

The key findings that emerged out of these community visits were: 1. What the artisans believe is wrong with them does not necessarily match with what we find in our medical examinations. 2. Any aches and pains are amenable to simple physical exercises and behavioral modifications even though community members strongly believe only pills can take care of them. 3. Some of the pains and anxieties are manifestations of pervasive psycho-social stresses and trauma; stunting among children is no exception in both communities.

In the extensive discussions on the findings, we came to conclude that community based interventions would  help the artisans solve and prevent many of their health problems themselves and stay healthy enough to continue supporting their families through their work with MG.

I am extremely excited to work with Mercado Global, whose philosophy is no different from mine as a global health practitioner. I believe the partnership between MG and the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health, Case Medical Center/Case Western Reserve University can make a difference for the lives of the indigenous populations.

Mori J Morikawa, MD, MPH

Director, Global Health Track

Ann S. & Anthony Asher Chair in Family Medicine & Community Health

University Hospitals Case Medical Center/Case Western Reserve University

Posted in Guatemala, Health, Partnership, Training

San Juan Comalapa, the Florence of the Americas

Posted on January 30, 2013 by Laura Santana

Located about an hour and a half away from Guatemala City is the town and municipality of San Juan Comalapa. The town is famous for its painting tradition as well for being the birthplace of renowned Guatemalan painter Andres Curruchiche. Beyond the busy streets of town and up one of its various dirt roads, you can find one of Mercado Global’s brocade cooperatives. This group of seven women, has been part of Mercado Global for two and a half years. 

The Comalapa cooperative represents the beginning of the organization’s production line.
The women of the group create the beautiful brocades that are later used in Mercado Global’s products. The artisans work with foot looms in order to make the intricate patterns. Most of the women already had experience with this type of work before joining Mercado, except one member of the group who is in the process of learning with the support of Mercado Global and her fellow co-op members.

I accompanied Barbara Quieju, our Training Coordinator, for a nutrition workshop with the cooperative. According to the World Food Programme, Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently, 49.8% of children under the age five experience chronic under-nutrition. 

Upon our arrival, the group of women gathered around the room making jokes and speaking in Cakchiquel, their native language - before settling down. “What is nutrition?” asked Barbara as a way to get the conservation started and going right into the subject. The women discussed various concepts and later participated in a dynamic activity where they were asked to identify what foods are considered to be part of a balanced diet. Barbara then explained the importance of practicing a nutritious and balanced diet, as well as the possibilities of doing so within a budget.

Next, the women stoop up to share stories about their eating habits and cooking practices. As explained by many of the artisans, baked goods high in sugar, processed packed snacks, and sodas are frequently part of their family meals. For some, getting rid of these unhealthy habits represents a major challenge since their children and husbands are already used to consuming these products. As explained by Barbara, it is customary for many families in Guatemala to allow kids from a very young age to consume sodas and sugary snacks; in some cases, coffee can also make way into a toddler’s diet. 

The training also encouraged the women to make medical visits at least once a year and get health assessments, if possible. One of the women of the cooperative shared that her gastritis problem has made her rethink her diet as well as her family’s. Other members of the group have followed the same path, particularly the ones that have relatives or neighbors with diabetes or high-blood pressure.  Finally, the women agreed on the importance of maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, as well as the need to improve their eating habits. 


These community visits are part of Mercado Global’s ongoing health training curriculum. The indigenous women who partner with Mercado Global often lack access to basic healthcare and health education based on geographic isolation, language barriers, and widespread racism. Through these community workshops, Mercado aims to enroll the women artisans in the educational programs that equip them to succeed.

Posted in Educate to Empower, Guatemala, Health, Training

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