Weaving a Legacy: Food For The Poor Donors Empower Women in Guatemala
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Aug. 15, 2019) The women of Sololá, Guatemala, are weaving a brighter future for themselves and their families, thanks to a generous Food For The Poor donor.
In Sololá, a small community of 5,000 about 80 miles west of Guatemala City, slightly less than half the population lives in extreme poverty, earning an average of $1.25 or less per day.
The indigenous women of the community have a rich history of weaving. But for many, the main barrier between a life of poverty and gaining the financial independence to support their families and send their children to school is access to a viable market to earn a living from their talents.
Now, through a partnership between Food For The Poor, Caritas and Mercado Global, these artisans are learning new sewing and looming techniques, using Mercado Global's unique designs, to make handbags and other items on a scale that can compete in the international marketplace.
In May, the first group of women graduated from a technical training program and the entire community and their families were invited to attend the graduation ceremony to celebrate their success. A total of 289 women have been trained so far; about 60 have received their own floor looms and sewing machines.
It was their first graduation ceremony, as some only had a few years of schooling while others never had the opportunity to attend school at all.
"These women have this inner fire and desire to provide for themselves and feed their families. All they need is a market," said Ruth DeGolia, Executive Director of Mercado Global.
DeGolia visited Food For The Poor's Coconut Creek headquarters last week and showed off samples of the handbags, cosmetic bags, totes and home décor items made by the women.
The women have the potential to earn up to $8 a day, working part-time. This allows them to make up to three times the daily rural Guatemalan income and lift themselves out of poverty in a short time.
When Isabel first sought Mercado Global's help and training, DeGolia said she was shy and didn't make eye contact. But within a year, she was able to make enough money working from home to send her younger sisters to school and make a down payment on a plot of land with plans to hire her father to sow potatoes on it.
"She's gone from having no income to starting her own co-op," DeGolia said. "She holds herself up with pride."
Through compassionate donors, Food For The Poor is creating even more opportunities for the indigenous women of Sololá by building a new training center and providing intensive technical training, equipment and materials for an additional 270 women.
Caritas is overseeing the construction of the center. Mercado Global trains the women, focusing on business development and entrepreneurial skills. Beyond technical expertise, the women also receive guidance on childhood nutrition, healthcare and self-esteem.
Since 2004, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Mercado Global has empowered indigenous women in Guatemala to break the cycle of poverty by connecting them to international markets and selling their goods to national retailers like Target, Nordstrom, Levi Strauss and Anthropologie. As a nonprofit, all proceeds from Mercado Global's sales to its retail clients go back to its partner artisans.
DeGolia said the impact on families is seen every day when a woman earns her own money, often for the first time, and can provide not only a healthy living, but build a safety net for her family.
"I've had so many women come up to me and say, 'My husband decided not to go to the U.S. and we could keep our family together in Guatemala because we had income with Mercado Global,'" DeGolia said.
In his many travels to Guatemala, Food For The Poor Executive Director Angel Aloma has seen firsthand how women and children struggle but also how once-destitute women become so empowered that he hardly recognizes them.
"For the first time they feel the dignity and the empowerment of being able to make their own living, and being able to take care of their own children," Aloma said.
"We thank Caritas and Mercado Global for partnering with us and are especially grateful to the donors who are making a difference in the lives of the poor and for helping them realize a brighter future for their children," Aloma said.
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for orphaned or abandoned children, care for the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.
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