03 April 2008

My Projects: Tejidos Guadalupe

I've been in the Peace Corps a year and a half, and I realize that most of you don't have any idea what I actually do while I'm down here. Here's the first installment of projects that I'm involved in.

Tejidos Guadalupe
The cooperative Tejidos Guadelupe is a group of about 50 indigenous women that create textiles (artesanĂ­as). They have designs that are both traditional to Mayan cultures and modern styles that they export to a handful of stores in Europe and North America. The cooperative started during the Guatemalan Civil War as a group of widows who, after their husbands were killed by the army, hid in the hills of a nearby village together. After the violence died down in the area, they returned to their town and continued together as an association who sold their crafts. It's worth mentioning that among older generations, all women made their own clothing, and therefore had a set skill. During the early 1990's, they became a cooperative and welcome additional members. Over time they made contacts with volunteer organizations that, once returning to Europe and North America, helped connect them with a few clients.

The cooperative has grown into a clearinghouse of international aid as well as a textile cooperative. They offer scholarships to children of members, are working on a recycling project, own a bakery and a general store.

While their cooperative remains very impressive, it became obvious to me that the cooperative could not sustain itself without help of its donors. Their productive projects -- bakery, textiles, and general store -- didn't always turn in profits. Much of my work has been to help them become more steady on their feet, ensuring that if their donations don't come in, they will remain a benefit to the community by their own rite.

My initial work with the cooperative was helping them find a trainer to teach them how to grow mushrooms. Many women in the cooperative were getting too old to do needlework (because of arthritis and poor vision), and thought growing mushrooms would remain a profitable and achievable project. Unfortunately, this project never bore fruit. While I was working there, several other needs became obvious to me. Despite the number of projects the organization had, they had no overarching plan on how to accomplish them. As is often the case with women's cooperatives here, there was one woman with great vision and ability (the "financial manager" in this cooperative), and then a bunch of other members that simply do their work as their told.

I told this woman that I wanted to teach them how to do an annual plan. The trick was that I wanted the quiet little members of the cooperative to make the decisions, to make them more involved. So that's what we did. We came up with about 5 people to represent each project of the cooperative. I taught them what it means to make an annual plan, and what we need to think about. While annual plans can take a day to accomplish with people used to formal meetings, it took roughly a week to accomplish it in this organization. This was because some women were illiterate, some didn't speak Spanish, and almost none of them were used to being asked about their ideas. In the end, we had a plan for each project of the cooperative and a group of excited women, ready to work towards their goals. Afterwards, the cooperative's leaders looked over the plan, made some minor changes, and bought into it. I'm going over this week to make a giant calendar that has everything that needs to be accomplished for the month written on it, according to the annual plan.
On top of that, I'm helping them translate their website, look for buyers in the US and Canada, and may later help them get their own exporting license.

For those of you I saw over Christmas, this is the organization that I sold products for. For more information, go to their website: http://tejidosguadalupe.org/home.html
Though it's currently available in Spanish, it should be in English by August 1.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi!
I am curator for a small contemporary arts center in Guatemala and have a upcoming project in which I would like to get Tejidos Guadalupe involved. I've tried to access their website but it seems to be unavailable. Can anyone tell me where they are based and which would be the best way to reach them.
Many thanks,

Emiliano
emilianovaldes@gmail.com

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