This week our team has moved to Todos Santos, an unspoilt mountain town based in the region of Huehuetenango.
For the majority of the week we have been working with 2 local women’s cooperatives from nearby villages as community consultants. These womens cooperatives are funded by the government initiative conALFA and aim to empower women, teaching them skills such as reading and writing. As community consultants we were required to assess the needs of the individual communities as well as coming up with potential microenterprise ideas for the women, which they could use to subsidise family income. The women’s group had asked for Soluciones Comuntarias’ help for this matter.
After doing primary surveys at the beginning of week, we found that nearly all of these women are “amas de casa” who work in the house, cooking for their families, doing housework and also weaving. In Todos Santos and the surrounding villages, Mayan traditions continue in the same way they have done for the last century. The indigenous population of this area all speak in Mam, a Mayan dialect, with Spanish as a second language. In addition, all town members, men and women wear traditional Mayan dress, woven and sewn by the women of the house. For women this consists of a “güipil” a beautifully woven blouse, with elaborate patterns in blues purples and turquoises and a long skirt of navy striped material. For men the traditional dress consists of pantalones of strong red and white striped fabric together with a collared stripy shirt-jacket and a traditional straw hat. As with the güipil the collar of the jacket is specially woven in a unique design and even boys as young as 5 can be seen running round town in this traditional dress. As most of the women in the cooperative spent most of their spare time weaving, we decided that this was a useful skill that we could perhaps work with to create a product that the cooperative could produce and sell.
Most of the week has considered of product and microenterprise research. Woven handicrafts are hugely popular throughout Guatemala, and this saturated market made it difficult to come up with unique woven products that the cooperative could potentially produce. Furthermore, ideally we wanted to work with a product that may directly affect the wellbeing of the community. When we surveyed our community all of the women expressed that there were huge sanitation and health problems existing primarily due to contaminated water and lack of sanitation education.
After surveying the products that the women purchased on a week-to-week basis, my team worked on two product ideas to present to the cooperative. Our first idea was the idea of producing shoes from local materials, with typical woven embellishments. Currently families were buying shoes every couple of months and at present there was no material shoes on the market. Our second product idea was that of natural moisturising lotions and lipbalms, produced from local plants and herbs in the area. Not only would this have health benefits, in moisturising the dry skin of many of the women, but also all this was a product that we felt could easily be sold in Todos Santos, providing extra income for the women’s families. Before taking our ideas back to the women’s cooperatives at the end of the week, we produced and priced these products ourselves doing feasibility studies and swot analyses in order to judge the potential of our ideas, and the ease in which the cooperatives could successfully take on these ideas as part of a long term sustainable microenterprise.
At the end of the week we met with the hugely excited women’s group of Los tres cruces to present our ideas, and to decide which of these we would follow up with the group. The women absolutely adored the idea of producing creams, and also drawstring bags from old shirts. We also taught the women how to make natural medicinal remedies to combat sore stomachs and the importance of clean water. We will go back next Monday to work through full business plans with the women.
Aside from working with the women’s cooperatives, this week has also been taken up with another project working on improving publicity and awareness on Microconsignement campaigns with Soluciones Comunitarias. On Wednesday, we travelled to a remote village called near the border of Mexico to try and extend our organisation more to this area, meeting with the town mayor of the municipality, and promoting the campaign throughout the town by speaking with locals and handing out our updated flyers. For this project, we have come up with the idea to provide more audio and visual materials for the organisation. At present our campaigns focus mainly on free eye examinations and reading glasses, and through our project we hope to improve awareness of solcuiones comunitarias organisation as well as the other products we offer to the community, such as water filters, solar lamps and more efficient cooking stoves. On Sunday we will try test some audio recordings and new posters presenting the benefits of our water filters to see if they could be implemented long-term for each campaign.
This week has been incredibly busy, but I have learnt an awful lot, from traditional Mayan lifestyle to analysing the feasibility of microenterprise ideas. In addition, living with a traditional Mayan family has given me a taste of the lifestyle here, adapting to no running water, a diet of tortillas and beans and cooking on a firepit stove! My family also loved trying some English tea by the fire that I brought across. It has definitely been a really eye-opening week!