Like many Mayan women in Guatemala, Gilberta Gonzales faces enormous challenges. Poverty, domestic violence, and discrimination could cause many to despair. But Gilberta's work with Mayan Hands as leader of the San Rafael cooperative has provided her a lifeline and, in turn, she has reached her hand out in friendship and solidarity to the 24 women in her group.
Gilberta explains the difficult realities of the local economy, "There are not many work opportunities in San Rafael... Our crops fail frequently for lack of rainfall, so we can't even count on our own food supply. Before working with Mayan Hands we would walk to the town center and sell in the local market, and that was really tough. It's very hot there... you sit for hours and all for a very few sales or sometimes none at all and, of course, at very low price."
Rather than wasting long hours away from home and selling below the cost of production, through fair trade the women can rely on a regular income. Gilberta observes, "Fifteen years ago, very few of our children went past 3rd grade. Now, working with Mayan Hands, a lot more are going all the way to high school."
The benefits of fair trade can be measured by increased income, better nutrition, children's attendance in school. But they can also be felt in the warmth of Gilberta's smile, her optimism and determination. Julio Cardona, Mayan Hands director in Guatemala sings Gilberta's praises, "She is always available and willing to help. She encourages the other women to participate and despite the challenges she faces with a difficult situation at home, she has enviable energy and always a smile on her face."
The women in San Rafael love their leader. She has been able to find an important balance between supporting the women and holding them accountable for the high standards that Mayan Hands requires of the scarves and Judaica products they weave. Her confidence is contagious and the women are now coming up with new scarf patterns for the international market. Over the last two years, several have invested considerable time in learning the difficult art of natural dyeing, creating a brand new palette of glorious colors. This has opened new market possibilities for them. Mayan Hands is very proud to have partnered with this wonderful group of women for more than twenty years. It is a joy to work with Gilberta and her compañeras!