Last week, Mayan Hands staff in Guatemala City received a very special invitation from Las Gladiolas, the cooperative of basket makers in Chimaltenango: a party!
According to Mayan Hands advisor and former Guatemala director Deborah Chandler, “This was a first. The women invited us for a special luncheon of thanks for all the work - nine years worth of basket making! - and the dramatic changes the income has meant in their lives. It was so much a celebration of gratitude that they even invited their pastor to come and offer a prayer of thanksgiving that named all of them and all of us and, of course, Mayan Hands founder Brenda Rosenbaum and San Francisco-based basket artist Michele Hament, who got it all going in the first place.”
It is such a joy to partner with the women in the Las Gladiolas cooperative who thrive under the leadership of Gloria Chonay and with access to the international market through fair trade. Our journey together is a story that illustrates one of the principles of fair trade, that of long-term relationship. As important as a fair return for one’s efforts is, equally important is the assurance that one can count on income month to month, year after year.
The coop first formed after the civil war during which the women had lost husbands, sons, fathers, and with them their economic security. Their textile tradition was embroidery and the women adorned handbags and t-shirts with their designs for Mayan Hands. But styles change and the market for these products eventually disappeared. These women know how to work a needle and when Michele Hament came to Guatemala to volunteer her considerable teaching skill and talent and introduced the fundamentals of pine needle basket weaving, they learned readily and soon created their own new designs. With their determination and Michele’s continued guidance, a successful enterprise grew and the women now count the Smithsonian Museum and thousands of customers across the United States and Canada among their clients.
Basket maker Catarina Barán explains the significance of a steady income, “I am very happy knowing when I work hard, the income will be there. Every time I deliver my baskets, I receive income that covers my family’s needs, like food and education for my children.”
Healthy, thriving, well-fed children attending school… something to be grateful for! At their celebration, the women expressed deep gratitude for the network of support that brings opportunity and the promise of a better future to their families and community. Thank you all!