While each Mayan Hands group has its own story and personality, there are some things that they all share. They live in rural areas, in adobe houses, have outhouses, running water in the pila (outdoor concrete sink used for everything), and electricity. In many ways that means they are in better shape than the poorest of the poor here. But they are no longer in that category because of their work with Mayan Hands.
Each group has a junta (a board of directors) and a group leader, who coordinates the business logistics of the cooperative. While a rotating leadership is healthy and strengthens the group as more women learn what is necessary to keep things working well, when a group has a good leader, they often keep her in that position, overseen by the junta, which does change every year or two.
The women we work with are young and single, women with whole families intact, single mothers, women whose husbands work far away so are only home occasionally, women whose husbands are drunk and lost to a useful life at best and are abusive at worst, and widows — all of which is to say women in every kind of life situation. Workshops that include the concept of self-esteem are amazing to them, and the possibility and legality of women’s rights is something they are getting a better handle on all the time.
Most of the women who work with Mayan Hands have had no more than a third grade education, and many none whatsoever. They tend to be illiterate, and many do not speak Spanish (We work with women in four language groups: K’iche’, Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil, and Achí). But one of the most important things that working with Mayan Hands does for them is make it possible for them to send their children to school, including their daughters. With encouragement, an annual gift of school supplies, and scholarships, Mayan Hands helps with what we see, and what the women see, as a very important change for the next generation. The women talk of their children becoming lawyers, teachers, doctors or some other kind of professional — which would mean they don’t need to risk their lives going to the United States to look for work and leave their families behind in the process. Mayan Hands helps them to make their dreams of a better life come true.