April 09, 2020

Worldwide Pandemic and a Stronger Community

Worldwide Pandemic and a Stronger Community

Anybody tired of the corona virus yet? Yes, we feel you. Looking back a month or two, we never could have dreamed that the world would be like this.

Struggling with a new not-so-normal routine, we are finding ways to live in uncertain times.

We believe there will be good that comes from all of this. It is hard and people are struggling, but without hope, we have no reason to get up each day, no reason to reach out and help our neighbors.

"Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally; not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” – Ekart Tolle

 A Guatemalan returning from a trip to Italy on March 13th became the first person to test positive for Covid-19 in Guatemala.  President Giammettei immediately closed the airport and called for a work stoppage of all non-essential work, and subsequently instituted a nationwide curfew. Nearly 4 weeks later there are 80 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Guatemala (as of April 8th).

For the time being we are moving forward in Guatemala, the best we can. As with everyone in the U.S., we face an enormous uncertainty in the coming months, regarding the virus itself and whether it will spread to Cajolá. And even more frightening, is the collapse of the economy in the US, where 40% of our population is working to support their families back home.  As word spread around our community about the potential damage this pandemic could cause, fear began to grow.

Remember in the '80's and the '90's, during the war, some of us had to escape to the woods to avoid being killed by the army. We survived there, on tortillas and what we could find in the woods to eat.
We can survive this! We are strong.” 
- Eduardo, coordinator of Grupo Cajolá, a non-profit community group


What comes out of this? A stronger community.

Following a meeting with the health center in Cajolá, Grupo Cajolá established new practices consistent with good medical practices to avoid contacting or spreading the virus.   After some thoughtful reorganizing allowing for more space between the seamstresses’ workstations and the weavers' looms, to add hand washing stations inside and outside of the building, the health inspector visited and approved our plan to return to work within the limitations of the nationwide curfew. Because of the curfew, members of the cooperative are working half days, arriving at 7am and leaving at noon. The seamstresses, backstrap weavers and foot loom weavers stay within their group and limit the number of people they interact with on a daily basis. Each work group has access to their own bathroom which is supplied with soap. When someone arrives to visit Grupo Cajolá, there is a hand washing station before they can enter. Six foot spacing has been marked at our entrance so visitors can also respect the social distancing rule.

The seamstresses have made masks using our striped fabrics for everyone to wear at work or while shopping.  They are also selling them to the community at an affordable rate – offering to give one to anyone that needs one and is unable to pay.

Guatemala’s Ministry of Education closed the schools and has “gone online.” Unfortunately, the students of Cajolá do not necessarily have access to “online”. With that in mind, the Internet Center will be admitting 3 people at a time to use the computers.

Our preschool is not in session, but the teachers are taking turns visiting each child’s home to explain carefully the precautions they need to take to prevent the spread of the virus. The after school program, “Helping with Homework” that is usually held in the internet center, has not been able to work with students either. On the bright side, administrators from the Ministry of Education have come to present workshops to all of our teachers on the national curriculum which will ensure that the educational opportunities are above par in the future. 

Our Scholarship students are receiving their scholarships, with the consent of Maya Educational Foundation, regardless of each situation. The private universities are continuing to charge monthly fees in spite of not giving classes, only some homework assignments.

Our situation in Cajolá began with fear, but after finding tangible actions to work on each day, we are more optimistic now. We are taking this opportunity to strengthen our commitment to collective work and solidarity. There is hope in people working together. We are planning a vegetable planting project to supplement the corn, beans, and squash that is the backbone of Cajolá life. As the vegetables are harvested, they will be shared among everyone in Cajolá, particularly the people in the most need.

If you're interested in hearing more about Mayamam Weavers and you'd like to receive updates, please subscribe to our email list here. We'd love to have you join us! We promise not to send more than one e-mail a week and we will never share your information with another organization.