June 02, 2018
The women of Mayamam Weaving Cooperative are thrilled with the new gas stoves and water filters they are enjoying in their homes, thanks to a grant from Pulsera Project. Pulsera Project is a non-profit organization that works with artisans in Central America and with many schools in the U.S. They educate young North Americans about the realities facing many people who live in Central America, especially Nicaragua. Through sales of artisans’ products, they are able to expand economic opportunities in several Central American countries, then return the profits to these same communities through scholarships, housing programs, workers rights advocacy and environmental initiatives. The stoves and gas filters were part of an "Artisan Benefits Initiative".
The Pulsera Project began with a group of American visitors to Nicaragua in 2009 who were inspired to sell “pulseras” or bracelets back in the U.S. that had been made by a group of young artists outside of Managua. They now employ over 200 artisans in Nicaragua and Guatemala and raise funds to reinvest in the communities where they live. Mayamam Weavers is delighted to work with Pulsera Project, making custom cross body bags as well as some of the wristbands that are sold across college and high school campuses in the U.S.
Last fall, they invited Mayamam Weavers to participate in their Artisan Benefits Fund. They offered a grant of $10,000 to the cooperative and empowered the women to choose how the money would be spent. The only stipulations were that the money was to be used to improve everyone’s sense of well-being and that they would arrive at the decision through a democratic process. (The Mam culture is based on consensus, so this part of the requirement was simple.)
The weavers began brainstorming ideas, making a list of items that would improve their lives. They came up with a wide variety of essentials which included stoves, beds, vitamins, water filters, land, pots and pans, food and housing. They took a quick vote to see which items on the list were the most popular ideas, and then they analyzed the ideas with the most votes. They arrived at a consensus on how to spend their grant. They determined that the best way was divide it among 1) gas stoves for every member of the cooperative 2) water filters for every member and 3) to cover some of the expenses from our recent health survey.
Several exciting days at the beginning of this year saw these ideas come to fruition. A bus was rented and everyone took a long ride to the capital, Guatemala City for a visit to the dentist. For some, this was their first visit to the dentist ever.
From there, came the shipment of water filters--one for each person to take home in order to ensure that they and their families are drinking clean water.
And finally, the delivery of 23 stoves!! They were delivered to each house, unpacked and set up. It is much less expensive to run a gas stove than to buy wood to burn, and it is healthier too. Now, it's time to get cooking!
We are grateful for the relationship we have with Pulsera Project and thankful for the water filters, stoves and trip to the dentist! Chjonte!
For more information on The Pulsera Project, visit their website at http://www.pulseraproject.org/
December 07, 2017
Coffee with your quesadilla!? Many of you would think that is a strange combination. But in Guatemala, they are the perfect pair to ease those afternoon hunger pangs. Because.....a quesadilla in Guatemala is not the same as a quesadilla in Mexico or the Tex Mex staple in the USA.
Whether you are familiar with either form of quesadilla or not, and even if your Spanish vocabulary is limited, you may have already figured out that QUESAdilla has something to do with cheese, or "queso". In Mexico, a quesadilla is a tortilla (corn tortillas are used in central and southern Mexico while flour tortillas are popular in the north) filled with stringy Oaxacan cheese, folded in half and grilled or deep fried. Sometimes other fillings are used along with the cheese like mushrooms, chicken, spinach or potatoes and sausage. It's something that can be eaten at any time of day as a snack or a meal.
In Guatemala, a quesadilla is a type of coffeecake that has cheese in it. Not too sweet, quesadilla is often served around 5pm with a cup of coffee. In Guatemala, it is even more confusing because a quesadilla can mean two fairly different things depending on your ethnic background. For the mestizos of Guatemala, a quesadilla is a sweet dense bread, almost a cake. For the Maya people, a quesadilla is a bread that is made with elote, or fresh corn on the cob.
The recipe we are sharing with you today is from the capital, Guatemala City. It is somewhat sweet. It is made on occasions that call for a treat - a friend visiting, celebrating a good report card with your child, not necessarily a treat for the holidays. If you find yourself being hosted by a Guatemalan and they offer you quesadilla - always accept it! Not only will you enjoy tasting it, but it is very thoughtless in this culture to refuse.
Allow time to cool, then slice, serve and enjoy!
Quesadilla Recipe - click to print
August 01, 2017 1 Comment
This month we’d like to introduce you to Sandra, a seamstress in the cooperative, in her own words. As a single mother of 6 children, she is grateful for the skills she has learned with Mayamam Weavers as well as how her children have been able to go to school. She is also thankful for the tutoring program Grupo Cajolá offers so that her children get extra help that they need for school.
My name is Sandra López Lucas. I have 6 children; I am a widow and a single mother. My oldest daughter is 21 years old but she doesn’t live in our house, she already has her own family. My daughter Brenda is 15 years old, Wilson is 12, Keysi is 10, Yenner is 6 years old and Emerson is 4. My life before I started to work with this group was very different. I worked at home, cut wood and brought it down from the communal lands. I did housework and cooked, worked in the fields harvesting and husking corn, and plowed the land. One day I heard that there was a group of women that had a project to buy sinks to wash clothing, and I enrolled. After we got our sinks, they told us there would be another project, to learn how to sew on a sewing machine. None of us knew how to sew on the sewing machine. Caryn and Eduardo brought a sewing teacher who taught our group to sew. It took us two years to learn how to sew well. That is how I learned to sew, but it was very slow! Then, they brought industrial machines that are faster. Now I can say that I am an experienced seamstress, although we always have new things to learn.
In my case, since I started to work here, it has helped me to be able to pay for my children’s’ education, buy their uniforms and their school supplies as well as their food. I still do the same work at home, but now I bring home a salary too.
I am also taking classes at work to be able to earn my primary school certificate. Before I entered the group I didn’t even know how to write my name. My friends had to write my lists and other things but now I am proud to say that I can write on my own.
I enjoy learning to sew new things based on the type of orders that we get. Before, everything was difficult for me. I didn’t know much Spanish, but now I am learning words that I thought were too difficult for me. Over the past several years, I have learned a little of everything -- how to sew, to read, to write, and how to speak Spanish. I am grateful to Grupo Cajolá because on Sundays my children get to go to a class to improve their reading and Mondays through Fridays they go to tutoring classes to help them with their homework. My goal is that they learn to read and write well. That makes me very happy and my children are happy because they have the help that they need. I would like it if one day they could become doctors, teachers or another professional to have a better life.
June 16, 2017 1 Comment
There are three types of belt wearers- - people that wear belts to hold their pants up, people who wear belts as a fashion statement and then there are the people who take advantage of both! At Mayamam Weavers we weave men’s belts on a traditional backstrap loom in a variety of colors and styles which include our sporty striped canvas belts and our monochrome embroidered canvas belts.
The backstrap loom is used in many countries around the world and has been around since ancient times. In the Guatemalan highlands, Mayan girls are taught to weave on a backstrap loom by their mothers or sisters around the age of 7. Backstrap looms are simple, fairly small, portable and can be used to create simple as well as intricate textiles. This type of loom is made up of sticks/dowels, rope and a strap. One end is attached to a far wall/ceiling -- or tree -- while the other end wraps around a weaver’s back. The weaver sits on the floor or a stool as they work and leans their body back or forward to change the tension as needed.
In order to weave a belt on a backstrap loom, colors must be selected and the yarn must be warped on a warping wheel. All of the yarn that is needed for the length of the belting has to be wound on the warper. The weavers can stage the yarn on a small spool rack to make the warping easier. Before they can weave, they have to spread out the warping in the proper order hooked to the ceiling (or tree...). The warping is the yarn or thread that runs vertically whereas the weft is the yarn that runs horizontally. They begin their weaving close to their bodies and work out, moving their bench closer to the endpoint as they go. For a belt, lengths of 4-5 yards are woven which can take up to 40 hours for a length of embroidered belting. Once the lengths are finished, they are cut to various sized lengths and finished off with a scout style buckle.
Inspiration for the striped belts comes from the wristbands (pulseras) that the women weave, selecting colors that complement a man’s wardrobe. For the embroidered belts, the women select their own motifs, which are drawn from their collective memory or inspired by their surroundings such as nature, their güipils (traditional blouse), and their culture (duality, complementarity).
Handwoven belts add style to any outfit – they are the finishing touch!
May 10, 2017
Mothers influence the future of our world every day. Most would agree that a mother plays an extremely important role in raising a family. Without a doubt, her attitudes and values strongly influence the values of her children. And those attitudes and perceptions continue to be passed on from generation to generation.
In Cajola, home to Mayamam Weavers, children attending school has not always been “the norm” as they were sent to work in the fields to help the family eat. The problem still continues in some measure today due to poverty. This means that some of today's mothers have never had the chance to experience school for themselves or understand what happens during a regular school day.
The preschool next to the weaving cooperative where the families in the community can send their children, has been changing that outlook. Wisdom of Our Elders Preschool, a project of community group Grupo Cajola, is a Reggio Emilia inspired school that emphasizes the important role of the parents in the education of their children and requires their participation.
Since many mothers did not have the opportunity to attend school themselves this participation has helped them understand what education actually is. The teachers had observed that the mothers did not know much about their own roles at home in the development of their children, so they invite the mothers on an ongoing basis to participate in activities in the school where they play with their children! This can be singing and dancing, or making posters. The mothers are also invited to lead an activity at the weekly physical education outing, allowing them to engage with the children and teachers together. Attendance is required at monthly meetings where mothers learn about the importance of talking to your children from the time they are born, the value of play, good nutrition and health habits. The mothers are often surprised at the activities at the school -- that the boys are taught to make tortillas or cakes or that the children often participate in the preparation of meals. They are encouraged to spend more time interacting with their children at home, asking them questions about what happened at school, asking the children to teach them a song.
It has been well established that parental involvement in a child’s education has a direct positive affect on children’s achievement, their social skills and self esteem. These interactions between mother and child have even been proven to improve the physical development of a child’s brain. Wisdom of the Elders Preschool is working hard to make a difference in the community by not only educating the children that attend, but supporting their families as well, particularly their mothers --the child's first teacher.
April 08, 2017
Today we would like to introduce you to Blanca, a member of our cooperative who is in charge of quality control along with washing and ironing our products. Blanca has a keen eye and carefully checks every product we make for any flaws before shipping them out.
My name is Blanca Angelita Huinil Velasquez. I am a single mother to 2 and 4 year old daughters. My four year old attends school at XNQ preschool while I work. I am very happy that she can go, because I didn’t have the opportunity to go to preschool. I am also happy that the school is in the same place where I work.
Before I began to work with Mayamam Weavers, I didn’t have any money and my daughters and I were living with my parents. My sister Rosemery talked to Grupo Cajola (where she works as a cook in the preschool) to see if there was any kind of work for me. Eduardo, the coordinator, offered me work washing and ironing Mayamam Weavers products. When I received my first pay, I was able to buy many things that I needed for my daughters. Before, I didn’t even have enough money for milk for my daughters or enough food.
When I started to work I didn’t know anything about ironing as I had never used an iron. Our cortes (skirts) and güipils (traditional blouses) don’t need ironing. I also didn’t know how to fold, much less how to check the quality of the products. During my training with the cooperative, I learned these skills along with the importance of having a product of high quality. I feel very proud to be working in this group that gave me this opportunity.
I would like to continue my studies to be a teacher because right now I only completed 8th grade. When I got married I couldn’t keep studying. I think that next year I will return to school on the weekends. I would like to be a professional to be able to earn more, to be an example for my daughters and the community so that people see that if you struggle to keep on studying you can graduate.
December 22, 2016 1 Comment
Sweet tooth or not, there is no escaping cookies at the holidays! Snowballs, macaroons, chewy chocolate and gingerbread men. During the holidays, traditions are highlighted each year from cookies we baked and decorated as children to the expected flavors of the season; peppermint, chocolate and ginger. Mmmmmmm.
In Guatemala, a champurrada is the closest thing you will find to a cookie. They are sweet, and really crunchy. Found in bakeries across the country, champurradas are actually a flat sweet bread found among the regular daily bread offerings. Champurradas are what Americans would describe as crunchy cookies. Ideal for dunking in a cup of tea or coffee – champurradas are to Guatemalans what biscotti are to Italians.
Across Guatemala, recipes for champurradas vary – some have eggs, some don’t. Many champurradas have sesame seeds on top, but not all do. Typically, a champurrada is fairly large – about 4-5 inches across. We’ve adapted our recipe to be a smaller cookie, allowing us to justify popping 2-3 cookies in our mouths at a time. Some recipes call for using a tortilla press to shape the cookie while others direct you to roll and cut with a cookie cutter. Recipes also differ in the type of fat and the type of flour called for; coconut oil, butter, lard, pastry flour, whole wheat or all purpose. What they do all have in common is some type of corn flour and/or cornmeal. Corn is one of the staples of Guatemala cooking.
To get started, In a medium bowl, combine flour, corn masa flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. Cream together butter and sugars with a mixer. Add milk and mix. Add dry ingredients from medium bowl into the butter mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.
Roll dough out on floured surface. Cut into circles and transfer to ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 375⁰F until lightly browned. Our small cookies took approximately 8 minutes.
Whether you add this to your holiday cookie repertoire now or pull out the recipe on a cold and dreary day in February, make sure you have a warm beverage for dunking!
November 17, 2016
We’ve officially entered, make that pounced into the season of gift giving! This is the time when we run around looking for gifts for a long list of people – some we put endless thought and energy into finding the perfect gift, while for others we stock up on a few “good” gifts that can be presented to a coworker, a party host or a fellow gift exchange participant.
This year consider purchasing an artisan-made gift that will truly “give back.” When you choose to purchase a gift from Mayamam Weavers, you significantly impact the community of Cajolá in Guatemala by supporting a group of indigenous women artisans who are also mothers, daughters and sisters. In a community where 94% of the population is poor and there is virtually no employment outside of the school or public health system, the members of this all-women cooperative are able to earn a fair wage, care for their families, learn business skills and further (in some cases begin) their education, all because of your purchase.
In Cajolá, 77% of the economy is agricultural. Some families cobble together some income from small stores within their houses and weaving the traditional clothing of Cajolá. There is simply not enough economic opportunities to make a living which is why so many migrate from this area. About 35% of Cajolenses live in the USA. When women need to migrate to find income they leave behind their children and families – a decision many Americans would find virtually impossible to make. Working for the cooperative, however, is a sustainable long term solution, preventing the need to leave their home.
Some of the women in the cooperative are the only breadwinners at home – it is imperative that they earn fair wages to be able to feed their families which often time include their parents and their children under the same roof. After agriculture, construction day work is the next most common employment. A construction worker earns about $1.25 an hour on the days that he does work. A skilled worker earns $1.67/hour when he works, and the supervisor earns about $2/hour on the days that he works. The members of the Mayamam Weaving Cooperative have flexible working hours and are required to work a minimum of 20 hours/week. The women are paid for the work that they do and the average worker earns approximately $1.50/hour and the most skilled earn approximately $2/hour. (Data based on 2015)
In addition to job skills training specific to the position each woman in the group has, Mayamam Weavers also stresses the importance of their literacy program. Since more than half of the women had never had the opportunity to attend school, daily literacy classes are offered on site with a program qualified by the Education Ministry that offers certification to the women so they can advance their education. The women are required to participate until they complete primary school level. All of the women and their children are eligible for scholarship assistance to study beyond the primary school level. This past year, scholarships were awarded to a weaver studying at the primary level, one studying at the middle school level, one at the high school level and 3 weavers studying at the university level!
As members of the Mayamam cooperative, the women have flexible working hours to accommodate their home responsibilities (such as preparing lunch for their families). They are also able to send their children to XNQ Preschool where they have a rich environment for child development and a focus developing parenting skills – all for free.
Mayamam Weavers is proud to bring you products that are handmade, that reflect their history and their culture but have been influenced by modern design. When you make a purchase this holiday season, think of it as giving twice. You purchase a beautiful (and in some cases one of a kind) handwoven gift to give to a loved one while continuing to empower indigenous women in rural Guatemala, allowing them to continue to live in their home town, earn a fair wage and educate themselves.
October 15, 2016
You may have noticed this year, next to the Halloween decorations, many stores have been carrying fanciful skull items, planters, plates and napkins, garland, skull candy and cookie baking kits – all with white faces and brightly colored details. These decorations are all made to be used in the Day of the Dead celebrations as they celebrate it in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. Day of the Dead has been around for about 3000 years – a tradition that is observed in many countries throughout Latin America to honor and remember the dead. Celebrated in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day on November 1st and All Soul’s Day on November 2, celebrations vary from one country and region to another and can be traced back to the indigenous cultures.
Although the “sugar skulls” are not used in Guatemala, Dia de los Muertos is a significant family holiday that is celebrated on November 1st. The role of family and ancestors is very important in the Maya Mam culture, and this day honors your ancestors who have passed on. Although the cemetery in Cajolá is colorful on a regular day, on this day it is overflowing with flowers, plants, and people. The paths – which have been covered with festival greens in the morning -- are hidden under throngs of people and you will likely run into everyone that you know.
Some families stay all day, and bring along lunch and a marimba band! Everyone brings food offerings to leave at the graves, to nourish those who have gone before. The small chapel is filled with a marimba band and traditional dancing. The streets surrounding the cemetery are filled with vendors of flowers, food, soda, and toys for the children. In the afternoon, people fly kites in the cemetery. The kites represent the spirits of your ancestors, and the string that connects you to the kite is your communication with them. Steeped in tradition, and very different than the American view of death, Dia de los Muertos is a celebratory day to honor and connect with ancestors after their death.
September 19, 2016
One of the biggest obstacles to development, particularly of women around the world, is lack of education. This is so clear in Cajolá, L where more than half of the women haven’t had the opportunity to ever go to school. Many parents lack the insight to understand the countless benefits of going to school, especially when much of their expectations for women center around making tortillas and washing clothes. The majority of parents also lack the means to pay for all of the necessary supplies for school like pencils and notebooks.
The primary language in Cajolá is Mam, an indigenous language spoken by about 617,000 people in Guatemala and 20,000 people in Mexico. Many of the women of Cajolá do not speak Spanish, which is important for communicating outside of their own community. In order to sell their products to retailers in other cities within Guatemala—they will need to be able to speak (and write!) Spanish.
All of the women in the weaving cooperative are required to study reading and writing daily in on-site classes until they reach 6th grade proficiency. And while admirable, even that is not enough to compete in today’s world. Recently several women have entered the group who have had the opportunity – or made their own opportunity – to study through high school or even are studying in College. They entered the group to use their textile skills, but they are quickly able to take on additional responsibilities, such as a sales position or quality control position, bringing the goal of self-management of the group closer to a reality one day.
Learning to read and write increases one’s self esteem, it is a way out of poverty, and a path to better health. Literacy contributes to an increase in civic engagement as well as the preservation of one’s culture. When women are taught to read – the whole community truly benefits.
August 24, 2016
In previous blogs, we had the opportunity to introduce you to two of our backstrap weavers – Cleta and Yolanda. Today you will be hearing from Eva, one of our foot loom weavers and one of the original members of the cooperative of Mayamam Weavers. Join us as she shares her aspirations.
My name is Eva Velazquez and I am 37 years old. I have been working with the Mayamam Weavers for 9 or 10 years, I am not too sure. Before, I worked in the fields, planting onions, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce and other foods. The work in the field is hard. Now that I am working as a weaver, I like it a lot, although it isn’t very easy. I weave on a foot loom, it is something that I have learned. Sometimes we have to weave fabrics that are very complicated to weave. At times I am discouraged because I feel I won’t be able to do the new designs. But then when I succeed, it makes me very happy because I see that if it comes out well, I have work!
Here in the group I am learning to read, write and speak Spanish. I know that it is important when we receive requests for special designs that I am able to understand how to weave what they want. Before, when I couldn’t speak Spanish, it was difficult to talk to the people who don’t speak Mam like I do. Before I worked here when someone spoke to me in Spanish, I could only look at them and I had to stay silent without being able to say anything. Now I can speak a bit with the Ladinos. One day I would like to be able to read everything that I see, or if I have to go to another town I can read the names of the streets, zones, and addresses that are written. That is why I go to my literacy class!