As I think about Mother’s Day and all of the amazing women out there who would do anything for their kids I feel compelled to tell the story of a woman I met in Guatemala this winter.
One afternoon during the fair trade artisan trip I was on we rode way up into the mountains where a small community of women were backstrap weaving. As we did every day during our journey, we listened to their stories! The women told of their experiences during the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980’s. During that 10 year period there were many days when they had nothing but water to drink, and at night when they heard the military coming into their village they would take their children and hide in the mountains, awake all night until they knew they were safe to come down. They told us that the babies weren’t allowed to cry because it would alert the army (I still keep wondering how they stopped the babies from crying!). And then they said that when the adults needed to cry or express themselves they would go into a cave and scream in order to discharge their feelings.
One of these young children was Isabel. Isabel grew up extremely poor. By the time she was 8 years old she was already a very skilled weaver and wanted to quit school to help her mom support the family. But Isabel’s mother insisted she stay in school. At times the children didn’t even have shoes or clothing , so the mother cut her own “corte” (the traditional Mayan skirt) in half to make one for each of her daughters. Every year or two Isabel tried to leave school so she could weave full time, but as much as the family needed the income from her weaving her mother continued to encourage her to stay in school, knowing that it was the only way out of poverty. This was highly unusual in Guatemala where the average indigenous person has a third grade education!
So Isabel stayed in school. Her health was very poor due to lack of good nutrition and health care and her vision was also compromised. But her extraordinary, willful mother continued to encourage her, year after year, to finish her education. And Isabel did. Eventually she was connected with a fair trade organization that employed her to weave for them. Today Isabel is the Artisan Development Coordinator for a well-established, fair trade non-profit that does amazing work in Guatemala. She has a full time salary, health insurance, eye glasses and is in excellent health! Her responsibilities are enormous – she overseas huge artisan projects and is also the treasurer for the organization. And when groups come from the United States she is also the head chef! And she is happily married with a baby of her own.
As she told her story, I kept thinking over and over of her mother and the strength and foresight she had to have faith in her daughter, and sacrifice the needs of the present moment for her future. And I was also yet again profoundly moved by the impact of fair trade on the lives of so many. It gave me hope a newfound hope!
So to Isabel’s mom and all of the extraordinary mothers out there – happy Mother’s Day! It’s the most important job in the world.