What a gift it was to return to Guatemala recently. My husband Peter was with me this time and I had the privilege of introducing him to the artisan groups I met last year. He was as enamored as I was with the people, the country and the incredible talent of the artisans.
It was a joy to visit the Sharing the Dream Elder Program in Santiago Atitlan again and see my old friends Bernabela, Diana, Estella and Miguel. When we sat down with Bernabela, the director of the beading group, I felt like I was home. Her radiant smile and hearty laughter warmed my heart yet again. Her sense of humor is contagious, as she joked with Peter (“Pedro”), trying to communicate with him given his limited Spanish. At one point we were designing some new jewelry for the spring and there were several trays of tiny beads we were choosing from. Bernabela accidentally knocked over a tray and the beads were scattered all over the floor, mixing the colors in a total mess. After about a second of shock, Bernabela let out an uproarious laugh and that was that – no crisis! And we did manage to design some stunning jewelry.
Then we were off to San Juan La Laguna. San Juan is a stunningly beautiful village on top of a hill overlooking Lake Atitlan, known for its hand woven textiles made from plant dyed fibers. The streets are lined with artisan cooperatives filled with the most beautiful weavings imaginable – a fair traders paradise! When we came across a cooperative with a sign out front that said, “Comercio Justo y Solidario” (“Fair Trade and Solidarity" in Spanish) we were in heaven. The fact that fair trade had made it to a tiny Mayan village was heartwarming indeed.
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world and the people there have suffered tremendously through the long civil war and its aftermath. It is my hope that helping the artisans expand the market for their beautiful handicrafts through fair trade can at least make a small difference, one individual at a time.