This Nonprofit Helps Indigenous Guatemalan Entrepreneurs Build a Better Life Through Microfinance, Education
Editor’s Note: This guest post was provided by Friendship Bridge x mitú.
Remember the Handmade Jefas? We’re the artisan program of the nonprofit Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit social enterprise empowering 30,000+ Guatemalan women each year through microfinance, education and health services.
At Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, we provide skills, education, and technical assistance to hardworking indigenous Guatemalan artisan entrepreneurs committed to building a better life for themselves and their families. All products (jewelry, bags, apparel and more) are handmade with love by our artisans and can be found at our online store.
During this year, we’re showcasing a collection of powerful stories on social media to celebrate, featuring the inspiring women we serve. They and their family members have described to us how they are Breaking the Bias in their communities in Guatemala and forging a gender-equal world.
Here’s a preview! Meet Martina, one of our artisans in Guatemala who works hard to #BreakTheBias against gender stereotypes in her community. Martina’s story of overcoming fear and experiencing personal and professional growth will move you.
Amplifying Her Voice
When mitú asked us to reflect on which woman has grown the most as a result of her involvement with Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, program manager Maya Colop-Morales immediately thought of Martina.
Martina is originally from a rural area of the Chichicastenango department in Guatemala, home to the largest outdoor market in Central America and famous for its textiles; especially huipils, a traditional garment worn by Indigenous women and girls in Guatemala.
Growing up in this environment played a major role in Martina becoming the accomplished artisan she is today. She was taught to weave by her mother and she acquired invaluable selling and business management skills from her father; during her childhood, she would accompany him to the market where he would sell products.
When she was first invited to join Handmade by Friendship Bridge® in 2017, Martina was reserved and quiet, unsure of herself and her abilities. An Indigenous Mayan woman, she had been financially dependent on her husband. Quiché is her native language and she sometimes faced language barriers when interacting with others. Colop-Morales remembers just how different her interactions with Martina were back then:
“She wouldn’t speak, or she would speak so softly that no one could hear her. When she came to our office in Panajachel for trainings, on budgeting, measurements, color schemes and international market requirements, and more; she always worked diligently, meticulously. Her samples were always impressive, she did very well. However, we knew that there was a lot of room for growth in terms of her self-esteem, her self-confidence. After all, at the end of day, the main goal isn’t just to support these women with improving their products and selling, but to empower them.”
Ensuring that the women we serve know how to use their voice is a priority for us at Handmade by Friendship Bridge® and Friendship Bridge. After all, their voice is what empowers them to contribute to important family decisions so they can choose their own path and build a better life.
And over the past five years, with Friendship Bridge trainings and encouragement, Martina has developed her voice, both literally and figuratively.
Martina told us she feels fortunate to have the unconditional support of her children as well as her husband, Manuel. In a machismo culture that often upholds the stereotypical traditional roles of women, this type of support from a husband is the exception rather than the norm.
Manuel expressed his gratitude when we asked him what he admires about his wife. He is not only grateful to Martina for working hard to develop her skills and improve her abilities with Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, but he is also grateful to her for teaching him and giving him the opportunity to be a partner in her growing business:
“From her I have learned how to create artisanal products. Before, I did not want to work at home, but now, I am working at home thanks to the business she has. I am very thankful to her — she has helped me a lot, and together, we are making the products to successfully fulfill the orders. Her commitment has helped our whole family move forward and build a better future.”
The team at Handmade by Friendship Bridge® loves seeing this husband-wife partnership that is mutually supportive, uplifting and ever-evolving. We remember how Manuel helped Martina set up her stand back in 2018 at our very first Artisan Fair in Panajachel, Guatemala. Fast-forward to the end of 2019, and Martina traveled with us and her fellow Handmade Jefas all the way to Antigua Guatemala for an in-person trunk show. There, she did an amazing job speaking with interested guests, clients and new buyers alike.
From a whisper to a voice. From financially dependent to financially independent. From hesitant to self-assured. From owning just one simple machine, to now owning five quality sewing machines so that she can fill those big orders — such as the 500-bag order from a Guatemalan bank and the 180-product order from our friends here at mitú last year. From a newcomer to the top-earner — in terms of total revenue through Handmade by Friendship Bridge® last year — we couldn’t be more proud of Martina, and we are humbled to be a part of her journey.
Martina is just one among thousands of women in Guatemala who we have the pleasure of working with at Friendship Bridge. We serve our clients, 100% women, by operating a number of branch offices throughout the country, to provide a suite of products and services including microcredit, non-formal education and access to culturally appropriate healthcare. Clients are 100% women, primarily indigenous Maya, and live in rural communities with some of the highest poverty levels worldwide. Through our programming, we are changing how clients see, respond to and overcome the protracted issues of poverty for themselves, their families and their communities.
We are so thankful to have a presence at the mitú shop, which enables us to increase the visibility of Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, spread the word about Friendship Bridge and connect these talented artisans with members of the mitú community through their purchases. We are committed to supporting causes that matter to them: women’s empowerment, Latina empowerment, small business, sustainable production/fashion and more.
Find Martina’s and many of our other talented artisans’ extraordinary and vibrant handmade products here: https://mitushop.com/product-category/collections/handmade-jefas/.
Thank you to Kaylin Lang, Friendship Bridge volunteer, for contributing to this blog post.
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