While each Mayan Hands group has its own story and personality, there are some things that they all share. Group members are all Mayan women, living in rural areas, in adobe houses, with outhouses, running water in the pila (outdoor concrete sink used for everything), and electricity. In many ways that means they are in better shape than the poorest of the poor here. But they are no longer in that category because of their work with Mayan Hands.
Each group has a junta (a board of directors), and a group leader. While a rotating leadership is healthy and strengthens the group as more women learn what is necessary to keep things working well, we have all also learned that some women are good leaders and some just do not have that skill or inherent quality. So when a group has a good leader, they often keep her in that position, overseen by the junta, which changes every two years.
The women we work with are young and single, single mothers, women with whole families intact, women whose husbands work far away so are only home occasionally, women whose husbands are drunk and lost to a useful life at best and are abusive at worst, and widows — all of which is to say women in every kind of life situation. Workshops they have been given that include the concept of self-esteem are amazing to them, and the possibility and legality of women’s rights is something they are getting a better handle on all the time.
Most of the women who work with Mayan Hands have had no more than a third grade education, and many none whatsoever. They tend to be illiterate, and many do not speak Spanish (We work with women in four language groups: K’iche’, Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil, Achí). But one of the most important things that working with Mayan Hands does for them is make it possible for them to send their children, including their daughters, to school. Through scholarships and school supplies, Mayan Hands has been able to support what we see, and the women see, as a very important change for the next generation. The children talk of becoming lawyers or doctors or some other kind of professional — which would mean they don’t need to risk their lives going to the United States to look for work, leaving their families behind in the process. Mayan Hands helps them to make their dreams of a better life come true.
These are the geographical locations of the groups that we work with:
- Flor de Algodon, Baja Verapaz – large foot weaving
- Mujeres Artesanas Aj' kem, Baja Verapaz – backstrap weaving, natural dyes
- Las Gladiolas, Chimaltenango – pine needle baskets
- Cooperativa Ixchel, Sololá – crochet, pine needle baskets
- Grupo Ixoquí, Sololá – wool felt
- Mujeres las Estrellas, Sololá – backstrap weaving, recycled plastic, knotted bracelets
- Grupo Tziquin Jaay, Santiago Atitlán – multiple heddle backstrap weaving, small foot loom weaving
- Trabajadoras del Lago, San Pablo - crochet
- El Triunfo, Sololá - pine needle baskets
- Cooperativa Arco Iris, Chirijquiac - cinta weaving, embroidery