Volunteering in Guatemala – supporting women in the clothing industry
My friend Julie from France and I wanted to volunteer somewhere this summer- the only question was – where? After a comprehensive internet research we decided to go to Guatemala. Why? Because the Mayan culture of Guatemala seemed quite interesting, it was not too far from the States (where I will be studying abroad soon) and on top of that we were offered the opportunity to travel to Belize and Mexico after our volunteer work. After some research about good places to volunteer with, we finally came across an interesting company: TRAMA Textiles in Quetzaltenango, a big Mayan city.
It is a weaving organization run by women, employing about 400 females in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. The aim of TRAMA is to offer fair prices for their workers and sell their products either in their store in Quetzaltenango or via the internet, but also to offer training to the women and maintain and develop the art, stories, designs, and textile traditions of Guatemala. The company was founded in 1988 and meanwhile there are 17 different groups, who work for TRAMA. Each group differs through their designs and their ideas.
When we arrived there, we met a bunch of nice and motivated volunteer workers, originating mainly from the States and Canada, but also people from Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. We had all came here with one common goal: to improve and develop TRAMA and contribute in the best way we can.
The main tasks for Julie and me were to take photos for the webpage as well as translating the product catalogue in German and French (which should be online soon). We startedby applying to the official fair trade organization and visiting a village in order to take pictures and interview the people allowing us to update information for the product catalogue.
Our `business trip´ to the village San Juan La Laguna, which is situated at Lago Atitlán, gave us insight in the life and work of a Mayan women.
The group was called `Las Mujeres Botánicos´. They chose this name as they dye all their products with natural colors (made from leaves, flowers and vegetables, such as carrots).
In 1985 three local women decided to work together (meanwhile there are more than 50 people working for this group) and in 1988 they joined TRAMA. Since they joined TRAMA Textiles they have a safer and regular income, which helps them to finance the school of their children and to provide their family with enough food. The oldest woman of the group is 86 years old and she is still quite active.
In order to finish a scarf or carpet they normally need 3-5 days. The technique they use is called `backstrap loom´.
They have their own store in their village and regularly supply TRAMA with products. Once in a while they also go on business trips, where they are travelling around to sell their products.
In case somebody is interested to buy products of TRAMA, to make a donation or to participate in volunteer work, check out their webpage, they are happy about every support they can get. Furthermore Xela is a great city to hang out for a while; it has delicious, cheap food, a great nightlife, cheap Spanish schools and a lot of friendly people, which come from all over the world to volunteer here. If you have more questions about TRAMA you can always contact the company (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me (email@example.com). We are happy to provide you with further information.
Or visit their homepage on: http://tramatextiles.org/
Photos taken by Louise Burton, Diana Enriquez and myself