Sunday, June 28, 2009

Filming in Santiago Zamora

As we push open the corrogated metal gate to Lucia's yard we hear the familiar sounds of life in Santiago Zamora--Emmanuel's tiny feet on the dirt as he giggles and hides behind his mothers corte, the puppies whining from beneath thier overturned basket (which keeps them from chewing on the petate as the women weave), and the chirp of the chickens wandering in and out of our circle of chairs.  As I edit the collection of clips from this past week, I hear the chorus of sounds that we have become accustomed to in Santiago Zamora and am amazed by this beautiful footage shot by the women in the group.  

This video marks the first collaboration in our media project with the "Estrellas de Santiago Zamora", as they have donned themselves.  After our first media workshop, the women requested that we continue filming and create a longer feature showing thier art, thier lives, and their stories.  The week started off with "story-boarding" in which the women brainstormed a theme for the project and images that would show thier lives.  We gave a brief workshop on filming techniques (mainly on framing, lighting, and sound) and had all the women experiment with the cameras.   By Friday we had hours of beautiful footage--the majority filmed by the women themselves.   I can't wait to finish editing and show the women their beautful work.

Glendi, who filmed for the majority of the week:  

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Welcome to the Parsons Collaboration with Ajkem'a Loy'a

Since arriving in San Lucas Toliman, all seven of us (Sandra, Rebecca, Larissa, Alex, Justine, Pascale, and Moira) have been very excited and eager to work with the women. The first day, we had introductions on both sides and sharing of ourselves and our work. we then began with having each woman pick her favorite item that she had made, and explain why she liked it. We all offered comments and constructive criticism while still encouraging each woman's work, which was absolutely beautiful.

After all the women had their turn, it was our turn to share bags and things we had experimented with before coming to San Lucas. The women commented on and critiqued our bags and it was wonderful to hear their opinions and what they liked and see new and different ideas form.

The next day we brought a series of different inspiration images we had collected with different colors, shapes, patterns, and more. By sharing these images, we hoped to show the women some of our design process. The women responded very positively and openly, finding images they enjoyed, laughing at others, and each picked out a few of their favorites. They explained what they liked about the pictures then began to work. It was amazing to see how each woman interpreted the inspiration photos differently, and developed it into their weaving.

As we are continuing, we are working with the women on experimenting with different colors, shapes, patterns, bags, and more. Here are a few photos of the women during the weaving processes.


A Beautiful Walk in Santiago

The work in Santiago Zamora continued with the women taking us for a walk up to see Bernarda's plot of land, which her family rents and she works on with her husband and sons. She led the way with her sharp machete through fields and fields of beautiful fertile land on which were planted corn, avocado trees, peanuts, and "jocote" trees.

The walk and our conversations were again documented in video by several of the women who took turns recording with two of our video cameras. After returning to Lucia's home (our usual gathering place) we trained them to charge the camera's battery and to change the video tapes, and we left one camera with them to continue capturing their lives.

It has been a challenge to get the women to really talk about their lives in front of the camera. Most of the stories they have shared on tape are ghost stories, or myths and legends from Santiago and San Antonio. We are hoping that leaving the cameras with them will encourage them to open up a bit and to share what they share with us off camera, for the media project.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Video project: Santiago Zamora

We kicked off our work in Santiago Zamora by working with the community to create a video of who they are, what their town is about, and what they want to share about their culture and traditions. This activity has been great in helping strengthen the group (they were not already a group, but were brought together by the municipality to work with us), and in establishing trust between our team of students and faculty and the community (by teaching them video skills as well as showing interest in their stories and everyday lives.) The final piece will be a combination of footage shot by us, by them, as well as photos taken by the kids from a kids with camera workshop that our students are teaching this week.

The women established what they wanted to capture for the documentary. Last Wednesday we videotaped their traditional cooking of pepian and tortilla-making. This past Monday, the focus was dancing,

and a walking tour of their town, and all of the camera work was done by them. This morning we went on a hike with them to chop wood and see their land, and on Friday we will finalize all the video taping with the women demonstrating their artisan crafts: weaving (on the backstrap looom as well as with palm leaves) and doll making.

Stay tuned for the final piece!

Participatory Photography Exhibition in San Lucas Toliman

Last year we conducted a participatory photography project with the women of Ajkem'a Loy'a. Seven compañeras were given disposable cameras in order to capture images representing their hopes and fears. After taking the photographs, the women used the pictures to reflect on their desires and concerns within the context of their collaboration with The New School.

Although we had spent six days a week for a month with Ajkem'a Loy'a, the photography project gave us a deeper understanding of them as individuals and allowed us to take a peep into their intimate worlds.

In collaboration with one of our students, we selected, printed and framed some of the best photographs taken by the women and curated an exhibition. It was such a powerful experience to come back to San Lucas Toliman and be able to welcome the women of Ajkem'a Loy'a with an exhibition of their art.

Sonia's self-portrait representing her fear that her mother would sell her to another house because they couldn't afford her.

Telma's picture of her 89 year old mother weaving, representing her hope to be a strong woman.

Gloria's portrait of a fisherman in Lake Atitlan, representing the customs and traditions of her community.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

La Comunidad de Santiago Zamora / Santiago Zamora's Community

This video was edited by one of our students with footage shot mainly by our collaborators in Santiago Zamora. It was a storytelling warm-up about their community via the 5 senses, for the larger media project we are working on together.

Next Steps: San Lucas Toliman

Pascale and 5 Parsons students who will be focusing on the development of new products with Ajkem'a Loy'a have arrived to San Lucas and they will continue blogging from there keeping us updated! Some of the things they will work on - critiquing current designs, building on what has been done to adapt towards new products, tags for products, an online and print catalogue, a website for Ajkem'a Loy'a, and finally, helping them setup the new computers which were donated to the association and which they want to use to further support their work and to serve as another way to generate income (by renting them, or teaching computer classes.)

Workshop: How to Export

Per Ajkem'a Loy'a's request, on Sunday afternoon students led a workshop which focused on exporting. The workshop was divided into three parts. The first, focused on what needs to be in place before exporting begins (high quality products, a clear print and online catalogue with styles and prices, communications, and specific people who will be in charge of the various aspects. To enforce this aspect of communication, students led a game of "Operator" where the first person "placed" an order, and it went around the entire group. At the end the order had changed (from an original 10 blue and green scarves and 5 napkins, to just 10 blue scarves) and was a very effective way of presenting how critical communication was in the success of their business.

When discussing a potential product catalogue, we shared the print catalogue from Lema, another weaving association on Lake Atitlan. Some of the details critiqued included: the prices are listed with a "K" (instead of "Q" for quetzal), and the products are not shown on the body.

Then, students discussed receiving and fulfilling an order. Here, it is critical that Ajkem'a Loy'a know exactly how much time they would need to fulfill an order, if the items are not yet in their inventory. They also discussed various ways of shipping. For this particular point, we are also doing additional research in organizations or people who may be able to support Ajkem'a Loy'a in Guatemala once they are ready to export (Agexport and the Ministry for the Economy are two such organizations they should contact.) Finally, we talked about tracking a shipment to make sure it arrived where it needed to.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ajkem'a Loy'a's store: 2008 & 2009

Lesson learned from the project: only what is truly designed collaboratively remained in the artisan women's group a year after the project began. In summer 2008 a team of students redesigned Ajkem'a Loy'a's store in San Lucas Toliman. Although they worked carefully with the artisan women, it was not a true collaboration, and perhaps this is the reason they never really "owned" the store's redesign and the work that went into it.

Since last year, the group has left the store they were in and are now occupying a fairly small and dark space in the Sandra's (the association's president) home. Today we helped them hang the sign in front of the store so that there is some public visibility for passersby, but the work that had been done in terms of layout and hierarchy of products has been lost.
We reemphasized many of last year's points today with the women, but only time will tell if they will actually take our comments to heart.

All this being said, no work is lost, and even if as a learning experience, we have all learned from this failed attempt to have Ajkem'a Loy'a truly turn a rented storefront into their own.

Our student team

Every time I travel with a team of students for an international project, I truly believe that group could never be surpassed in their energy, skills, support for one another, and eagerness to learn. I have, again, been proven wrong. This year's team is yet another superb group of students from Parsons, Milano, and the graduate program in International Affairs who are absolutely dedicated to the work we have come to do, are ready to face new challenges, and are so supportive of one another and our collaborators that I am continuously proud of them.

This photo of a part of our team captures our presence. We stick out in the villages in which we are working, and yet we do it with such coolness, and our feet on the ground, that we are able to feel at home, and eager to connect with everyday life.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ajkem'a Loy'a: A year after the initial collaboration

Last night we arrived in San Lucas Toliman. It was my first visit to Ajkem'a Loy'a after last year's collaboration. As soon as we drove into the town, I felt at home. I recognized every corner, every smell, every smile that welcomed me back.

After spending two weeks working with a new group of artisans in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, getting to know them and planting the seeds of our collaboration, it was really inspirational to come back to San Lucas Toliman and meet with Ajkem'a Loy'a. Concepts that we taught Ajkem'a Loy'a last year in our design and business workshops are being implemented. The majority of the women are designing innovative products and have developed their own style. They value their time and include it as a cost when calculating product prices. They know what their craft is worth and will not settle for a lower price. They are in the last month of payments for the microloan they took out last year and are planning to use the funds with the interest earned to reinvest in the association.

On a personal level, the women have also changed a lot. Ruth, who could barely speak Spanish last year, is running the store and is receiving a salary for her time. Catarina, who was very shy and would rarely share her opinion, was proudly showing us her new bag designs. Romelia, is continuously experimenting with new designs and color combinations, and has now developed her own line of scarves.

Last summer, like this year in San Antonio, we were only planting the seeds with Ajkem'a Loy'a and now we are starting to see the fruits of collaborative development at work. We still have a lot to learn but the beauty of the experience is that we are all aware of the importance of the process, the learning process on both sides.

Ajkem'a Loy'a's latest scarves

modeled by one of our students!

We were excited to see how much Ajkem'a Loy'a has been experimenting with new color palettes, and even new scarf designs (with a variety of color combinations and weaving techniques.)

Click on the image to see the next one.

Our work in Guatemala - Three Locations

This year we returned to Guatemala with two goals: to continue the work we had started last year with Ajkem'a Loy'a in San Lucas Tolimán, and to expand our work in Guatemala with other communities in other towns/villages. We are excited to report back that we are on track in accomplishing both goals, by working with two new groups, in San Antonio Aguas Calientes and Santiago Zamora, and by returning to San Lucas Tolimán to continue supporting the Mayan weaver's association, Ajkem'a Loy'a.

We can finally share our goals for each of the three locations:

San Antonio Aguas Calientes
This has been the most vague of our collaborations, because our contact is in the municipality, and yet they haven't had a clear idea of how we can work together. Our goal in San Antonio is to create an advisory document for the mayor, about community tourism. We want to share our own research (primary research as well as observations from living there and interacting with the community), and offer suggestions, and maybe some criticism on how they are thinking about community tourism. Our biggest concern is that they are adopting this as a buzz word without knowing all the implications of promoting such tourism.

Santiago Zamora
We are connected there to a group of approximately 15 weavers. They are interested, as Ajkem'a Loy'a was last year, in selling their products to people who will pay a fair price, to maybe export their products, to invite tourists to their village, and to make themselves and their work known. We see our work there very similar to what we did last year in San Lucas - running a workshop series to address many of their interests aligned with the skills in our group. Specifically, we are developing a media project that communicates who they are as a group and about their culture and local traditions. We will also teach some workshops in basic business and design, and ultimately have the goal of finding some grants to continue our work in Guatemala.

San Lucas Tolimán
We have only spent two days (a total of 4 hours) with Ajkem'a Loy'a, and are thrilled with how the group has advanced. Although there are less women participating (12 core members), the group that is in place is strong and well organized. We are also thrilled to see how their designs have advanced since last year. They have experimented quite a bit with color combinations, with new weaving techniques, and even with new products (children's clothes, handbags, and new kinds of scarves.) A team of design students, led by Pascale, will be spending the next whole month solely focusing on developing new products that can now be brought back to New York for further market research, and possibly to start exporting/importing some of their artisan goods.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Santiago Zamora

We have been working in the municipality of San Antonio Aguas Calientes since the beginning of June, and we finally had the opportunity to visit Santiago Zamora - a small village that is part of San Antonio and just a 5-minute drive.
In Santiago we have found an eager and friendly group of weavers who are thrilled to be collaborating with us. We had a wonderful first meeting on Friday, followed by an initial session in which we identified their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges of their artisan work. Our students also facilitated a short digital storytelling workshop in which they had to describe "community" using one of the five senses.
We will now be dividing our time between workshops in San Antonio (the urban center) and Santiago. Stay tuned for more on both!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Earth Lodge

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Earth Lodge - a wonderful lodge just 20 minutes outside of Antigua with absolutely stunning views, delicious home cooked meals, and an extremely friendly and international staff.
I was particularly moved by the work that co-owner Briana is doing in the public school of El Hato - a nearby small village. I am more and more convinced that it is these initiatives (small scale, and person to person) that can truly make a difference. With no overhead, every quetzal donated to her project is guaranteed to be spent on the children who most need it. Read here to learn more about this initiative.

Teaching Spaces

To be resourceful is always a prevalent, yet unpredictable, learning opportunity that these kinds of fieldwork programs offer to our students. This year, in particular, we have had some challenging moments when it comes to teaching spaces - not always knowing if we have to hold an impromptu workshop

on the property of one of our collaborators, or if a particular meeting room will be open, if we may just have to teach in a hallway

, or as it happened last week a few times -

in a basement garage (hoping that the owner of that car wasn't going to have to drive it out!)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Overheard in Antigua, Guatemala

A family of tourists overheard at one of the many stalls of Antigua's large artisan market:

Man (holding a football/soccer jersey up) asking vendor, "Do you have a jersey from America?"
Vendor (referring to the Latin American football teams that are called 'America') replies in Spanish, "No, that one is not from America."
Man, "Do you have from America?"
Woman (clarifying on behalf of her husband), "From the United States?"
Vendor, "Are you trying to ask how much it costs?"

I did not have time to stop and help translate, but I would've enjoyed the opportunity to remind this family that, particularly in this part of the world, 'America' is all of us - North, South & Central America. Interestingly enough, Guatemalans often refer to the U.S. as 'Los Estados.'

Friday, June 12, 2009

Workshop: Basic English

This week was a tough one to attract participants to our workshops because everyone is either participating in or preparing for this weekend's festivities, in celebration of San Antonio de Padua (the town's patron saint.)

However, we kicked off our workshop series with English workshops. Below are spreads from a booklet that students designed, printed, and colored in by hand, with the colors and basic words in English and their phonetic translation to teach pronunciation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Consulting with Jeremias, a local self-taught graphic designer

Yesterday morning, two of our Parsons students and I met with the designer for the municipality, Jeremias. He was actually hired as a computer technician, and has ended up also designing all the marketing materials for the local government and its events.

He was interested in our feedback on his design for a vinyl banner promoting a local artisan women's association "Caminemos Juntas."

Our students did a terrific job in taking him step-by-step through a graphic designer's decision process, emphasizing less is more, the importance of white space, and the cardinal rule of not stretching typefaces.



Jeremias was very happy with the end result, but was not sure if the client would be OK with removing the two oval images next to the main heading.

I'll report back once it gets printed!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One Country - Two Beauty Queens

Miss Universo Guatemala 2009 and Miss Reina Maya 2009. Who truly represents Guatemala?

First session in San Antonio Aguas Calientes

Students organized a successful information session for Monday afternoon. It was promoted via posters that were taped around town, flyers they handed out, word of mouth by walking door to door, and via a man on a tricycle with a megaphone who rode around town broadcasting the purpose and time of the meeting (video on that coming soon.)

During the meeting teams of students facilitated small groups of San Antonio citizens who were asked to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of the town. We now have this list which establishes a framework within which we will run workshops about culture preservation in tourism.

The meeting ended with a digital storytelling workshop in which the members of each team had to describe San Antonio through one of the senses - "San Antonio tastes like...", "San Antonio smells like..." One of the students rapidly edited a movie from everyone's clips, so that we ended the day with the participants seeing themselves talking on a large projection.