Thursday, July 23, 2009

Social Entrepreneurs of San Antonio Aguas Calientes

Although most of our time in Guatemala has been spent on working with the women in Santiago Zamora, we have also dedicated time to a few social entrepreneurs in San Antonio Aguas Calientes. These entrepreneurs each informed us about their separate interests and we have come together as collaborating consultants on each of the following projects:


Enmanuel, a native of Guatemala, lives in San Antonio Aguas Calientes with his mother. After opening a paper store for the students in the area, Enmanuel has plans to develop a multi-sports field and playground on land he already owns. His vision is to provide a free and safe space for the children in the community to play. Alongside the volleyball/soccer/basketball field, he would like to build a playground and concession stand. In the spirit of his father, Enmanuel hopes to become an active leader in the community by supporting the healthy development of the children of San Antonio Aguas Calientes.

Escuela de Katchiquel

Olga, a true entrepreneur at heart and in practice, owns and operates her own bakery, is helping her son to open a laundry mat, and, on occasion, hosts Peace Corp volunteers in her home. Professionally, she works as a Spanish teacher at a school in Antigua. Olga has hopes to transfer her skills as a teacher into opening her own school in San Antonio Aguas Calientes. Her mission: to teach Katchiquel (a Mayan language) to preserve and share her Mayan heritage. Olga's school will be the first of its kind in San Antonio, and she is working to attract not only tourists interested in learning Katchiquel, but also the youth in the community, as knowledge and use of the language is diminishing.

Branding and Marketing Initiative

Irla, a driven and uniquely talented weaver, supports her family’s artisan business through her San Antonio market stall. As a highly zealous and bright mother of two, she sought to develop a brand and marketing initiative promoting her family’s exceptional crafts, as well as offer an array of distinct Mayan activities to the culture-hungry traveler. Recently, Irla had the memorable experience of hosting a foreign student in her home, and looks forward to the opportunity to share her family’s traditions with more interested travelers. Natural herbal medicines derived from the family’s garden, the language of Katchiquel taught by Irma’s father, and lessons in the preparation of naturally pigmented thread made from their cotton tree are just some of the many unique Mayan activities Irma and her family offer. After naming her business IXEL K’IEM (a nod to the Katchiquel god of weaving), and with the support of business cards, a comprehensive brochure in both Spanish and English, and an email address, Irma and her family hope to gain the publicity their remarkable business warrants.

Friday, July 17, 2009

They Have a Name!

We are excited to announce that the women in Santiago Zamora have come to an agreement on a name for their association: Ixoki A'J ru xel Quiem or "Señoras Tejedoras Nativas." We have been working with the official group of 11 women to create a set of rules and regulations, to assign roles and responsibilities and to design a logo. We are looking forward to getting as much accomplished before we head back to the United States to make sure that when we leave, the women feel organized, empowered and informed to make any decisions and to take on any opportunity or challenge that may come their way.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Time has proven to be a highly treasured element on this trip. In the past two weeks, we have experienced incredible progress with both Ajkem'a Loy'a and BARCO. It has been both a privilege and learning experience working with each group; and equally exciting to see what they have been creating. There is so much to be said about what we have experienced since first here, so I will try and sum everything up as best as possible.

We have been working with the women of Ajkem'a Loy'a on two different groups of bags: the first of which is a circular-shaped drawstring bag in three different sizes and the second, a handheld clutch ("wristlet" I believe is the proper term) and shoulder bag, both in the same size.

We began our work with Ajkem'a Loy'a by introducing a series of "inspiration" images for them to look at. Each of the women selected a few of their favorites, explained to us why they chose them, and began experimenting with their weaving, using the images as "reference." The outcome was very pleasing: each of the women explained what elements they used from the images in their weaving (most of whom were initially attracted to the colors). Mayda, drawing inspiration from a picture of the ocean, not only incorporated colors from it, but also created a dotted pattern in her weave that represented the rocks underneath the water. Those of which were closer to the surface and thus received more sunlight were translated into brighter yellow dots in her weave, while the other rocks further from the ocean's surface were more subdued in her design.

As this exercise proved to be a success, we decided to continue the experiments with each of the women over the next few days. Sandra's experiment was also very my opinion, hers was the most daring. You could tell that she was really trying to push herself beyond her limits, which was very exciting to see. From her experiment, we (the students and Pascale) were curious to see what she could do with incorporating leather into her weaving. So, we took a visit to the leather man, Santiago, up the street and brought back strips of leather for Sandra to experiment with. Once again, we were blown away by the progress that was made. Sandra began weaving them in very simple ways, but as time progressed, she began to very intuitively incorporate them as if they were like the rest of the threads.

We were incredibly pleased with the combination of woven and leather, and decided it would also be a nice detail in the two smaller bags (clutch and shoulder). This could very well be the beginning of something really amazing for Ajkem'a Loy'a...

We began our work with the other group of women in the afternoon. We began our workshop by having them show us what they had been making, so that we could have an idea of what kind of products would best sell. We as a group were very, very excited to see what they had been creating, and were especially amazed at how completely different their work was from Ajkem'a Loy'a. After carefully looking over everything and discussing with the women what they would like to make, we all came to the conclusion that pillow covers and scarves would be the best solution. The women were very excited that we were working with them...all of us felt their determination so much that it really felt like a true collaboration.

We were then invited over to Teresa's home, where the women showed us the threads they used in their weaving. All of us were completely in awe at the beautiful array of colors the women showed us. As amazing as the colors were, what was even more incredible was the story behind them and how they came to be. The women explained to us that all of the threads were naturally dyed. Most of the colors they produced came from a single plant (I am forgetting the name as of now...) they find in the mountains. Depending on the cycle of the moon very much determines what colors are extracted from the plant. The women showed us two different bundles of thread, both of which came from the same plant but at different cycles so that one of them was much brighter in color than the other. Another beautiful color, a brilliant orange, was extracted from "zanahorias" or carrots. All of us were so amazed to hear this...not only were the colors beautiful, but the process in which the women collected them was beyond anything any of us had ever seen or heard.

As we continue developing products with these women (who have decided to call their company BARCO: "bar" and "co" are recurring letters in their surnames), our hopes are very high that we can produce a few different pillow covers to be sold in the states. Also, we are planning on taking back a few of their scarves that are already set for production...

So, very exciting things are happening and it's going by very, very quickly. We have yet to see what more will come from our time here, but I am positive it will be amazing.

Until then...

Centro de Mesa: Q1.5/hour; Pulsera: Q10/hour; Knowing How to Price Your Products Fairly: Priceless.

Yesterday, we had a successful pricing workshop with the women of Santiago Zamora, after discussing fair wages and business strategies the previous day. We asked them to tell us the products they made that took the least amount of time to make and the prices they currently sell them for. These products were chosen because we learned that products that take more time to produce usually end up being sold for very cheap. For example, a centro de mesa that takes 80 hours to make was usually sold for Q250, which would leave them with an hourly wage of Q1.5 after subtracting the cost of materials. They agreed that this was not a fair price but that they must sell it cheaply because of competition in the market.

Therefore yesterday, after explaining the Guatemalan minimum wage of Q8/hour, we asked them to make a new price list, using the new number for labor cost, of the products they can produce quickly that they might be interested in selling at a store in Antigua. By the end, we had a price list for about a dozen different products, including necklaces, bracelets, napkins, dolls, baskets, place mats, bookmarks, and bags. Almost every woman has her specialty in a different product, which explains the variety. Many of them were already selling above cost, but there were some items that we saw that needed a price fixing or a new way of making. All the women seemed very interested in the difference in prices from before and after and were encouraged to think about changing their prices.

Tomorrow, they will meet Irma from Manos Preciosas, a store in Antigua, to show her their products and (new) prices and discuss as a newly formed group with her about a possible collaboration in the future.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Experiments and Inspiration

Last year in June, in San Lucas Toliman, we worked with a much larger group of women then the group of women that is currently assembled under the name of Ajkem’a Loy’a.

Students and faculty from The New School conducted workshops in business, marketing and design. The women of San Lucas Toliman taught us how to weave, bead, and dye threads with natural dyes. The group we worked with wasn’t an organic group, it was a group of women who previously participated in workshops initiated by CARE, workshops dealing with (among other things) health, family planning, and the empowerment of women. In the past year, the group of women that we currently know as Ajkem’a Loy’a became a tight group that is now slowly developing their own products. They take pride in themselves as designers and are very ambitious to create their own designs. Their product development over the past year has been amazing !

 Nonetheless, there are other women in San Lucas Toliman that are very gifted weavers and that benefited from our workshops last year, but that are not included in the association Ajkem’a Loy’a. We as faculty and students got really involved in the work and the lives of the women we worked with last year, and coming back this year, as an extension of the New School, it didn’t seem right to only continue working with the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a while excluding the other women from the opportunity to learn and grow with us in the month that we are here.

 Thursday a week ago we talked with the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a explaining to them that being here as students and faculty of the New School, an institute for teaching and learning, we didn’t want to exclude anybody from the opportunity to work and grow with us.

 We already noticed in the first week that the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a preferred to work in the morning, only a few or none would come in the afternoon. In the morning the sun is out and the air is dry, in the afternoon it rains, the air is very damp, which makes it harder to weave. We agreed with the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a that we would continue to work with them in the mornings and that we would invite other women to work with us in the afternoon.

 Friday a week ago was our first day to work with two groups. The second group is a group that formed itself around a few of the other women we worked with last year, it is not a real group yet, but they seem very dedicated to working together and developing new products. The products that they shared with us in the afternoon were beautiful, they immediately radiated a very different energy and we imagined completely different possibilities for products then with the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a.  

That morning, with the women of Ajkem’a Loy’a we evaluated the experiments all of us had been working on during the week. The women showed how they translated the inspiration images they chose into their weaving and we shared our experiments with forms, seams, patterns and finishings for bags.

Kids-with-Cameras Project in Santiago Zamora

We have finally begun our "kids-with-cameras" project with the sons and daughters of "Las Estrellas de Santiago Zamora."  Our first day of teaching photography to the kids, although a bit hectic due to the rain, went extremely well.  First practicing with digital cameras, our young photographers learned the basics of framing, lighting, and shooting.  We then distributed the six dispasables and will be developing them this weekend! We can't wait to show them thier pictures next week and continue the project into July.   

Why Kids-With-Cameras?

From a development perspective perhaps it is difficult to see the relevance of the arts in development projects.  If this experience workng with women artisans and thier families has taught me anything, it is that the arts are absolutely relevant and import in development.  Projects that incorporate the arts are especially important in indigenous communities where there has been a severe lack of visibility in media and government.  Instead of being under-represented, or “othered” by mainstream media sources, these projects pave the way for members of the community to self-represent and reduces the misrepresentation of culture and heritage.  In place of the stereotypical depictions of indigenous communities that flood the mainstream media, images that accurateley and honestly depict the experiences of these communities emerge.  

We work with kids because they have a fresh eye and a new perspective in thier communities and of the world.  They also create more intimate and honest images of thier lives--as adults we tend to choose and manipulate our images so that others see the world the way we wish them to see it.   

Lesson Plan

Introductions:   Why we take pictures


FRAMING:  Using paper frames show students how to take time arranging shots.  

FREE SHOOT:  Using digital cameras show kids how to focus and shoot (and that’s all!).  Let them explore using the cameras.

PERSPECTIVE:  Show examples of 1 subject shot 3 different ways.  Ask the kids which one they like best and why.  

ACTIVITY ONE: Have students shoot the following subjects from different distances and angles.  

a.  Person 

b.  Object

c.  Landscape

LIGHING:  Talk about simple lightning conditions and when to take pictures.  

CAMERAS:  Distribute disposable cameras and explain how to use them (and the difference between these and the digitals)  

Although most of the pictures were taken with the disposable cameras, here are a few of the pictures taken with our digitals:



Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tune in this Sunday!

The TV show LatiNation will be broadcasting a segment on our project in Guatemala this coming Sunday. They interviewed me last Fall, and have edited that with footage from last summer. The show is being described as "Making the Grade, learn how a New York school lends a helping hand to Mayan weavers in Guatemala."

Click the image below to find out when it's playing in your city!