This is Ricardo Mendoza from San Juan la Laguna in Guatemala. He is one of the artisans who produces our hand-woven goods. We visited him and he kindly took us around town and to his own business and agreed to an interview.
In order to get to San Juan la Laguna, we drove from Guatemala City to Panajachel from where we took a boat. Ricardo met us at the dock. The town has a very steep incline and in order to get around you either walk or take a tuk-tuk. We walked on our way up and rode the tuk-tuk on our way down.
On our way up, we made several stops and visited different businesses such as an artisanal chocolate shop where we were shown how they toast, grind and process the cocoa beans, and the House of Nawaals where we got our Nawaals. We finally made it to Ricardo’s shop where he showed us how they use ancestral tools to process the yarn, design and weave the textiles.
Ricardo told us that his grandparents used to do this kind of work as part of their daily life, they created the textiles they needed for their personal use. In 1993, his father and his sister started exploring the possibility of doing this as a side business. They still continued to work the land as their primary source of income.
Ricardo learned from them, but hadn’t had much opportunity to use this knowledge since he had gone to school to become an accountant and started working in this field. He was feeling somewhat restless, wanted to help people and felt a sense of responsibility towards his family, community and Mayan culture. Because of this, in 2015 he decided to take the leap and create a family business. He started perfecting techniques, and working with family and community members to make sure that their work reflects Mayan traditions and values.
It is his vision to preserve and promote Mayan culture, to make sure artisans are fairly paid and to assist in the development of the community. To fulfill this vision, he works cooperatively with other artisans. One interesting aspect that we were able to witness, is how children are involved from a young age. Though priority is given to their formal education, once they are out of school, they apprentice and, in some cases, they are even given formal tasks as we saw in the chocolate factory where children design the wrappings.
Rosario is a 46-year-old single mom. She has a 19-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. She lives in the Caquetá region of Colombia, which is a region that has been heavily affected by all the different kinds of violence that were prevalent in Colombia.
7 years ago, after separating from her husband and losing her job, she found herself in a very dire situation, living in poverty, wondering how she would sustain herself and her children.
Then she found out about Fundación Casa del Pensamiento, that with the support of USAID and ACDI/VOCA was offering different trainings for women in vulnerable communities. After working with them for some time, she joined Asociación de Mujeres Artesanas Sueños de Paz, and started making ñatamus.
She enjoys her work because it allows her to promote her region and its traditions, and she is proud to be part of an organization that has helped women become self-sufficient. They have participated in national events to make their art known and are excited that we are promoting them internationally. We have not yet been able to visit Caquetá, we hope we will in the near future. In the meantime, Rosario shared some photos with us
We are an association of women from Caquetá, victims of the armed conflict and the physical, economic and cultural violence that it has generated in our territory. But we also are women who found in art a way of empowerment and resilience. Natamus are ecological sculptures made in papier-mâché, inspired by the charm of the manigua and the identity of Caquetá so that the person who acquires them can recognize the region as an entrepreneurial territory of forceful and talented women. Buying these handcrafted items, you support the empowerment of artisan women through the generation of economic autonomy as well as the reduction of gender inequalities and the identity and peace building through the promotion of a social and environmental entrepreneurship of women who overcame the adversities of violence.