Weaving Co-Ops in Rural Guatemala

One of the most interesting aspects of my GCY experience is the opportunity to periodically shadow Yoli and Clara.  These resourceful Guatemalan women are two of the owners of SOLCOM, the small Guatemalan-owned social enterprise that turns a mild profit by delivering healthcare products to rural communities. Recently, Yoli, Clara and I were scheduled to leave on a campaign to sell eyeglasses. We planned to leave at 9:00 a.m. so I showed up at 8:30. It turned out that Yoli and Clara had other important things to do, so we didn’t actually depart until 10:30. That’s life in Guatemala for you!  As we left, we joked because Clara grabbed a very ugly pair of protectoras, which are glasses with a UV covering that protect from sun and dust. She put them back, saying in Spanish, “If people saw those, nobody would come to the campaign on Thursday to buy our glasses!”

On the way to Santiago Zamora, we traveled through San Antonio Aguas Calientes, a small town which serves as a transportation hub.  I soon learned that the only way to Santiago is by tuc-tuc, a small motorized rickshaw. There are no busses to Santigo because the community is too small. After pulling out  in our tuc-tuc, we entered the most enchanting drive on a stone-paved winding road through coffee plantations and pastures until we reached Santiago Zamora twenty five minutes later.  Yoli and Clara had told me that we were traveling to one of the most beautiful places they had ever seen.  I believed them, but could not have imagined how beautiful it would be without seeing it with my own eyes!

When we began our publicity for the campaign, I began to stretch my definition of “rural”.  Yoli and Clara had described Santiago Zamora as a rural town and I had expected to find a town festering in squalor. Instead, I found a small, quaint town with only about a thousand people, with nicely paved roads and lots of cement homes with doorbells. Nobody owned cars, but they seemed to live pretty well in Santiago. Doña Yoli attributed this to the creation of several weaving co-ops a dozen years or so ago, which have significantly boosted the mothers’ incomes and increased their abilities to provide for their families.

For me, the weaving co-ops in Santiago provided a great example of the positive impact of sustainable development work. I found it very encouraging to see how a small town such as Santiago Zamora has created a new life for itself, while maintaining its rural charm.