“I am an artisan by birth, my mother was an artisan. I was born into a large family of 11 children, 10 of them female. My father barely finished 6th grade, my mother 2nd or 3rd. Since we had no access to education, we learned to do all our sewing on a sewing machine, and this grew to be my passion.
“After graduating as a bilingual secretary, I had no means of going to other places. On the contrary, one of my earliest jobs was here in San Juan, in the tourism sector. I also worked a few years in the capital before coming back to San Juan, this time to work in Artisanry, and with innovation, something that has always attracted me. My work with Norwegian designers gave me many opportunities to practice my English, as well as with innovation. Sometimes it is a challenge because not everyone wants to experiment with new fibres or techniques. Doing so however, one can develop innovations both in product as in natural raw materials.
“I have also worked with an NGO in the marketing of artisan goods, with great impact. My responsibilities included handling the business administration of the artisan shop, sourcing new clients, helping artisans to access new markets. Always, my role is to be the link between artisan and client. Something that I think is very fair is to pay the fairest price possible based on work. Not just a simple calculation but really establishing a price that gives value to the high level of skills involved. Helping the client to understand the history behind each product. As an intermediary, I love to motivate artisans. What I can’t do, I can motivate. That’s because I am an artisan too, not full-time obviously. And if I can do it, I tell them, then you can too. This way, I show them how to deal with the fear of innovation.
“I have worked with different techniques, different communities, and different languages. I have also been an instructor, including in completely new techniques. It’s always enriching.
“My work with Mayan Families has honestly been very beautiful, very enriching. To have the opportunity to restructure, and to be listened to. The program highlights the value of artisan work, the advancement in knowledge and techniques. We should not let it fall by the wayside, we need to help it recover.
“Listening to management, striking a balance between the achievable with what we dream of having … that has been a beautiful experience. I am fortunate to have excellent communication with my colleagues in the Mayan Families team, whether it’s with the Leadership Team or with co-workers.
“That’s the true meaning of communication: to truly say what one wishes for. In that way only can we build a strong department. Not one that generates paternalism but one that builds capacity to generate income and be financially independent. Most artisans do not have much education, so for them, to be given the opportunity to work truly creates an impact.
“The social reality for many people now is extremely complicated. Especially for women, because they are always the ones being discriminated against … for lack of education. None of them have an income based on a fixed activity. And this has only become worse since the pandemic. Without a fixed source of income, depending on the number of children in the family, the woman is deeply affected. Women are always the most vulnerable.
“Work opportunities are extremely limited in relation to the number of young people graduating and the demand for jobs. Sadly in Guatemala, that is the reality.
“As a means of generating income, I firmly believe that entrepreneurship can help reduce the sad reality, when rural communities in fact have a lot of unexplored potential. The ones who are desperate for a job are blind to the possibilities because they think that entrepreneurship calls for a lot of capital investment.
“When in reality what is really needed is ability and a bit of capital.
“It is hard to look at the communities and see how the youths are migrating to other countries, thinking that is the best solution, and the women are being left in the house with no source of income.
“It is necessary to invest a lot of money to be able to generate lots of jobs.
“It is more beneficial to generate a skill and use it to generate an income than it is to give a person money for the household expenses or to pay a debt. Ultimately, the latter will create a much smaller impact. Generating a means of income is a viable alternative not just in a pandemic but at all times.
“We are currently living through one of our worst crises. As an NGO, it is our role to ensure that the families we work with are covered. “
Elmy Hernández, Economic Development Coordinator