Making A Difference in Guatemala

“Your purchase makes a difference” is one of our taglines. Meagan Chesrown, a UT student and volunteer at our Austin store, witnessed the impact of fair trade for herself. In June 2006, she visited Guatemala City and below is her intimate account of the fair trade difference:

Sixteen sewing machines were threaded and waiting for the women to begin their hard day of work when I arrived at the UPAVIM (United for a Better Life) women’s cooperative. Located on the outskirts of Guatemala City in a town called La Esperanza (Hope), sixteen women are given fabric and supplies for detailed cutting work, sewing and assembly. They return finished products, usually after working on orders in their own homes each evening, to Dona Silvia who quality controls and packs the orders into plastic and boxes for shipping to their fair trade partners.

The intimate conversations I was able to have with the artisans at UPAVIM during my visit helped me understand their lives from their perspective. Overall, I felt humbled by their humility and strength.

One woman is the mother of seven children and she rides the bus to La Esperanza from a nearby town because working at UPAVIM is more fulfilling than other job opportunities in her town. Another woman has three infants in the childcare center at UPAVIM but her husband does not work and suffers from alcoholism. UPAVIM provides all of these women with work and access to affordable education and healthcare for their families.

Maria Rosario’s story touched me even more than the other stories I heard. She arrived with her husband and two infants as one of the original settlers in the land invasion in 1984, at a time when Guatemala was in complete political turmoil. Rosario’s husband abandoned her just two weeks after arriving to the area from Valencia and he has never returned. Because of UPAVIM, Rosario has been able to have consistent work and hope for a better future. Though some days seem hopeless – she suffers every day to make ends meet, struggles with her poor eyesight, arthritis, her 80-year-old mother, as well as three teenage children to provide for – Rosario persists in the daily, constant battles.

She began to cry when she was describing the details of her life but she never stopped working as the tears ran down her face. I was completely stunned when she said, “Every day is a blessing” and that is when I realized the power that these women possess together.

I inquired as to whom the leader of the organization was and, almost in unison, the women replied, “We are.” They work together to improve their community and they are all committed to achieving their mission, together. UPAVIM is the Spanish acronym for United for a Better Life and the name suits them well. Hope is alive and well at UPAVIM.

Photo credit: Meagan Chesrown