We are poor, but we want to better ourselves one day and keep moving forward. With our weaving work and participation in community and personal development workshops, my cooperative has learned that, as women, we ourselves have the right to participate, to communicate, and to work to support our families.
Diega Churunel Quisquina is 32 years old. She lives in a small mud-brick house in her rural Guatemalan village of Vasconcelos, with her mother and ten-year-old daughter. There are no men in the house – like many of the women in her cooperative, both Diega’s father and husband died during Guatemala’s civil war, an armed conflict that took up most of the second half of the 20th century. At 72, Diega’s mother is too old to work, and with her daughter in school most of the time, Diega is left alone to generate the needed income for her small household, which she does through traditional backstrap weaving.
Diega is proud of her weaving, as it is a traditional part of her Mayan heritage, and allows her to support her family. For eight hours each day, in between cooking, cleaning, and caring for her family, Diega weaves beautiful, multi-colored scarves, chalinas (shawls), table runners, bags, and wallets, which she sells predominantly to foreign tourists in the larger market towns of Panajachel and Chichicastenango, and online through various international fair trade organization.
Though most indigenous Guatemalan women have little to no schooling, Diega is grateful to have completed six years of primary schooling. She can read and write – though not well – and she speaks and understands a little Spanish, in addition to her native language, Kachiquel. Above all, Diega stresses that she works to ensure that her ten-year-old daughter can stay in school, complete her education, and have a brighter future.
Her cooperative, Lajuj I’z, is more than just a group of Mayan weavers. It provides a social and interactive forum for Diega to network with the other women in her community, and to receive help from outside organizations working in fair trade, microfinance, and women’s empowerment. Her cooperative has partnered with a variety of different fair trade and women’s empowerment organizations, both Guatemala-based and international, including Nest, Oxlajuj B’atz’, and Mayan Hands, for nearly two decades. For each of these organizations, Diega and her cooperative produce textile products for sale both in local markets and abroad, participate in a variety of capacity and community-building workshops, and have received numerous microfinance loans to facilitate the expansion of the cooperative and their production capacity.
Through her weaving and her work with her cooperative, Diega has learned practical skills – speaking Spanish, using a sewing machine to make complex cut-and-sew products, maintaining a store and selling products on a larger market. But more importantly, she’s learned about how to fight for her rights as an indigenous Guatemalan woman to participate, to communicate, to ask for help, and to work on her own – rights that have not always been protected nor respected for Guatemalan women. Above all, she hopes for a better future for her daughter, and she works each day to make that future a reality.