by Erol Reyal
In the first few week of October 2005, the Pacific Coast of Central America was affected by severe winds and rains of Hurricane Stan. The heavy rains took the communities of Guatemala completely by surprise and created massive landslides and floods. This catastrophe not only caused material damage but it also took the lives of hundreds of people.
Because of the dangerous conditions, many were forced to flee their homes and went to the Highlands. This was the fate of the communities of Pacutama and Chuicutama. Under the pouring rain, displaced residents walked to the top of the Altiplano, almost 3,000 meters above sea level.
The NGO Y’abal began its work with these two communities in October 2005. At the beginning its focus was on health and infrastructure. Later, it began projects focusing on micro credits, skills workshops and home construction. In 2009, Y’abal constructed a community center for meetings and workshops.
The cold climate and lack of land forced the people of Pacutama and Chuicutama, who once earned a living as coffee farmers, to find new sources of income to support their families. This is why the Y’abal Handicrafts project was started in 2008—with the goal of creating a new source of income for this community of female weavers by selling their products made on the backstrap loom.
Mission of Y’abal Handicrafts
Maya women have been weaving on the backstrap loom for thousands of years. Y’abal Handicrafts seeks to maintain this ancient technique and integral part of Mayan culture, an art that women can also perform while taking care of the household and children.
In the last two years Y’abal has organized skills workshops to improve the quality and consistency of their work, self-esteem, and group organization and coordination. In March 2010 Y’abal became a registered company and opened a store in Quetzaltenango, which offers quality products combining ancient Mayan weaving and modern design.
History of the Chuacruz cooperative Wajxaq’ib kan, Sololá
To expand the variety of weaving featured in its collection and to offer more work for the women, Y’abal Handicrafts also works with a cooperative from Chirijox y Chuacruz.
The cooperative Wajxaq’ib kan was founded in 1987. The name of the coop-erative means “the eighth day” and represents the “day of weaving” on the Mayan calendar. Located in Chuarcruz, the cooperative has 19 women.
Between 1960 and 1996, the civil war left many women of this community as widows and the sole providers for their families. Faced with a lack of education and labor experience, along with the challenges of speaking Spanish, the women supported themselves with one of their greatest strengths, the art of weaving.
To support these women by buying a product or to get in contact with one of the groups, visit the store at 12av 3-31, zone 1, Quetzaltenango, one block from the central park. Or visit us at www.yabal-handicrafts.com or on Facebook. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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