Julia is the head of our women's cooperative in El Tablon, Solola, Guatemala. There are 28 women in the group and they come together with a variety of skills including weaving fabric on pedal and backstrap looms, making baskets, beading, jewelry making and embroidery. Julia started working at a young age, raised by a single mother. She worked all over the area, Xela, Chichicastenango, and Qetzaltenango in Solola, carrying her son with her as she worked in the fields. She was able to land a job working for a cooperative that gave microloans to women of Q100 and saw how they were working to better themselves and it was there that she discovered her passion for working with and helping women succeed.
When she had her second child, she made the decision to raise her boys by herself. She decided she would rather make her own decisions, not always having to live under the thumb of the machismo society. She moved back to El Tablon into the home of her uncle where her mother was also living. She became her mother's caretaker and started the women's group in 2002. The women would work together and support each other emotionally as they struggled with poverty and abuse. In 2007 they started using pedal looms, as they noticed that the tourists liked the fabric that was being made there and they could make larger pieces faster with the pedal loom. In 2008 they started working with Education and More. They still also use the traditional backstrap looms as well.
Julia now has a home where she lives with her two boys, Sergio who is now in college and Danilo who is in high school. She still shares a kitchen and a bathroom with her mother who still lives in her uncle's home. Her mother is 85 as of this week! Julia was able to take some classes in Guatemala City about Women's Rights and Capacities as well as some other classes which have helped her be a mentor for the women in her cooperative. Many of the women speak the native Cakchiquel Mayan language (one of 4 languages spoken around Lake Atitlan) and cannot read or write. She has helped many women who have suffered abuse, being a safehouse for them for several years, and now is a highly respected woman in her village.
The El Tablon women's group now consists of 28 families and more that 40 children. We pay the women Fair Trade wages for their products and help them sell and market their products on-line. We also find sponsors for their children to help pay for school, do "healthy homes" projects like cement floors, new roofs, and vented cook stoves, and offer monthly bible studies and VBS programs. We are hoping to build a new weaving center in the next year, as the lease is up on their current one, which will have electricity, a bathroom and a possibly classroom space as well. Julia loves being the leader of the group and has really enjoyed watching it change and grow over the years. She is excited to see what the future brings!