SUPPORTING WOMENS CO-OPERATIVES IN SAN JUAN LA LAGUNA GUATEMALA
Whilst based at La Casa del Mundo, on Lake Atitlán, I was keen to visit San Juan La Laguna, a neighbouring town 30 minutes away to learn of a very interesting initiative. For this was no ordinary initiative. This is something that as a woman who has her own voice, career, online platform and freedom to do as I please, can still resonate with so much. I often wonder if I didn’t have the opportunities that I have been so fortunate to have, how things may have turned out.
CO-OPERATIVES IN SAN JUAN LA LAGUNA, GUATEMALA
Additionally, today, the 8th of March signifies International Womens day so here’s a nod and a bit of homage-to all my fellow kick-ass ladies out there who are literally killing it in everything they do!
The day started by meeting our guide, Gabriela de la Bastide, born in Venezuela but grew up in the area and now lives in one of the neighbouring towns. I explained to her that I was really interested in finding out about what I’m referring to as ‘girl power’ in San Juan La Laguna and she was very interested to show us around and introduce us to the initiatives.
The idea of the initiatives is for women on San Juan to come together and work on a particular trade such as arts and crafts, textiles in the form of weaving or midwifery and medicine. The idea is that by working together and forming a co-operative, they are able to keep costs low under one roof and take home a decent salary, which primarily is used to educate their children.
Guatemala is a country where education is not deemed important and unfortunately the household is heavily dominated by a male presence. In forming co-operatives and going out to work, these women earn respect in the household as all the financial burden is not placed on the man of the house. Additionally the women have an income and now put the money towards educating their children and building a better future for them. In Guatemala, children can leave school at 14 so more households are able to educate their children further into higher education.
Here’s an interesting fact, 50% of the population in Guatemala are under the age of 20. The average Guatemalan family has 10 children, however it is important to note that in San Juan, this average has dropped to 3-4 children per household. This again is down to the women and their education of contraception. The contraceptive injection is given to all women with consent in San Juan to help with financial situation in the home and promote a good quality of life.
Although these facts are quite saddening, it is encouraging to hear that women now have a voice and are given the choice and independence to live their lives and futures as they would like.
THE ANGELINA CO-OPERATIVE OF PAINTING
Our first stop in San Juan was to the art studio of one very talented lady, Angelina. She started what is known in the area as The Angelina Co-operative. Angelina Quic Ixtamer was born in San Juan and was the first woman to ever paint in the town. She founded the unique ‘birdseye’ style of painting of everyday life in Guatemala such as farming and women weaving. She stumbled upon this accidentally when she was on a walk and looked down and saw a bird eye view of a scene. Although many use this style in Guatemala, Angelina uses oil paints and certain techniques to achieve her final articles, which can take her up to 2o days each to complete.
Angelina’s husband, Antonio is also a painter and they work together at their studio in San Juan where they display their work as well as displaying at numerous shows and galleries around Guatemala. They have space in their studio to accommodate work of newer artists who would not other wise be able to afford or support their career in the early years and this is how Angelina built the co-operative.
Walking around the gallery it was humbling to see the level of skill in the painting as none of the painters in the initiatives or who display their work here are professionally trained. They learnt to paint themselves and are known as the local Tzutujil people. It is truly admirable when you see the level of detail in their artwork.
It was an honour to meet Angelina, one of the most inspiring, humblest and colourful ladies, whose talents just blew me away even before I stepped foot in her gallery.
AJ TO’ OONEEL IXOQ TEXTILES WOMENS CO-OPERTIAVE
This group of approximately 52 hard-working, creative and enterprising ladies have the mission to improve their lives, the lives of their families and of their community. Their name Aj To’ oonel Ixoq means ‘womens support’.
The co-operative was formed in 2007, where these women produced threads by hand, dyed them with natural plants found in San Juan and then used back strap looms to produce the most beautiful textiles. They took us through the whole process of production in their demonstration centre and work shop. In order to keep this a tradition, the younger girls, aged 14 come and help during their holidays and post school. It truly is skilful, trust me I had a go and it was not as easy as these ladies make it look.
Their textiles are available to buy from scarves, shawls, clothing, purses to rugs, table cloths and the like.
The support and community spirit of this co-operative of ladies was just phenomenal, it was just a pleasure to meet them as well as watching them interact and sustain each other with team work.
MAYAP MIDWIVES AND MEDICINE WOMEN
Science and medicine, a subject close to my heart and it was therefore only apt to go and visit this group of 15 ladies who make up this co-operative.
They are split into three groups:
- The Midwives
These deal with home births and just like in the the rest of the world, look after the mother from when she learns of her pregnancy. They use traditional Mayan methods and plant based medicines to treat the women pre, during and post birth as most births in San Juan are home births in line with Mayan culture and tradition. Only in complicated circumstances would a woman go to hospital as post birth the baby and mother are not allowed out of the house for 40 days to allow time to rest and recoup and for the baby not to catch an evil eye of illness.
- The Bone Setters
Yes you read that right! From what I understand these guys are more like physios and osteopaths and deliver sports style massages!
- The Educators
These ladies are the ones who run the show. They train, they are responsible for picking the plants and making them up into infusions, creams or tablets, such as insect repellents, lip balms, moisturisers etc.
The way this co-operative works is that each of the ladies will grow a certain number of plants at their homes. They learn the medicinal properties of these plants from their grandmothers, mothers and aunts and are generally passed down through the generations. Thus the co-operatives is able to have specialists in each of the areas to serve the community. All the plants are based on traditional Mayan recipes and concoctions and are all made on site by themselves. All I’m saying is that there’s a reason that these ladies look super youthful, have literally NO grey hair and are full of energy! They tell me the secret is Moringa! Guess who bought a big stash of Moringa tablets from Mayup?!
Allow me to share a little of what we learnt about the plants grown at Mayup and ailments, during our educational session at Mayup.
Served as a tea and used to treat insomnia
Used to make shampoo, lip balm, soap and also used as a treatment for gastritis in a mixture consistency
Treatment for respiratory and cough related issues
Made as Creams, soaps and massage oils
This is a good treatment for acne sufferers in cream format
Treatment for colic, regulating sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes
This is classed as a Mayan spiritual plant that wards off negative vibes
Good for depression and mental health
An effective insect repellent
An aider of sleep and promoter of good digestion
Used in massages and to treat arthritic joints
The cream is used for stretch marks, but also added to soap
Excellent for menstrual pain and wind!
Aids in the digestion process
Good for the Menopause and night sweats
Increases energy levels, aids in prostate and eye problems.
Good for headaches and mosquito bites
Made up into shampoo as good for hair loss, a natural anti-wrinkle cream, soap or oil format for acne sufferers
Excellent for Asthmatics
Made up into tea for migraines
Excellent for reducing cholesterol and made into a soap for cellulite.
After my day in San Juan, I was in total awe of these women working together to help themselves, their families and their communities. It was a truly inspirational visit and great to meet and learn such interesting facts about the Guatemalan culture and their traditions and beliefs.
San Juan, a place where women empower women!
A huge thanks to Via Venture and Gabriela who steered the visit to San Juan to accommodate these co-operatives.
I hope you enjoyed my post about real girl per in San Juan. Feel free to drop me a Comment below!
Catch up on my post on Things to do around La Casa del Mundo, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.