• Carrin Robertson

Dia de la Mujer!

Updated: Mar 16, 2019

Feliz dia de la Mujer!

I feel like I couldn’t be in a more relevant place right now to see how different life as a woman can be outside of the developed world. As I’ve mentioned, I’m working for a company called UPAVIM (Women United for a Better Life) in what is now a former slum called La Esperanza. (La Esperanza is no longer a slum due to the ratio of concrete construction compared to tin and other non-structured materials used to build homes and shelter).

The building where I live and work is almost entirely female. Where I work in Design and Production with in the Crafts program- we are all women. I’m surrounded by very warm, loving and hilarious women who are creative and hard-working. Women who greet me, and each other, every morning with a hug and a smile and are truly passionate about what they do. I sometimes forget the sad reality outside of the building- the violence that occurs. We spend our days together developing new products and having dinners together, the odd little birthday party of coffee and cake or a celebrating a mama to be’s baby shower. Realistically, life here is hard and many of the stories the women have shared with me about themselves are so horrific and tragic beyond belief, but still I see more joy and smiles here on a day-to-day basis than anywhere else I’ve been.

What I’ve seen so far in Guatemala, and more so in the community is just how hard women work. And not only in terms of having a job, but raising families, cooking and providing for their homes. There are often less men around- husbands and sons lost to gang violence; alcoholism is also rife, or sometimes husbands leave and just don’t return. The women here aren’t attempting to “have it all”, families and a career- it’s a necessity. I was on the Transmetro in the city the other day and saw a woman with her very young children selling lottery tickets on the street clearly trying to make a living, and right next to her two very drunk men, so out of it they could hardly stand, slumped against a wall together. It’s not an uncommon scene in the city.

I love working here and I’m yet to properly meet every woman, but have gotten to know my closest colleagues which has been amazing. I’ve been working mostly with five very different and wonderful women since being here at UPAVIM. Barb who is 83 and the founder of UPAVIM, although she may not directly refer to herself as that but she is, and is from Texas. My first evening here at UPAVIM, Barb and Natalie cooked dinner for the three of us and what first stuck in my head about Barb was that she said “I really like the word Woke” and she is probably the most socially aware person I’ve met in my life, and a really inspiring lady.

I also work with Angela, who is my direct boss and the Administrator of UPAVIM Crafts, she runs the show here, taking orders from clients, and ensuring everyone is playing their role in the process. A strong, elegant and intelligent woman and a pleasure to work with.

Mayra, who is the talented designer in the Costura have spent my first few weeks with and we have designed so many products in a short space of time- mostly childrens' products as those are clearly Mayra’s favourite to do, which makes so much sense as she is a mum to eight kids! So far we’ve collaborated on childrens’ hats, pencil cases, puppets, cuddly toys, sleepy pillow and blanket sets and a soft play book- not bad for 4 weeks work. Oh, and I did manage to sidetrack from the kids’ products and get some gorgeous homeware cushions and cutlery holders squeezed in as well which are simple yet pretty from lovely material from San Martin.

My two other colleagues Doña Carmen and Sonia make me laugh every day, they’re hilarious! Carmen and I have been working together with fabric orders for the weavers, so far we’ve designed new fabric for the existing children’s range, to refresh the colours of well-selling styles. I’m excited to see all the samples! Sonia, I’ve spent lots of time with recently- she is head of the Manualidades and we have travelled with to Lake Atitlan where she learned wire wrapping of stones for jewellery making. We’ve gone into the city together to source fabrics and jewellery supplies, and to Antigua for our macrame threads and to visit our clients. there. Sonia jokes about almost everything, she’s had an interesting life and has a kind heart.

AT UPAVIM there are seventy women who work either in the department of Costura- so anything that is made with fabric on the sewing machine, either here in the Taller or on their own machine at home- designed by Mayra. Or in Manualidades with Sonia, which is jewellery, decorations- anything made by hand. What I’ve come to realise, which I was initially unaware of, is how differently the business is run here. I very naively assumed that the women worked here everyday, Monday to Friday and then the products are easily sold on the fair trade market. Well- it’s not quite like that- if we have an order coming up from a company only then do the women have work, and therefore an income.

As I write this, we have orders for the Costura department- some of children’s toys and cushions, of course more orders are always welcome. But currently no orders for our twenty women who work in Manualidades which means we need to develop new styles quickly, and create samples to show clients. I’ve been trying to come up with new, sellable designs as fast as I can with Sonia, that are still well designed and a) cost-effective b) beautiful and/or useful products c) relatively easy to make, and that have readily available materials. Some of my friends have been following my instagram stories, and recently I’ve been over-posting shots of me speed learning macrame as I think it fits all of the above criteria! Alongside this, we’re working together quickly to develop our Christmas range ahead of time which is mostly handmade items and will guarantee work for the summer period for producing for orders.

The Crafts program at UPAVIM is really important to providing an income for the women, and for us to have a profit to partly support the school program. Working at UPAVIM is hard, but brilliant as well and I’m really enjoying being part of this community of women.

On this Women’s Day, I’m happy and grateful to be surrounded be creative, strong and talented women and to be welcome here in the community.

And to celebrate the weekend of Dia de la Mujer, we’re heading on a group trip to the beach tomorrow!

Wishing all the women in my life a very happy International Women's Day!


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