This was my best moment by far of the summer; I don’t think I have ever felt so proud. It was only a little over a month ago that I had first taught the women in Panyebar how to fold nacho bags into origami chains. Now at the end of summer, each of the 14 women proudly displayed their recycled products on coco krispies cereal boxes. The products ranged from coffee earrings, watermelon seed earrings, woven recycled chip bag purses to bracelets made from dyed orange peels. The women had spent weeks making hundreds of products for the States, they even took out a small business loan from the bank to buy the input products. One woman, Aracely, told me, “we had all of these things around us, we just had no idea that we could use to them to make jewelry then to earn money.” There was probably nothing more satisfying then to watch these women experience empowerment through the process of making a product and then earning money to support their families. Many of the women began having children at 16 or 17 years old, some could not read nor write, some could not speak Spanish very well (speaking mainly their native language, Tz’utujil), and some were widows without husbands. Young children of families in the highland village of Panyebar experience malnutrition rates of 68%. The average family has 6-8 children and earns about $3.12 a day through farm-hand labor. This is enough money to purchase beans and rice; however it is neither an adequate salary to support an education past free primary school for each child nor provide a well-balanced diet with appropriate protein.
To tackle these challenges, Rising Minds provides hands-on Eco-Art trainings for indigenous women in surrounding villages to produce products that will generate revenue. Rising Minds bridges economic divides by suggesting eco-friendly techniques using recyclables to lower production costs for the women and benefit the environment at the same time. We provide avenues for the women to reach customers (as there is no market in Panyebar) and sell the handicrafts, as well as offer small business development courses to help them make their businesses thrive.
I bought the jewelry at fair wages from the women to sell at a marked up price in the States (the proceeds will benefit Rising Minds programming such as Eco-Art training). When asked what the women would use the profits from the jewelry for, they responded: “shoes for my family,” “money for my single dad,” “money for my education,” and “money for my baby.” The women began talking excitedly about how they wanted to expand the cooperative and I was struck by how intelligent and resourceful they were. The women in Panyebar make me feel humbled and inspired. Every human being has an unlimited capacity to thrive and to create when given the right opportunities.