Maria Ajcalon Bocel
Maria Ajcalon Bocel is a member of a women’s weaving cooperative of 180 economically disadvantaged Mayan women in the highlands of Guatemala. She never attended school in Guatemala. Her primary language is Kakchiquel, one of 22 Mayan languages in Guatemala. She has been learning Spanish as well as, little by little, the written form of her native language.
Maria in the past visited A Thread of Hope in the U.S. on a ten-year artisan/cultural exchange visa. She demonstrated backstrap loom weaving at various events at which A Thread of Hope exhibited. Maria is a master weaver, having begun to learn at the age of 8. She has traveled to Canada, Venezuela and the United States to represent the co-op which celebrated its 26th anniversary in June 2013.
Using backstrap looms, the weavers create one-of-a-kind jackets, scarves, handbags, and other accessories from hand-dyed rayon chenille and cotton.
The 180 women in the co-op have all been affected by the military violence against the Mayans during the 40-year genocide which ended with peace accords in 1997. In 1982 the Guatemalan military invaded Maria’s village and murdered her father and disappeared her brother along with many others, and burned down the village. She andher mother fled into the woods.
Working together in the co-op has helped the women to begin to heal. They are learning that they can speak up in safety. Earning more money for their weavings has allowed the women to send their children to school, and to stay in their villages rather than having to move to Guatemala City to work as domestics or work on coffee plantations. Women are developing self-governance skills and strengthening their economic roles.
Fair Trade principles and practices include: fair wages in the local context, cooperative workplaces, consumer education, environmental sustainability, financial and technical support, respect for cultural identity, and public accountability. The goal is to benefit the artisans who do the work rather than to maximize profits. Fair Trade is the antithesis of sweatshop production.
Eliza connected with the co-op when she went to Guatemala in 1997 to learn Spanish. She has a deep interest in economic cooperation, having managed food co-ops here for over ten years.
“I feel very fortunate to have such a wonderful intercultural friendship with Maria, and a special connection with Guatemala,” says Eliza.
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