Friendship client for nine years.
Elena lives near the majestic Lake Atitlán, in the department of Sololá, in the western highlands of Guatemala. Her house is located in a humble yet picturesque place, near coffee plantations and on the outskirts of San Juan La Laguna. She belongs to the Friendship Bridge Trust Bank “Guadalupe”. Elena belongs to the Tz'utujil Mayan ethnic group.
During her childhood, starting when she was about eight years old, Elena had to help her parents by making money to cover the expenses of her other siblings (seven total: two boys and five girls). generate income and cover her seven siblings' expenses (two boys, five girls). She was the fourth born in her family and could only attend school for five years. Her mother also taught her to weave at that age. Elena divided her time between helping with chores in the home and making beautiful weavings. Although Elena did not complete her education, she feels satisfied that, with her support, her two youngest brothers were able to finish their education. Fortunately, Elena had learned to read and write - skills which continue to help her in her business today.
At the age of 20, Elena decided to marry Daniel, with whom she has four children between the ages of 12 and 23. Elena feels fortunate to have her husband's unconditional support for her desire to improve herself and participate in personal development opportunities that will help her as a woman and entrepreneur. Elena's three daughters are teenagers and bilingual secretaries, while her only son is in the fifth grade. Elena is excited because this year, her two daughters got jobs in a small homemade chocolate factory in their community. Elena is proud that her daughters can put into practice their professional knowledge in the customer service department. They give tours to tourists - often getting to use their highly valuable English skills - and explain the process of how chocolate is made.
Before starting her textile business, Elena worked for six years in a restaurant which was popular amongst national and international tourists alike. At that job, she was able to observe firsthand the appreciation that tourists had for the different textiles. Nine years later, she decided to start her textile business; she got her start through membership in a textile association, which enabled her to exhibit and sell her products.
That same year, Elena - together with one of her friends from the association - joined Friendship Bridge and acquired her first loan. Since then, Elena has been involved in the textiles industry (primarily weaving). She makes products out of natural dyes, white fabric, and crystal thread - beautiful scarves, bags, cosmetic bags, shawls, and more. To make the beautiful natural colors, she uses a variety of plant leaves, bark, shells, and fruits; some examples include beets, carrots, achiote (paprika), avocado bark, coconut shell, annona tree, oak. She even sometimes uses insects such as mealybugs or cochineal for this dyeing. Elena is fortunate to have the support of all of her children in her textile business.
Elena feels satisfied that, thanks to the loans she has received, she has been able to not only grow her business but also afford schooling for her children and make improvements to her house. She has gained a greater sense of empowerment through the monthly trainings she receives, as these provide her with invaluable information about how to more effectively manage her business and diversify her offerings.
Five years ago, Elena very enthusiastically joined Handmade by Friendship Bridge®. Through participation in the various trainings, she has realized that she has become better at providing personalized customer service as well as more detail-oriented when it comes to high quality and more organized when it comes to managing her budget and finances. Furthermore, she is thankful for the opportunity to export her products in and out of the country. Thanks to different activities organized by Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, such as Artisan Fairs, Elena has established relationships with new clients who place orders with her. One of these clients is Antigua Guatemala. Elena is deeply grateful to Friendship Bridge and Handmade by Friendship Bridge® especially for being there for her during the height of the pandemic in 2020. With their support, she continued receiving orders, which allowed her to continue providing for her family. In addition, to generate extra income during those hard times, she prepared and sold delicious food.
Elena is always seeking new designs to incorporate into her business. She reflects on a wonderful experience she had when she participated with a group of women in the Women's Office of the City Hall in San Juan La Laguna. The mayor invited her to participate and represent her neighborhood. Together with other women, she helped identify opportunities for the artisan sector. In Elena's words: “In order to develop the artisan sector, I think it is important that the women have the opportunity to have a direct artisan market, both inside the community and outside it. I hope that we can all earn a monthly income, so that we can better support our families and our people can be more prosperous.”
Elena believes that the participation of women in such decision-making spaces is important.
Over the years, Elena has been able to see how each of the projects she has undertaken has unfolded, how her hard work has paid - and continues to pay - off. Eager to continue building a better future for herself and her family, she already has another project in mind: she wants to open a store to display her new textile designs and take advantage of the tourism that is starting in San Juan. She is positive that, thanks to the support of Friendship Bridge, she can make this dream/project a reality. She is planning to request an additional loan for this purpose.
Elena is very grateful for the comprehensive training she has received through Handmade by Friendship Bridge®. She is empowering, overcoming, and paving paths of development for her family and community.
Elena has three daughters and one son.
Elena currently has four female employees (each has a family with an average of seven members).