Friendship Bridge client for seven years.
In the rural areas of the department of Sololá in Guatemala, located in the western highlands, many families dedicate their livelihoods to agriculture. In these families, women typically are responsible for the breeding of animals as well as the creation of textiles that are traditional to the area. From an early age, women learn to weave and/or embroider, so that in the future they can make their own traditional clothing.
45-year-old Fidelia is from Santa Lucía Utatlán, Sololá. Despite having faced many challenges throughout her childhood and into adulthood, she has an optimistic nature, always eager to make the most out of opportunities that arise, to empower herself.
Fidelia is part of the Maya K'iche indigenous group. She was the second born in a family of five children (three sisters, two brothers). Her 73-year-old father, Don Antonio, a day laborer, is originally from the Department of Totonicapán, but their family moved to Santa Lucía Utatlán when they were able to acquire a piece of land there. Fidelia's mother, Doña María, now 65, married Don Antonio at age 18 in an arranged marriage. They remained married for 36 years, but separated due to infidelity by Fidelia's father. Today, Doña María lives with one of her daughters and provides for herself by managing a convenience store as well as selling chickens. The other children live with and take care of Don Antonio.
Fidelia's family had limited financial resources, and thus only the sons were able to go to school, which they attended until the sixth grade. Fidelia reflects on more painful memories from her childhood... living with her father, an alcoholic, and seeing him mistreat her mother and siblings. For Don Antonio, it was important that his sons received an education, and he held the deep-seated belief that education for girls was pointless, as they were to get married. These comments, unfortunately not uncommon in such cultures in which machismo remains prevalent; did not discourage Fidelia, however. She found a way to enroll in school, making great sacrifices to pay the Q1 for her enrollment. She managed to study until the third grade - a lack of financial support from her parents was ultimately what forced her to discontinue her studies. Fidelia recalls the single notebook and pencil which her father had given her, and how she had been excluded and otherwise disrespected by her teachers.
Although their parents did not like to see their children playing, Fidelia and her siblings did so in secret. When they came home from school during the week, they went up to the mountains to collect firewood as well as fodder for animals. On Saturdays and Sundays, their chores would include hauling water up out of the ravine from a nearby river as well as taking care of and raising the rabbits which the family would then sell. Determined to begin to pave a path for herself, Fidelia, at the young age of 11, decided to pursue work outside the home. She did various domestic jobs, washed clothes, took care of children... With the money she earned, she bought groceries for her family. She recalls being able to afford a loaf of bread once a week with that income. Fidelia also managed to save enough to buy herself a pair of plastic sandals that cost Q2.50 at the time - she had been working very hard, after all, and she deserved to no longer be barefoot. And as if this were not enough, Fidelia had to become the second mother, dedicating herself to the housework and attending to her siblings because her mother became ill.
Fidelia remembers that, at the age of 16 she began to have suitors, but she was constantly afraid of how her parents might react. On one occasion, her dad saw her speaking with a young man, who had only been asking Fidelia about her sister. Still, and without waiting for any explanation, he hit her fourteen times with a belt. Time went on and Fidelia began a courtship with a man named Santos; he would become her first husband, a marriage that was forced by her parents. Their marriage lasted a total of 13 years. Together, they had two children (currently ages 23 and 26). After seven years of living together, Santos traveled to the United States, on two different occasions. The second time he went was in the year 2000, and Fidelia did not hear from him until 2006, when he returned with another woman and went to live where his family was. Those six years of being on her own had been very trying for Fidelia; she had supported and raised her children on her own, but had still thought that her husband would return to them. During that time, she worked in a garment factory in her community, leaving her house very early and returning very late at night. When there were slower periods in the factory, Fidelia sought out housework jobs.
In 2004, Fidelia also started her own business of reselling pants and casual clothes. She travelled to the larger markets in the departments of Quiché and Chimaltenango, hoping she would be able to sell even more there. When reflecting on her efforts, Fidelia feels proud: her two children finished high school with diplomas in accounting, and her daughter even got accepted into college and studied for a few months. However, she saw her mother struggle financially, as a result, and decided to discontinue her studies.
One of the more difficult times in Fidelia's life was when her daughter Wendy developed a little-known illness affecting her nervous system. She dealt with this for nearly a year, almost to the point of losing her life. Fidelia says that, thanks to the help of medication and faith in God, her daughter was able to recover. A year later, Wendy made the decision to travel to the United States illegally, where she has now been living for eight years. There, she also got married four years and gave birth to a boy, now two years old. Wendy has been of great moral and financial support to Fidelia and her brother - thanks to her, he was able to finish his studies. A short time later, Fidelia's son also emigrated to the United States. He has been living there for five years, working hard to improve the living conditions for himself and his family back home. Fidelia says her children offered to take her with them to the United States, but she preferred to stay in her community. Two years ago, Fidelia decided to remarry and begin to rebuild her life. She candidly states that, at times, she wonders if living alone might be better; a sentiment likely developed due to her husband's passive nature, shyness and lack of complete support in her endeavors. "He is not jealous, nor angry. I feel supported but I would like more support. I have no problem allowing myself to have my own business, go out and sell and develop. I don't get any kind of abuse from my partner, there's good communication and respect," Fidelia says.
A wonderful memory for Fidelia was when she came across Friendship Bridge in 2014. This was when an aunt of hers - herself a client of the organization - told her about the benefits of receiving a loan. Fidelia was interested, as she desired to invest capital in her clothing business - both to increase the sales but also to continue building out the clothing workshop part of the business which she had just started. Inspired after hearing about the further benefits that Friendship Bridge offered, she reached out to Otilia, a Facilitator with the organization. Fidelia aspired to become an empowered woman, and thanks to Friendship Bridge, she has empowered herself in ways she did not imagine possible. In 2016, two years after she had joined Friendship Bridge, Fidelia also joined Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, as her Facilitator had recognized the talent she had for tailoring. Through the training and workshops she participated in, Fidelia was learning to develop different designs of garments with traditional details. She also learned about the measurements used in the international market, for the international market, how to make new samples, and how to promote her products through social networks. Currently, Fidelia has five sewing machines and employs four men, who are thankful for the opportunity to be able to generate income and provide for their own families. They make a variety of products, from denim pants to sports backpacks with unique Guatemalan designs to purses and other bags featuring different types of embroidery.
Fidelia lives her life with great enthusiasm and with the belief that attitude is everything. This mindset has gotten her through incredibly trying times in her life - she recalls two such times, in particular. In 2004, she got hit by a car, leaving her unconscious for three days, and with a broken leg and cracked skull. Furthermore, the accident left her without vision in her right eye for six months. Fidelia feels fortunate to have had unconditional support from both her mother as well as her siblings during her recovery. Then, in 2018, her faith was once again tested, this time with a diagnosis of an advanced stage of thyroid cancer. She was told she had seven months to live. Today, Fidelia is much healthier; she bravely fought the fight and is continuing to take precautions as well as prescription drugs. Still, there are times when she has to give her body a break and rest for weeks at a time, in order to regain her strength and energy.
Fidelia has felt supported by Friendship Bridge ever since she received her first loan. She gives thanks, in particular, to the moral support of her Facilitator who encourages her to persist and continue pursuing her goals. Furthermore, learning about topics such as self-esteem has helped her to value herself more - something that had been difficult for her in the past, as she had been deeply hurt when her first husband had left her for another woman. Fidelia now knows that she is unique and important and that she has a right to be happy.
Fidelia has invested the loans she has acquired in the purchase of raw materials for her business as well as tools such as sewing machines and spare parts. She comments, "I am very happy to be part of Friendship Bridge because it has given me the opportunity to participate in the Client Committee and in my Trust Bank where I participate as a secretary. I am an empowered woman by participating on various committees and thereby contributing to local development. For example, we are working to improve the drinking water in the school in my community, which will benefit many."
Fidelia has one daughter and one son.
Fidelia currently employs male sewers that have their own families.