Friendship Bridge client for 22 years.
In many rural communities in Guatemala, there are very few opportunities for women's advancement. Still, these women, eager to drive development and be agents of change; work hard work and seek new skills that will empower them, that will enable them to provide for and improve the lives of their families. This is the case of Julia, a married 48-year-old woman and mother of six children between the ages of 13 and 28.
Julia is from Cerro de Oro, a rural community in Santiago Atitlán, in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Santiago Atitlán is the largest community in the Lake Atitlán basin. The locals primarily make their livelihoods by fishing or producing traditional fabric and other handicrafts (above all, beaded jewelry and ornaments).
Julia was the fourth born in a family of six siblings. Her father, currently 73 years old, is a day laborer and farmer, growing beans and corn. Her mother, who passed away 18 years ago, was an artisan. Growing up in a society and culture defined by machismo, Julia, like so many other girls, faced barriers when it came to receiving a complete education. She was sent to school for the first time at the age of ten, and completed sixth grade at 15. As a little girl, Julia learned to weave huipiles and other textiles with her mother. At the same time, she was helping her father by taking care of the crops.
At 18, Julia decided to marry José, a local seafood farmer, and three years later, she was a mother of two. During those early years, Julia realized that in order to offer her children better opportunities, the family would need income in addition to that of what her husband provided. José, however, was not motivated to change his standard of living. Despite the lack of support, Julia was determined to improve her family's circumstances. She took a chance and started her own textile business. Initially, she was a street vendor in a market near her community. After two years of traveling to this community, she had acquired a base of clients to whom she could consistently make direct deliveries. This saved Julia time, which she used to establish two additional ventures - one in which she would sell blouses with ornate collars and one in which she would sell traditional napkins.
It was not long before both businesses began to experience increased demand. At the same time, Julia's family was growing, as well, and she realized that, even though she was able to juggle the demands of being both a full-time mother and entrepreneur, she would have to rethink things so that she would not have to make trade-offs. Around that time, Julia's husband was fortunate to acquire a foot loom, which Julia was eager to put to use, knowing it would help her grow her business. Also around that time, around 1999; Julia was introduced to Friendship Bridge, an organization that seeks to empower Guatemalan women through loan services and education.
Julia, very excited, told her husband about the wonderful opportunity that being a part of Friendship Bridge represented - not only for herself, but for their whole family. Explaining to her husband how Friendship Bridge would help them improve their standard of living for years to come, Julia convinced him to give her permission to request a loan. Very determined to make the most out of everything the organization had to offer, Julia joined Friendship Bridge. Her first loan amounted to Q750; with that money, she was able to buy the threads she needed and also provide employment to people in her community to support her.
The business continued to grow, and Julia's capital needs increased, as well. This prompted her to seek a loan from a formal bank; with that loan, she was able to purchase more looms.
In 2012, Julia's business experienced a downturn, and she almost lost everything. Leading up to that moment, she and her husband had always made decisions impacting the family together. However, on this occasion, despite Julia's attempts to deter him, her husband bought a used car for Q42,000. As he lacked experience in the process of buying and assessing the quality of vehicles, he ended up drawing the short straw, as he was sold a car that had countless mechanical problems. They spent money - utilizing their business capital - on a variety of repairs, hoping to fix the car themselves, but it never got started. Realizing she would not be able to fulfill her obligations to Friendship Bridge due to this immense financial hardship, Julia decided she had no other choice but to leave the organization
Two years went by, and Julia was able to regain some stability. She decided to return to Friendship Bridge, this time with even more clarity about her goals and her determination to - with Friendship Bridge’s support - achieve them. Today, Julia no longer sells her products on the streets, but rather receives orders from wholesale clients, to whom she sometimes personally delivers the products.
Julia was recognized for her great talent and potential she had to learn and improve her business; this led to her being invited to join Handmade by Friendship Bridge in 2018. She highlights as especially beneficial the specific trainings aimed to help the artisans implement or improve their business budget, how to add costs, and how to pack the products.
During the COVID-19 crisis, many families - in Guatemala and worldwide - faced economic hardships and were no longer able to generate income to support their families. However, Julia feels fortunate that she had the opportunity to pivot. Her 21-year-old daughter opened a Facebook account, which she named “Telar Poot',' which means “Huipil's Loom” in the Mayan Tz'utujil language, and this enabled them to start promoting and arranging direct-to-home deliveries of Julia's products. The packaging skills which Julia learned through Handmade by Friendship Bridge have proven especially useful, as she is now able to safely, securely and sustainable pack the products which are shipped all over the country.
Julia also considers a success her ability to grow her business to the point that she can employ 18 other individuals in addition to her family to support her in fulfilling orders. Her husband works with her, as well, prioritizing Julia's business over the selling of seafood which he used to dedicate all of his time to. Now, the whole family is involved in the production of the fabrics for huipiles. In addition, one of Julia's daughters helps sew aprons on a sewing machine.
Julia reflects on her experience with Friendship Bridge: “Friendship Bridge has been a great blessing in my life during all these years. I have had capital for my business, they have trained me in business administration, to value myself as a woman, and learn about my rights. With Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, I have been able to learn specific topics about handicrafts, especially budgeting, the combination of colors, the measurements, among others.” She also appreciates Friendship Bridge's Education Program, which has similarly increased her sense of empowerment and self-esteem.
Julia has three daughters and two sons.
18 individuals currently support Julia with the weaving on the foot loom.