Meet María

Meet María

Meet María

Friendship Bridge client for 16 years.

María Paula is a brave and inspirational woman who has been a Friendship  Bridge client for 16  years. She lives in a rural community called Caserío Santa María El Tablón in the department of Sololá. María recalls having been forced to abandon school after only completing the sixth grade. She immediately  began working with her father and brothers in the development of sewing products and handcrafts, and she came to enjoy this work. María's father left her a place on Calle Santander, the main street in the town of Panajachel in Sololá; there, they sell a variety of textiles and crafts to the countless foreign tourists and Guatemalans alike who pass by. María is a natural-born craftswoman.   

Although her talents and determination have helped her build a better future for herself and her family, María has lived a difficult life, facing tragedy at a young age. Her mother died when she was just six years old. Severe fevers and headaches prompted her to go to the hospital, and she passed only a couple hours later. María Paula has three sisters and two brothers from the same  mother. When her father remarried, he and his new wife had twins. Having a stepmother was a difficult experience for María, who had to support her the most with household chores, yet from whom she received little to no appreciation or attention. Despite many ups and downs in this relationship with her stepmother, however; María is grateful for all that she learned over those years.

When María was 17, her father made the decision that she would marry the neighbor’s son. She moved into her in-laws' home, where she lived for the first  five years. The couple had plans: they applied for a loan to build their own house, and also started a business selling jewelry on Calle Santander in Panajachel. María managed the business and finances, created products and  guided a group of artisans who provided them with jewelry. The business grew considerably, and with the goal of identifying more artisans who worked with beads with whom they could partner, they even placed radio ads in the city of Los Encuentros.

Much of the success of the business could be attributed to María; after all, she had particular skills and knowledge which her husband did not have. However, when she got separated from her husband at age 31, her then-former husband took over the business. Unfortunately, he did not know how to manage it successfully, and it wasn't long before the business stopped being profitable and had to be shut down. María's economic hardships were compounded by the fact that, after the separation, she had to continue to pay the debts that her ex-husband had acquired. Still living in their shared home near her in-laws, María worked hard to pay off the mortgage. 

Many of the people with whom María had done business in the past started to seek her out again; after all, they knew the quality of her work and trusted her. María, at that time, was still living close to her former in-laws, but her relationship with her ex-husband's family became complicated over those two years following the separation. Hoping to get out of that unhealthy environment, María sought the advice of her father, who suggested she leave the home and move in with him. After much deliberation, and with the ultimate goal of finding peace, she agreed to move. Her father, stepmother and other members of her family picked her and her six children up and brought them back to their home.

At the time of their separation 16 years ago, the couple had six children between the ages of 2 and 12, and María had just given birth to their daughter, Sheny, only 15 days before. During all these years, María has had to overcome many challenges associated with being a single mother, but she has remained committed to ensuring her children have access to opportunities to build a better future. Her hard work has helped her children study and graduate from high school. Two of her younger kids (one son and one daughter), are currently  in high school. Sheny is in high school, currently studying life sciences. Another son is in ninth grade and studying baking and pastry arts online. Next year, he aspires to attend school in-person in order to receive an even better education. María's two oldest children are married, and she has three grandchildren, ages four, six, and four months. 

María's motivation has always been her family, to be able to provide them with food and to pay off her debts. She developed greater self-confidence, which proved essential to her pursuit of new opportunities that would open new doors for her family. An example of such a new opportunity was the one she sought out in Antigua Guatemala. Despite being advised not to go, María went to Antigua one Thursday to promote her products. She approached various boutiques and craft businesses and presented samples of her work to them. One of these boutiques was a recently-opened one by a man named Jaime. He only sold - and continues to sell - jewelry created with unique Colombian beads. The timing of their encounter was fortuitous, as Jaime was looking for artisans who could  help him develop his designs, and María was looking for exactly that kind of work. Jaime spoke with María about his designs and asked her to create a  sample. Upon receiving that sample, Jaime knew that María had a very special talent. Through this partnership over the last 15 years, María felt great support, and the work with Jaime remains the main source of income for María and all  the women who work with her.

María initially joined Friendship Bridge to acquire a loan which she needed  to  better develop and market her handmade products. This first  loan amounted to Q500. She left the first Trust Bank she had been a part of when she moved back to her father's house, but later rejoined Friendship Bridge, this time as a member of the Santa María Trust Bank. Motivated to learn more about the offerings of Handmade by Friendship Bridge, María took advantage of the opportunity to attend some trainings put on by the program. She saw firsthand just how much  she had left to learn, yet she was eager to get started and apply this new practical knowledge, develop her skills and improve her sales. Through Handmade by Friendship Bridge, María has received training on - among other topics - product development and quality control, which she deems particularly beneficial.

“I had never before felt so challenged to work hard on new designs," she reflects. María strives to be innovative, and she is recognized for this spirit. In 2019, she won second place in the prestigious Citi Award. The money she received was used to buy new materials and textiles which she frequently uses.

During the time of confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, customer orders dropped. However, María felt fortunate to continue receiving orders from her client in Antigua as well as from Handmade by Friendship Bridge; these orders enabled her to keep the business afloat and thereby continue covering family expenses.

The pandemic awakened in many people a push for innovation, even an entrepreneurial spirit; this was the case for María. In May of 2020, she fabricated masks for 25 of her neighbors who had not had the chance to stock up on them due to the government's prompt implementation of curfews and limits placed on public transportation. The neighbors each provided María with all they could afford - Q2.00 - as a token of their gratitude for the masks. The news that María was sewing masks spread, and soon she received an order for 60 units from a nearby community.

In August of 2019, María unfortunately experienced another tragedy: her 78-year-old father passed away following an operation on his throat. María's father  left some assets which are still being allocated amongst his children today. In  the case of the craft shop on Calle Santander in Panajachel, the eight brothers continue to buy traditional Guatemalan textiles and other accessories to fabricate wonderful products.

María herself has two short-term projects. The first is to build commercial rental units. She hopes to rent some units out, and to use other units as spaces for a small craft shop, a mini market, maybe a bakery. The second project is to start a small garden and sell the fruit that she harvests (apples, plums, peaches, blackberries, etc.). The bakery idea, she says, might be more in the medium-term after all, as her son (the one who is passionate about baking and who could surely run the business) is still studying. Though these projects are for the future, María is thankful that she has also been able to make improvements to her home.

María is a kind woman who strives to help others; this is exemplified further by the fact that she has given work to two elderly individuals in need, both aged 85. She also provides them with food. The other individuals who currently work for María are all women - among them married, widowed, and divorced women, all whom she is thankful to be able to support through employment.   

Another proud moment for María was when she was awarded a sewing machine by Handmade by Friendship Bridge (thanks to a donation) in August 2020. Since then, this new tool has enabled María to make traditional blouses and masks, as well as to create also for lining of the bags and purses which she sells through Handmade by Friendship Bridge.

Many people have impacted María's life for the better, she reflects, especially her brothers, Alejandro and Ciriaco, who have taken care of her well-being by giving her advice and protecting her. Friendship Bridge has supported María through  the loans as well as through the Plus programs. She has received various visits from nurses with the Health for Life program, and she is very grateful for their  support.

Children:

María has one daughter and five sons.

    Employees: 

    María's daughter and three of her sons help her in her business.
    María is also currently employing 25 women who help with the production of her designs.