Friendship Bridge client for eight years.
In a situation of poverty, many women work twice as hard to get their families ahead in life. Micaela, age 59 and originally from Cantel, Quetzaltenango, embodies this hardworking, dedicated spirit as she strives to build a better life for herself and for her family.
Micaela was the fourth of six children. Her father was a day laborer and her mother a housewife. The pervasive machismo culture in Guatemala manifested itself in Micaela's father's lack of support for girls' education - she was only able to attend school until the second grade, and to this day she laments not having had the opportunity to continue. When Micaela was eight, her father passed away due to an illness not treated in time. This was a tragedy for her family, and he had also been the sole provider of the family. Following the passing of their father, Micaela and her siblings found themselves having to ask their neighbors for a donation of firewood or food because they themselves did not have enough.
Seeing her mother's anguish over how she was going to support her family in the long run, Micaela decided to start working as a maid to support her. She managed to convince a financially sound family in her community to give her a job. This family only paid Micaela Q1 a month, but they also gave her some clothes and a pair of sandals, which were treasured by Micaela, as she had never before owned a pair of shoes. She settled for the monthly payment, as she did not have any other choice. As time went on, however, the miserable payment was not the only thing that made the situation unbearable. Micaela was mistreated and discriminated against. One day when she returned home after work, she told her mom that she no longer wanted to work for that family. A few days later, Micaela's former boss came to her house to take back the few clothing items as well as sandals which they had given her. Micaela cried a lot - not just because she would have to be barefoot again, but because she had been treated with such disrespect.
After thinking about it for a few months, Micaela decided to return to the job she had. The head of the home received her again, this time to attend a convenience store. She was happy because she was putting into practice the little knowledge she had in mathematics, as she had to do basic addition and subtraction. Some time went by, and with Mother's Day approaching, Micaela decided to ask her employer for an advance payment and a loan of Q11. She planned to buy a dresser for her mother to organize her clothes, plus a new shawl. She was given the money and was able to buy the items and make her mother very happy. Following this, however, Micaela unfortunately once again became a victim of violence, discrimination, and mistreatment by her employer. After she repaid the loan, Micaela left that job.
At age 12, Micaela was selling bananas and chuchitos (Guatemalan tamales) on the street. One day, she met a kind woman who offered to teach her how to machine weave at no cost - Micaela would only have to supply the necessary materials. Excited and inspired, Micaela asked if she could learn how to make aprons. A quick learner and eager to use her new skill, Micaela - with the support of her mother - began to sell aprons from house to house. She soon met another lady who offered to teach her machine embroidery, also at no cost. Micaela felt fortunate for these serendipitous encounters and for the kindhearted people who taught her these skills which remain invaluable to her to this day.
At the age of 20, Micaela married Neftaly, a shoemaker and hardworking man. Together, they have four children. Around the time of their marriage, Micaela proposed to her new husband that they start their own business selling shoes. Neftaly was convinced; he left his job in a shoe workshop in Quetzaltenango and he and Micaela started their family business. Her husband made the shoes, and Micaela sold them in various markets on the street, carrying the shoes in a basket on her head. Along with the shoes, Micaela also sold aprons and blouses which she herself embroidered
Micaela joined Friendship Bridge eight years ago, having heard about the organization by word of mouth from a current client. This woman shared with her the benefits of being a part of this organization, and explained to her that the easy and quick access to capital for her business as well as trainings would help her improve her sales. Micaela was convinced; soon after, she got in touch with Friendship Bridge and got her first loan. This same woman also told Micaela about Handmade by Friendship Bridge and about how they would provide her with tools and trainings to make new products that could be exported.
Five years ago, Micaela decided to join Handmade by Friendship Bridge. The first challenge she faced, however, was the need to use mathematics well. then began to regret even more not having had the opportunity to study. But with the assistance of the Handmade by Friendship Bridge team, Micaela manages her accounts and budget well. In addition, she has received trainings on quality control, color scheme, measures for export products, labeling, packaging, and shipment of products outside the country.
In the first Artisan Fair organized by Handmade by Friendship Bridge in which Micaela participated, the artisans were divided by experience level - beginner and advanced. The fact that she only had Q15 at that fair, however, did not not discourage Micaela. Instead, she was motivated to improve her products, to strive for more sales. She noticed the difference in the quality of products from women at the advanced level compared with the products from beginners. With this awareness and increased motivation, Micaela worked hard to improve her product samples in order to achieve more sales. At the second fair in which she participated, Micaela made Q300, and she also received future orders. Proud and happy to see her efforts were paying off, Micaela was also thankful for the knowledge she was gaining about the selling process merely by taking part in these exhibitions and fairs. She has had the opportunity to participate in fairs in Panajachel, Antigua, and Xela. Meeting and learning from other artisans in these fairs is another thing Micaela is grateful for.
One of Micaela's most popular products is the corn husk angel. She developed this new product with the support of Handmade by Friendship Bridge. One corn husk angel takes a whole day to make, but Micaela's children always remind her that the time invested is worth it. She herself is a firm believer, after all, that perseverance makes things happen.
Micaela feels blessed to be part of Friendship Bridge, not only because she has access to the capital she needs in order to continue and grow her business, but also because she has the opportunity to learn about new topics through the Non-Formal Education program, develop new skills with the assistance of Handmade by Friendship Bridge, and access to health exams through the Friendship Bridge Health for Life program.
Micaela has two daughters and two sons.
Micaela employs two shoemakers.