Friendship Bridge client for 13 years.
In large families with limited economic resources, the children are often limited in terms of opportunities available to them. Normally the older children assist in raising the younger siblings and ensuring they are in good health. Still, such larger families, in particular, often struggle to meet basic needs. This is the case of Mirian, a married 32 year-old mother of two who grew up in a large family of nine siblings (seven sisters and two brothers).
Mirian grew up in a rural community called San Jorge la Laguna near Lake Atitlan. She remembers her childhood working alongside her father, a day laborer, in the coffee fields of her community. As the fifth child in the family, Mirian was sent to school for the first time when she was eight years old. She went to great lengths to balance her work and studies from a young age until she finished sixth grade, which was the last level she managed to finish.
At the age of 14, Mirian looked for job opportunities to support her family and siblings. She managed to work for a year and a half in a restaurant, then another year and a half in a silkscreen shop in the city of Sololá - a 15-minute bus ride from her community.
At age 17, with a bit of experience working in a city already, Mirian decided to try her luck looking for work in Guatemala City. She managed to find work as a live-in maid and nanny. A year later, Mirian decided to return to her community so that she could be closer to her family. She got a job in a restaurant in the city of Sololá, but unfortunately it closed just three months later, leaving Mirian out of work.
When she was 18, Mirian got married to a bricklayer. As is custom, she moved into her husband's family's house. Eager to provide for herself, Mirian asked her older sister, who was a craftswoman by trade, to teach her how to make seed bead craft products, known as mostacilla. Mirian’s sister agreed to teach her and give her work. The only downside of this job, however, was that Mirian would only get paid every two or three months. Still, Mirian was thankful for the opportunity to learn a new craft and to make an income.
At age 19, Mirian had her first baby, who is now 13 years old. Five years later, she had another, who is eight years old today. As a young couple, Mirian and her husband were building their home and family and supporting each other.
A year after Mirian moved in with her in-laws' family and had her first child, her-father-in-law passed away suddenly. This tragedy especially affected Mirian's husband, who was unable to come to terms with his father's death. To mitigate the pain, an uncle suggested he turn to alcohol. Mirian's husband unfortunately took this advice to heart, and to this day he spends weeks at a time drunk and is unable to provide for his family.
In addition to the alcohol problem, Mirian learned that her husband had debts. One day the electricity company cut off the service due to their lack of payment. Mirian was caught off guard, and she did not know what to do. What little money she was making with her sister was not enough, and she found herself unable to feed her children. It was then that she met América, who at the time was Facilitator with Friendship Bridge and who is now the Production Coordinator of Handmade by Friendship Bridge. América invited Mirian to join Friendship Bridge and told her about the organization - how it helps women start or grow their business to support their families, among other things. América also advised her to start a business selling food as well as her beaded products. Determined and inspired by the prospect of building a better future for herself and for her family, Mirian joined Friendship Bridge. She quickly obtained her first loan of Q2,000 ($260), which she invested in the preparation of cooked güisquiles (squash) to be sold in her community; in the production of beaded handicrafts; and in the payments to restore the electricity in her home.
Years went by and Mirian was expanding her business and supporting her two children. One day, Mirian learned that her husband also had a large debt with a bank that he could no longer pay. Furthermore, he had left the land of his house as the collateral for the loan. Mirian was devastated, and she knew she would once again have to seek assistance to be able to provide for her children. She asked for a Q9,000 ($1,160) loan from Friendship Bridge, planning to use part of it to buy raw material for her business and the rest to pay off her husband's debt so that they would not be evicted. There came a point when Mirian only had food for her children; she herself would drink water in hopes that it would make her feel less hungry. She sought out a job with one of her sister-in-laws who sold shoes; here she would be paid Q15 ($2) a day. The owner of the business set the minimum price of the shoes, but allowed Mirian to sell them at slightly higher prices, knowing she needed the extra money.
Eventually, Mirian managed to get out of debt and achieve stability in her business. She then acquired another loan of Q5,000 from Friendship Bridge to better organize the business. The trainings from Friendship Bridge empowered Mirian to more effectively manage her business, as well as feel better about and more confident in herself, thanks to workshops on self-esteem and women's rights.
In 2018, Mirian was happy to enter Handmade by Friendship Bridge, despite being discouraged to do so by her older sister - the same one who had taught Mirian the technique of mostacilla. Her sister told her it was a waste of time and that running a business was not easy. However, Mirian's mother was always - and continues to be - very supportive of her. When Mirian attends trainings, her mother takes care of the children. Mirian made the decision to join Handmade by Friendship Bridge because for her, it represented a path to success, to growth, to empowerment; and she is incredibly thankful for her mother's help, without which she would not have been able to commit to the program.
Mirian was eager to learn and increase her income through this new program. Preparing the first samples for Handmade represented both a great challenge as well as a great learning experience for her. She felt great satisfaction when her samples were approved, and did not get discouraged by her older sister's criticism nor attempts to convince her that she would not have enough to invest back in her business in the future. Mirian recalls a time when her sister said to her, in a mocking tone, "You look like you're a lawyer with your bag." Still, Mirian does not take these comments personally; instead, she feels satisfied and proud of herself for taking a chance.
Miriam has no regrets about the decisions she has made when it comes to being part of Friendship Bridge. Her commitment and hard work has led her to partnerships with wholesale buyers and every month she gets orders, even during the pandemic in 2020. She is currently making samples of macramé bracelets. What Mirian values greatly about Handmade By Friendship Bridge are the trainings about topics such as the differences in quality of different types of materials, how to keep track of material costs, and the importance of tracking the time it takes to make each product and ensuring this is factored in when setting the final product price.
As she is for the most part raising her children on her own and has many obligations and responsibilities, Mirian is not thinking about expanding her family, for now. She is grateful to be able to receive information and medical checkups from the nurses of the Friendship Bridge Health for Life program. Mirian suggests that others take advantage of this beneficial program, as well, in order to stay in - or get back to - good health.
Mirian similarly feels grateful to have been able to join Handmade by Friendship Bridge. Currently, she has five employees who help her with the creation of the beaded products; she usually needs their support for particularly large orders. She also has 30 others who help her with macramé products.
One dream of Mirian's is to be able to get running water in her home. To wash clothes, she currently goes to a communal laundry area at 4:00pm daily, when it is her turn. Her two children help her carry water from the well to the house every three days.
Mirian has two sons.
Mirian employs five individuals for beadwork and 30 for macramé.