Friendship Bridge client for 12 years.
Investing in women's economic empowerment has been proven to contribute directly to gender equality, poverty eradication, and inclusive economic growth. Women contribute in a very significant way to the economy through - among other activities - their small businesses and ventures. Especially in Guatemala, investing in a woman is investing in a better life for an entire family. 47-year-old Ruth, mother of four, exemplifies this empowerment.
Ruth is an indigenous woman of the K'iche Mayan ethnic group. She is from Pamezabal, a rural community located in the department of Sololá, in the Western highlands of Guatemala. Her father is a tailor and her mother tends to the home, but she also makes and sells refacciones (popular Guatemalan snacks). Due to various limitations inherent in a culture in which machismo is pervasive - lack of access to family planning, little or no sexual education, etc. - Ruth and her nine siblings were born within one or one and a half years of each other; raising and providing for such a large family would prove trying for her parents. The lack of jobs - even low-paid jobs - in their community forced Ruth's parents to travel to the southern coast of Guatemala to work in cotton and coffee fields. Sadly, three of Ruth's other siblings fell ill in this new environment, and died at young ages.
When Ruth was approximately four years old, her mother experienced serious health issues and needed to be hospitalized. As a result, Ruth and her siblings moved in with her aunt so she could take care of them.
At the age of eight, Ruth was sent to school for the first time. Around the time she was finishing first grade, her father fell ill, and she had to abandon her studies to help in the home. When she was ten years old, her grandfather encouraged Ruth and supported her so that she could go back to school, but she only managed to go for one additional year, as the school was very far away and she had to take public transport alone.
Having a tailor as a father, Ruth took advantage of learning how to sew from him. Her father's small business primarily sold children's jeans. He would go to the second-hand clothing stores, buy large jeans, unsew them, and then make children's jeans out of the fabric. Ruth and her siblings were in charge of unsewing the used clothes to get the fabric ready, and then their father would put the pieces together and create the new product. After producing a certain amount, they would all travel together to the south coast to sell, whether on the street, mornings in the market on market days, or house-to-house in the afternoons. By the age of 12, Ruth had learned how to sew. She also continued helping her mother with her refacciones business, both with the preparation as well as selling of the food in the market. Ruth also got a job helping a lady who owned a traditional clothing store; there, she supported with the production of blouses and aprons, earning Q7 per product. This additional income from Ruth was greatly appreciated by her family, and she continued helping her mother with the refacciones business during that time, as well.
At age of 14, Ruth traveled to Guatemala City to work in a clothing workshop owned by her relatives. 25 people worked in this place. Ruth felt apprehensive about this next experience at first - after all, she had never lived in a big city, and she also was not completely fluent in Spanish. Despite these feelings of fear and uncertainty, she was determined to continue learning and to grow. She did not earn very much in that job, but still, she felt satisfied, as she knew the skills she was acquiring would prove helpful in her future. Ruth laughs when she remembers that her feet barely reached the sewing machine pedal. As time went on, Ruth realized that the salary she was receiving working for her relatives was not enough, so she sought another job - this time in a Chinese factory. She worked there for three years.
Back in her community, Ruth got married at the age of 20. Her husband is also a tailor. For the first year of her marriage, she dedicated all of her time to taking care of the home. When they had their first daughter, Ruth and her husband decided to go back to Guatemala City for work. Her husband got a job in a clothing factory and Ruth started her business of selling cooked corn and refacciones - the years of supporting her mom with that business had prepared her well. As time passed, Ruth and her husband realized that living in Guatemala City was too expensive, despite them both working - they were living from day to day and were unable to save any money. Thus, after two years in Guatemala City, they decided to return to their community. Soon after, Ruth gave birth to her second child. She considered being back home a blessing, as she would be able to raise her children in a more spacious and peaceful environment.
Back in the community, she returned to work for the same lady for whom she had worked years earlier, supporting her with the production of blouses and aprons. Ruth's mother, who found herself in a poor state of health, gave Ruth her stall in the market where she had been selling her refacciones. Ruth really enjoyed this business, as it was very profitable, and she spent about six years in it. However, it was also a lot of work, and at that point she already had three children to whom she wanted to dedicate more time. She also was experiencing some pain in her arms, likely a result of the hours and hours of ironing which she had done while working in the clothing factories. Still, Ruth was eager to continue putting her talents to use and providing for her family, even if she was no longer doing so by selling refacciones. They purchased another sewing machine and Ruth was able to work alongside her husband, making pants as well as traditional clothing and aprons.
12 years ago, Ruth realized that the textile business was also profitable. Because of her unique designs, she was receiving many blouse orders, but realized she did not have enough capital to fulfill all of these orders. In order to not lose her clients, she needed to access more funds. Around that time, she met a lady who told her about Friendship Bridge. At first, Ruth was hesitant; the prospect of acquiring a loan did not excite her, as she knew other women in her community who had done so and were now over-indebted. Still, Ruth knew her business would go under if she did not acquire more capital. Her husband agreed, and he encouraged her to join. Ruth's first loan amounted to Q1,500 and, contrary to her initial fears, it was not difficult to repay, thanks to the meetings and the structure of the Trust Banks. Furthermore, Ruth knew that, had she tried to borrow money from neighbors, she would have been paying very high interest rates.
Ruth has continued increasing her capital over time, and has also invested some of these funds back into her business. Currently, she has two sewing machines for her textile business, and her husband has eight sewing machines for his work.
Three years ago, Ruth joined Handmade by Friendship Bridge®, as her Facilitator had seen her great talent and potential and had referred her to the program. Ruth feels blessed and thankful for the many trainings she has received. "At first I was afraid, but now I am ready for anything," she reflects.
From the start, Ruth has felt highly motivated to continue improving her products. When she was asked by the Handmade by Friendship Bridge® team for her first samples, she made a product based off of a pattern which her husband had drawn. The sample was accepted. The trainings, Ruth says, have impacted both herself as well as her family, as she shares what she is learning with them. "The trainings opened my mind and eyes to more new things," she says. Ruth's mother is so proud of her, and she helps out as much as she can; for example, by taking care of her grandchildren when Ruth has to leave home for a training, a monthly meeting, a fair, etc.
Today, Ruth has an individual loan which continues to help her and her family. In addition to the aforementioned skills trainings, Ruth has also received preventive health services from Friendship Bridge, for which she is thankful.
Asked to name a training which has proven most useful to her, Ruth mentions the topic of budgeting. Before that training, she did not factor in the time nor the amount of material used; now, she is able to set appropriate prices and, accordingly, better manage her profits. Her young son, who is working as a tailor, is already putting this knowledge about budgeting - which he feels fortunate to have acquired from his mother - into practice. Last Christmas, he wanted a bicycle, and he had been able to generate enough savings from his tailoring work to do so. Knowing that her children are learning important skills that are serving them well makes Ruth both happy and proud.
Ruth has two daughters and two sons.
Currently Ruth does not have any employees.