Meet Santos

Meet Santos

Meet Santos

Friendship Bridge client for 17 years

Santos Quisquina Churunel, resident of the community Caserio Chuacruz, Sector Cipresales has faced many hardships and overcome significant obstacles in her 48 years of life. She recounts that her father suffered from diabetes, and unfortunately passed away 26 years ago. Santos has five sisters and one brother; she is the fourth born. She was only able to complete one year of formal education; she needed to work, instead, in order to help put food on the family's table. Together with her grandmother and other sisters, Santos made and sold all kinds of colorful traditional textiles. She enjoyed learning about the fabrication of these textiles, and this skill would prove invaluable to her over the years.

The family's situation of poverty led Santos's mother to the decision that Santos should get married at the age of 18; Santos, however, was unprepared for all of the obligations that came with marriage. She hardly even knew the man she was to marry, but she could not disobey her mother. Tragically, Santos was abused by her husband; after eight years of suffering, she made the brave decision to leave him. By this time, Santos had an 8-year-old daughter and was seven months pregnant with her second daughter. Despite the criticism and judgement of their community, Santos's mother welcomed her back home. At that time, her mother was part of a group that sold artisan products, including traditional textiles. Santos, eager to follow in her mother’s footsteps, quickly started contributing; she felt thankful that she was able to be productive as well as make an income. Years went by, and one day Santos’s mother was able to give her a small piece of land where she could build a home. Santos realized that she would not be able to both grow her business and build a home - she would need more capital.

Currently on her 19th loan cycle, Santos joined Friendship Bridge in 2003 with the goal of obtaining a loan that would help her develop and expand her business of handwoven traditional textiles. Her first loan amounted to Q3,000, or approximately $390. Her Trust Bank Facilitator was America, who is now the Production Coordinator of Handmade by Friendship Bridge. Santos was determined and highly motivated; she had numerous goals, including developing her business, educating her daughters, and building her own home - she happily shares that she has accomplished all three! She has her own home, her daughters are educated - the oldest daughter completed high school and is ready to start university, and the younger daughter is 17 years old and recently decided to get married. Although these news were unfortunate in Santos's eyes, she still supported her daughter in her decision.

Santos continued to expand her knowledge about weaving and taught herself to weave on a floor loom. These looms have been traditionally used only by men, while women traditionally learn how to weave on backstrap looms. Santos is an example and inspiration for other women who hope to use the floor looms, too. With it, Santos was able to weave large traditional textiles that would later be used to make shawls, placemats, and utility cloths. 

When Santos first heard about Handmade by Friendship Bridge, she was excited to attend some of the training sessions; there, she realized just how much she had left to learn, and how that knowledge could empower her, could help her develop her business, increase sales and generate more income. However, she felt that she was at a disadvantage, as she did not speak Spanish and did not know how to read nor write. However, Santos figured that her daughter, Sandra, could help her with the language barrier, and maybe even support her with her work, as well. Mother and daughter now successfully work together in their textile business; they represent a truly powerful and successful partnership. Sandra keeps track of everything and she takes care of the bookkeeping.

Santos has learned a great deal in Handmade by Friendship Bridge, including how to make high quality, marketable products and gain access to new local, national, and international markets. Although learning about certain topics - e.g., design, color combinations, and precision in measurements - proved challenging, she knew these were essential to the success of her business. Santos has also learned about quality control as well as labeling and packing products. 

Santos reflects that her motivation to succeed was fueled by the necessity of caring for her daughters - paying for their education, putting food on the table, and covering additional expenses of the household. She has struggled with her self-confidence, shyness, and ability to create new relationships outside of her home. In 2019, she had the opportunity to leave her comfort zone: she participated in the prestigious Citi Award competition and ended up winning second place. The award is given once a year by the Citi Foundation to successful women entrepreneurs. Santos was thrilled and still smiles when talking about this great honor. Her award money enabled her to buy new materials and textiles. 

Many people have had a positive influence in Santos's life, especially her mother, who offered her a safe haven back when she needed it most, right after she escaped her abusive husband. Friendship Bridge - and the Microcredit Plus programs - has given Santos both the loans as well as the tools, educational training sessions, and health care services that she needs. Santos shares that she really appreciates the bi-monthly visits she receives from a nurse who speaks her Mayan language and is sensitive to her needs. This service through the Health for Life program has been particularly helpful to Santos, as she was diagnosed with diabetes in 2014 and needed to learn how to control her blood sugar with a proper diet. Fortunately, the Health for Life nurses assisted her. She also expresses her gratitude for the educational and artisan training sessions - these trainings have enabled her to develop and empower herself and her business, which in turn has led to increased sales which enable her to cover educational expenses for her daughters. 

Santos looks forward to continuing to grow and expand her business. She is a wonderful example of an empowered woman, one who truly is choosing her own path and building a better life. 


Children

Santos has two daughters (the oldest daughter is her business partner). 


Employees

Santos provides work to eight artisans who support her with weaving.