Last month, Threads Founder Kara Wiegand and 6 Fair Trade Partners had a truly life-changing experience when they visited our Artisan Partners in Guatemala. While it’s impossible for us to fully understand the magic of their trip, Fair Trade Partners Emily Valentine and Taryn Schroeder helped give us a glimpse into the experience.
The Threads group visited two villages while in Guatemala, both of whom are part of a cooperative called Wakami. Wakami is one of the artisan co-ops that Threads partners with, empowering the Guatemalan Artisans by bringing their beautiful handcrafted jewelry to market in the US. As soon as our Threads team met the Artisans and entered their work space, they could feel their passion. Emily Valentine said, “I could feel the life in these groups and the pride they took in their work. I really felt that their dreams were coming alive.”
In Guatemala, it is the cultural norm that women do not show emotion and are not part of the work force. Women tend to their children and their homes, but it is generally not accepted for them to hold jobs or provide income. One mission of Wakami is to challenge these cultural norms.
Because of this standard, many Guatemalan women face enormous pushback just for joining the cooperative. Their husbands often oppose their decision or even actively fight against their participation.
Said Emily, “I was really struck by the strength that they have. They have the strength and the courage to do these things even though it is frowned upon by the males in their society.” Once their husbands see the positive impact on their families and communities as a result of the women’s work, some lend their support. Taryn pointed out that for the men, supporting women in the workplace takes just as much courage.
Taryn also spoke about how striking it was to understand the meaning of true partnership. We talked about how easy it is to fall into the ‘savior mentality’ when partnering with people in developing countries. While in Guatemala, however, Taryn kept thinking, “We have the easy part of the partnership.” She thought about how these women are fighting for the respect of their husbands, learning intricate skills, traveling long distances to purchase materials, then producing beautiful pieces of jewelry. “What we’re doing is important, but they’re doing the really hard work,” she said. “We are providing them with a market, [but] they are saving themselves.”
All of the Fair Trade Partners left Guatemala with a profound sense of motivation and newfound meaning in their involvement with Threads. Both Emily and Taryn mentioned that the Artisans repeatedly asked them to “sell more jewelry” — and they certainly intend to. During down time, the Fair Trade Partners brainstormed how they could spread the Threads movement and increase impact. Taryn was inspired to shed any shyness about her Threads business, and instead motivated to be bold about sharing the Artisans’ stories and the importance of this global connection. She said, “I am their voice in this marketplace.”
Both Emily and Taryn said it was now a top priority for them to earn their spots on the next Artisan Partner Visit to Ecuador in 2017. They encouraged current Fair Trade Partners to do the same, and hope that the opportunity to share in the magic next year will inspire new Fair Trade Partners to join the team.
The importance of a global sisterhood shone brightly throughout their entire time in Guatemala. Emily reflected, “I went expecting to make a difference in their lives and here they were making such an impact and such a difference in mine.”