Helping Mayan Hands

By now, we've all seen the pictures of the devastation in Guatemala. A few of us have been hearing firsthand from Deborah Chandler, of Mayan Hands, about the effect of these disasters on our fellow weavers and artisans. Deborah's community has stayed safe from the eruptions and rising waters, but she has been flooded with questions about how the rest of us can help. Here's her latest "on the ground" report, along with some ways you can help. Weavers are such an amazing and giving group. Thanks for all that you do. – Anita

Guatemala, June 3, 2010
Dear Friends,
Yesterday was my first venture out of our "safety bubble" here at home since the volcano erupted and the storm came and went. I drove to Antigua and Jocotenango, and while I saw muddy roads where clearly a mudslide had been cleaned up, the only interesting thing I saw was lots of bags of volcanic sand stacked up awaiting pickup. We've all gotten at least three text messages from the government instructing us to shovel and bag the black sand and set it out for pickup rather than wash it down drains, which it would surely clog like cement.
Entering our "bubble", however, were Tere's hat makers, who came in from the Highlands with terrible stories of what happened to their neighbors, mostly stemming from little streams that suddenly became raging rivers that carried boulders bigger than the people who were telling the stories. But even that is a mix. One of the hat makers did not even know anything special was going on until Tere called him to say, "Don't come tomorrow. "
Meanwhile, the statistics listed in today's paper include the following:
156 dead
102 still missing
143,000 who have been evacuated from their homes
400 schools damaged
300+ bridges collapsed
On the page after that is a picture of a man standing next to a lava flow, now cooled, where his home and corn field used to be.
Oh, and for the many of you who saw the picture of the giant sinkhole here in the city, that is actually the second time that has happened. Where they come from is that down deep are big water lines for carrying away large quantities of water (frequent in the rainy season), but if one gets a leak in it (they crack during earthquakes) then the water begins to erode away the dirt around and above them. Like the first one a couple of years ago, this one had been rumbling for awhile, but no one did anything.
As for the situation at large, what we have learned about the Mayan Hands weavers' families is that none were hurt or killed, some had damage to their homes, and some lost their corn fields, an important loss since it is their food supply for the year. We are not sure what we are going to do for them yet, but something. We still have money that was donated to us for Hurricane Stan, and we will use that for whatever we decide to do. So below are three other options for you.
1. A little further down-river from the group we were worried about in Xeabaj is another group we know and like, Flor de Campo, and they were hit hard. Right now there are 16 families living in their weaving center (which is not all that big), having had to leave their homes. I don't know many details yet, learned what I do know from Diana Ramirez of Sharing the Dream. Sh/D is a kind of sister-project of ours, separate from a practical standpoint but actually under our same umbrella here in Guatemala, one-with-us as far as the gov. here is concerned. Sh/D does a wide range of projects, all good, from running a senior center to feed old people who have no familes in Santiago Atitlán to doing fair trade work with a number of groups like ours. You can see more about them at They will be helping Flor de Campo in some appropriate way yet to be determined, as well as others. So my first idea for those who want to help is to send checks made out to Friends of Sharing the Dream to:
Sharing the Dream
POBox 220
Vermillion, SD 57069
They have a donor right now who will match your donations, and I can personally promise you that whatever you give them will be well used, for this or other projects. They are a 501 (c) 3.
2. Second option: Since I have been here in Guatemala, now 11 years and working for MH for 7 years, I have come to appreciate the importance of work, of having a job and earning a living to support one's family, in ways I never did before, (probably because while I had to support myself, I never had to support a family.) Work is partly about eating, but it is also about dignity, self-worth, personal growth, self-respect, and a lot more, especially for women who have few options and have been raised to depend on men for their survival, tricky where there is no man to depend on. What we learned during and after Hurricane Stan was that knowing they had work to get back to was a huge help to the women, giving them something to reach forward to when they mostly saw a big emptiness. And for all its life of 20 years, what Mayan Hands has been about is work. Providing good work, fairly paid, allowing the women to keep working in their homes so they could care for their children, etc.
The last couple of years have been brutal. The fall of the US economy combined with our super-production just prior has meant that we have way too much inventory in the US, and until that is substantially reduced, our orders to the women have had to be cut drastically. This new reality has made all of us, them and us, more creative in how we look to generate income, and that is good. But we would also like to reduce our US inventory by about $100,000, preferably by selling it. So if you have any donation or other money to spare, buying a whole bunch of wonderful MH products and giving them to everyone you know would be a huge help for us, for the women. Bookmarks to your bookclub, placemats to your friends who eat at home, baskets filled with cookies to your kids' teachers, etc. Anything will help. We have a website where you can shop now:
3. And finally, and this is for later, we will be sending five weavers to the Indigenous Weaving Conference in Peru in November. We expect it to be good on many many levels, and are looking forward to it for them a lot. We have been planning to use the funds we still had from Stan, since no other disasters had come along. That has now changed, and clearly the funds go to this need. That's a no-brainer. So in a few months we will probably be looking for funds to help send the women to Peru. Long term, I expect this trip, seeing what other groups of weavers do, to have a big impact on our weavers. It is a good investment. But not as critical and dire as the many families who have lost their homes, so please go back to option 1., and if it is in your heart and budget to do so, send help. The women of Flor de Campo will be forever grateful.
Last Sunday morning I woke up damp but safe, with the beginnings of survivor guilt for being just fine. I realized that some of us have to survive, in order to help those who did not. It's so simple. I'm so grateful.
Thanks for caring, even just spreading the word…

Directora Mayan Hands

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