A project for the volunteers of TRAMA Textiles that has been in development for quite some time is the goal of visiting each of the villages where weavers for TRAMA live. We estimate that 400 women are supported by TRAMA but in reality it could be 390 or 410. Knowing the true facts and figures about our cooperative would enable TRAMA to receive money from grants (as it currently does not) and help us with becoming fair trade certified by different organizations around the world. Our objectives for the day were to perform a sort of mini-census to satisfy those requirements and also inquire about more emotional issues; the things that customers of TRAMA ask us about the weavers and the questions that will help us better understand how we can serve these women.
Our process involved asking some questions to the women as a group and others to each individual. We had to find out their age, marital status, income from TRAMA, ages of children living at home, their level of education, whether or not they could speak or write in Spanish (their Mayan language is K’iche’), etc. Examples of more emotional questions are what personal significance their weaving was to them (other than a way to support themselves) and how they feel they have benefited from being a member of TRAMA.
These women have been members of TRAMA for 5 to 20 years, some are second generation.
We found that only two of the women could speak Spanish and language skills are something most of the women seemed to feel very insecure about. They shrunk down in their chairs a little or laughed nervously when asked this question. Language barriers made the whole process longer and more complicated as we thought of our original questions in English, translated them into Spanish and spoke to the representative of the group in Spanish, then she translated into K’iche’ for the rest of the women and so on. Most of the weavers had not had any formal education, some had a few years, and one went up to 6th grade. Many of their school-age children are in school, some families send some children to school and some to work out in the fields. One women told us that she could not afford to send her children to school because is the only parent making any money, her husband spends all his time drinking.
They told us that weaving is a way to preserve their culture, a source of pride, a connection to their mothers and grandmothers and that they enjoy making the beautiful designs.
Molly recording the answers for individual questions
When we asked if they had questions for us, one woman thanked us for coming and said we were the only volunteers from TRAMA to ever come see them. Then she told us that she is still very poor and asked us for money. It’s really hard when something like that happens because we want that these women understand that our goal as volunteers is to support them in whatever way we can through our work for TRAMA and to increase their business. It was important for us to explain that we were asking them all of these questions for the purpose of getting them more funding and making TRAMA more successful overall; especially since them talking to us meant time away from their work and family responsibilities. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the big picture, but TRAMA is meant to be a sustainable way for these women to earn a living wage. Putting all of our energy towards supporting TRAMA is what will help these women, not a one-time act of giving them some cash.
Being the guinea pigs for this project we were able to report back to TRAMA with many suggestions and changes for the next village visit. Overall the women were very gracious and appreciated our visit. They seemed eager to share their experiences and opinions and they told us that being a part of TRAMA Textiles has been positive and rewarding. We hope that we are helping them find a voice.