Over winter break, from Jan. 2-7, I was fortunate to have the opportunity as part of Team Guatemala, a Syracuse University Enactus project, to travel to Guatemala with project leaders Sarah Ferranti ’20 and Emily Rosen ’22, fellow team member Paige Koss ’20, and our faculty advisor Amanda (“A-Game”) Nicholson, assistant provost and dean of student success.
Each year, A-Game and a small group of students stay in Panajachel, Guatemala and travel to nearby villages to meet the women groups we work with. We send them new product ideas ahead of our trip, then go over the designs and dimensions in person. It was amazing to see how truly talented these women are; we could show them a picture of anything, from a simple jewelry item to a large tote bag and they were quickly able to bring it to life!
On our first full day, we took a boat across Lake Atitlan to meet with the weaving group in Santiago D’Atitlan. This group makes luggage tags for us and has been working with Team G for over 10 years. They have also become adept at jewelry making, so we spent the day going over new earring, necklace and bracelet designs, as well as color options while reviewing their pre-made samples.
During our free time over the next couple of days, we were able to experience the stunning, volcanic countryside around Lake Atitlan, as well as venture to some of Guatemala’s cultural epicenters. We even got to see the ancient ruins of Iximche, one of the first Mayan cities near modern-day Tecpàn, where we learned a little bit about Mayan history as well as how the unique culture continues thriving today.
We also met with the Morales Weaving Group in Solola during our trip, the first group Team G met in Guatemala through Mayan Hands in 2006. We sat in a circle with around 15 women and learned about each other by having Paige translate English to Spanish and then having Mayra, one of our contacts from Mayan Hands, translate to Kaqchikel, which is the native dialect of the women. We also watched them make bracelets and weave fabric using a backstrap loom, which each of us got the chance to try using. The Mayan women made it look so easy!
Later in the day, we met with Mayra and our other contact, Leslie, at the Mayan Hands office to go over a variety of new product ideas, which we are very excited about! With Paige as our translator and A-Game’s amazing sketches, we were able to collaboratively create several designs that are currently in production.
After meeting with the women, we were also able to meet some of their daughters. Many of the girls have gone through school as recipients of scholarships we have raised selling Team G products in the United States. They welcomed us with special décor and told us about their current studies and plans, which they said wouldn’t be possible without our project. They also performed a “thank you” dance and played a game with us, giving us each a handmade bracelet afterward.
Being able to see this impact firsthand made me even more thankful to be a part of this organization. It is amazing how far empowerment can go in combining the talents of these women with the aspects of business that students learn at Whitman.
While volunteer work has always been important to me, these women truly inspire me to continue being involved in global service efforts.
To learn more about Syracuse Enactus, visit the website.