Elena was born the 4th of 9 children. Her father worked as a day laborer and her mother ran the home, and money could sometimes be tight. Elena went to school from the ages of 9 to 12, at which point her family could no longer afford it. Instead, Elena had to work to help support her family. At 20, she married and had four children. She had an entrepreneurial spark, however. Her husband, a schoolteacher, supported Elena’s professional ambitions and with his reassurance, she sought out microloan to start her first business. A friend had told her about Friendship Bridge and praised its Trust Bank model of financing and the low interest rates. Elena joined a Trust Bank in San Juan and 10 years ago, received her first loan.
Weaving wasn’t Elena’s first thought, though. She invested her money initially to start a prepared foods business. She’d sell snacks at her children’s school and around the community. Eventually, she figured that weaving could be another source of income and put her microloan to buying threads.
Elena found five other women in a similar situation and together, they founded Ixoq Aj Keem, which means “woman weaver” in the Maya Tzutuhil language. The collaborative gives weavers a workshop and exhibition space to display their products, directly attracting shoppers to learn more about their natural dyes, traditional weaving methods, and high-quality products. Ixoq Aj Keem now has expanded its showrooms and boasts 20 members.
In 2016, after demonstrating this leadership and maintaining her stellar credit record with Friendship Bridge, Elena got a call inviting her to join Friendship Bridge’s new Artisan Program. With the help of the Artisan Program, Elena has exported products to the United States and as far away as France. She smiles from ear to ear, hardly believing that she’s an international businesswoman. The best part, Elena has all the skills she needs to independently grow her client base.
With unwavering grit, Elena has created a life for herself and her family that once upon a time seemed all but impossible. With the success of her weaving collective, Elena can fund her children’s educations. One of her daughters has even gone on to university and another daughter starts next year. “It’s deeply satisfying to see your kids grow and give them opportunities that you didn’t have,” Elena beams. “Thanks to Friendship Bridge, I can make a living doing work that I enjoy, and so can the other women at Ixoq Aj Keem.”