Yolanda – Challenging the Norms
Confidence emanates from Yolanda, a 36-year-old Friendship Bridge client in rural Quiché, Guatemala. Standing at not even five feet tall and proudly wearing the brightly colored traditional traje of her Mayan heritage, Yolanda has a gleam in her eye and pride in her voice. She switches effortlessly between Spanish and her native indigenous language of K’iche, describing her life and her business since becoming a Friendship Bridge client as she simultaneously gives direction to the women in her artists’ cooperative who are working in the dirt courtyard of her home.
Navigate through winding roads in the hilly countryside, turn off on an unmarked unpaved road for a few kilometers, and then walk along a narrow dirt path traversing the cornfields her husband tends to find Yolanda’ home on the Guatemalan mountainside. Inside, it is humming with activity as women weave textiles on backstrap looms or embroider intricate fajas, traditional belts. Yolanda leads a cooperative of twelve artists, which was started by her mother in 1993. Like so many indigenous Guatemalan women, Yolanda has been weaving since she was a young girl. She would gather the leftover thread from her mother’s weaving and stay up late working by candlelight – they had no electricity. Today, she uses those skills learned in childhood to provide a better life for her family.
“Even though I didn’t graduate from school and don’t have a real job title, I have meaning in my work. I love to make different designs and when I go to sell I feel happy because everyone says ‘Wow, it is beautiful,’ and they are impressed with the work that I’m doing. I feel accomplished and happy. I am really proud that I am a weaver.”
Yolanda’s loans from Friendship Bridge have allowed her to invest in raw materials to expand her weaving business. She now sells in tourist markets and even exports to the U.S., and the orders she receives allow her to give more work to the women in her cooperative. In addition to her business loans, Yolanda has received loans to support her children’s education and also to invest in a clean-burning stove for their home. Beyond the loans, though, Yolanda says the training has received from Friendship Bridge has been equally empowering.
In her very first loan cycle, Yolanda said one of the monthly education sessions was about budgeting. After the training, she went home and thought about how to put it to practice. She looked at the things in their home. What is truly necessary? What are their daily expenses? Through budgeting and saving, Yolanda has been able to make improvements her home, feed her family more nutritiously, send her children to school, and invest in her business.
Through Non-Formal Education from Friendship Bridge, Yolanda has also cultivated a passion for women’s health and family planning. Women in her community often have 10 or more children. Yolanda has only two – a daughter and a son – which she and her husband agreed upon. With only two children, they knew they would be able to provide a better future for their family. Yolanda shares this message with the women throughout her community, letting them know women have the right to decide how many children to have.
“What I want is for women to know they have worth and they have rights as women.”
Yolanda’s face softens and a smile forms when she talks about her husband. “I have heard from other women that their husbands hit them, but that has never happened to me. I am happy and proud that my husband understands me and we always have good communication.”
Yolanda and her husband Esteban have a playful banter and an obvious mutual respect for each other, cultivated through two decades of building their life together. They were 15 when they met and 18 when they got married. Their daughter, Ana Mariela, was born a year later. Esteban often tells 17-year-old Ana Mariela, “Look at your mom. She is a great example because she is a hard worker. You must be like your mom.”
Driven and determined, a visionary, artists, and an entrepreneur, Yolanda has changed the course of her own life and the lives of her children and her community. While carrying on the cultural traditions of her Mayan heritage, she is also thinking bigger and challenging the societal norms around her.
And with that gleam in her eye and her hard-working hands set to her backstrap loom, Yolanda is undoubtedly changing the future for women in Guatemala poco a poco – little by little.