by Marta Julia Ixtuc Cuc
In the rural areas of Guatemala, family members are very close to each other and it is unusual for any member to leave home unless there is an extremely important reason. However, due to the scarcity of employment and painfully low wages, many Guatemalans decide to pursue the “American Dream” and make the long, dangerous journey to the United States. Some aim to improve the quality of life of their families, to build a house, to have some savings, and then return to Guatemala to their families and start a business. Some of them succeed, but some others do not.
Rosa is someone who is living this reality. She is 39 years old and lives in a rural community in the western highlands of Guatemala. Due to the limited financial resources of her family, Rosa only attended school through the 6th grade. She married at the age of 16 and had three children. Her children are now 21, 17, and 15 years old.
Due to the poverty that reigned over their home, Rosa’s husband despaired every day. He was frustrated at not being able to make his dreams come true. He worked as a day laborer, which did not give him enough income to support his family. In addition, he only had a small house built from adobe with a sheet metal roof, with no running water or electricity services. That is why 13 years ago, he decided to migrate to the United States. Rosa recalls that it took them four years to pay off the $20,000 smuggler fees for her husband’s trip.
Rosa is a weaver and she makes huipiles (traditional blouses worn by Guatemalan indigenous women), shawls, napkins, and other various products. Two years after Rosa’s husband left, she needed financial capital for her textile business. That is when she joined Friendship Bridge. Rosa is very grateful to the organization for providing her financial capital for the past 11 years. During this time, she has faced severe challenges from being alone while caring for her three children. Rosa’s life has not been easy. When her husband left, negative rumors spread about her through the community and made it to her husband in the US. As a result, he did not send her money for three years. In this time, she worked completely alone to take care of her family. She found tremendous support through Friendship Bridge. With access to working capital and moral support in each monthly training session, she was encouraged to feel more empowered and make better decisions. Rosa was able to grow her business, keep her kids in school, and take care of the home. After three years, Rosa’s husband realized what people were saying about her were only false rumors, so he started sending money again. Rosa used the extra finances to build the house where she currently lives with her children.
Thanks to the good management of her business, she now has five employees. The Friendship Bridge Microcredit Plus Program is making a direct impact on Rosa and her family, but an indirect impact on five other families in the community. With her profits, she keeps some savings for any unforeseen emergencies, and she wishes to one day buy a piece of land.
In Rosa’s own words, “it is difficult not to have my partner to raise my children, but now I feel courageous and capable of being a role model for my children”. It takes time for Friendship Bridge members to understand this concept. This can be achieved only with empowerment. Usually, after a year or two of monthly Trust Bank education sessions, the women begin to realize that they have a voice, and they and their husbands can work together as a team.
Today Rosa’s husband is still in the US. Thanks to technology, she can communicate with him on video calls frequently. He intends to continue working in the United States until their other two children, aged 17 and 15, complete high school. He is eager to return with his family and make up time with them.
Finally, Rosa encourages every Guatemalan woman that gender, ethnicity and school level are not impediments for women who want to improve themselves through their own business and break traditional oppressive paradigms.
Friendship Bridge, with its Microcredit Plus program, seeks to support its clients’ development, along with their families, so they can make a change in their communities. Friendship Bridge offers options to families so they can have access to financial capital, to develop their small businesses, and to receive education on topics such as family, business development, women’s rights, and health. Friendship Bridge believes that education is the basis of development.
During each monthly training, Friendship Bridge facilitators educate clients with a focus on social issues that affect their family and society. For January this topic was about migration. The objective of these sessions was to raise awareness about the risks of traveling illegally to the United States. These risks include kidnappings, extortion, rape, robbery, deportation and, even more serious, death. Clients were reminded that Friendship Bridge gives them opportunities to create improvements for themselves, their families, and their communities at home. The risks for traveling to the US are continuously increasing, so facilitators encourage clients to stay home with their families, and do not let their children or husbands travel with a coyote (smuggler) in order to avoid such dangers.
According to statistics released by the Guatemalan General Directorate of Migration (DGM), between January and August of 2018, the US immigration authorities deported 34,508 Guatemalans. This was 81.56% more than the same period of 2017, where 19,006 Guatemalans who returned. These people, when returning, need to reintegrate into the society and look for ways to survive. Friendship Bridge offers its Microcredit Plus Program, which means access to financial capital for small businesses, non-formal education, preventive health program.
Marta Julia Ixtuc is the Communications Coordinator in Guatemala. Based in Sololá, she continues seeking to support the development of Guatemalan women in search of their own ways out of poverty.