This is a guest post by Chambrey Willis.
I wasn’t ready to settle into the 9-5 after college, but I still wanted to learn and use my degree. So I found an amazing organization in Guatemala that fulfilled those requirements: Trama Textiles. (Here is a list of other similar organizations that are free to intern with.) Trama Textiles is a 100% women owned weaving co-op located in the western highlands of Guatemala. It was formed after Guatemala’s Civil War in 1988 where many of the women’s fathers, brothers, husbands and children disappeared due to the guerrilla army. The women had to figure out a way to replace the income that was now gone, and weaving was the answer.
Market Day with some of the colorful textiles indigenous to the area.
While we were there we worked on filming a documentary: A Day in the Life of a Weaver, spotlighting the plight of women living in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, the struggles the women face daily, and how we can help.
Weaving on a loom
Because these families don’t make a lot of money they are forced to stop their children’s education so the children can help bring in income. The girls weave and the boys do field work. A lot of girls as young as 6 and 7 start weaving when their families aren’t bringing in enough money. Through the documentary we aimed to raise awareness of this issue so the children could get funded to go to school and relieve their parents of this financial burden. I was astounded at how much I took education for granted and how badly these children wanted it.
They realized at a young age what I didn’t realize until now: education is an equalizer. If you have an education you can be anything you want to be.
Empowering women through weaving empowers the whole community. Women can provide food, shelter, and education for their children through this avenue.
Everyone loves seeing themselves on camera!
Learning about the weaving process
Weavers make the thread from plants, dye it with berries and colored plants, and eventually put it all onto a weaving loom where they weave intricate patterns indigenous to the area they live. Every village has its own unique pattern so you can tell what area the piece you have is from. Weaving is a part of their culture, it is their heritage they are keeping alive, so being able to do that while making money to provide for their families is wonderful.
Some weavers of the Maam village that allowed us into their homes wear their indigenous weaving patterns
A meal of tortillas and hot water. While we were filming they waited for us to get there before they ate, and shared everything they had with us. They even taught us how to make tortillas! It was amazing to be able to capture and spread awareness of these incredibly strong women trying to do what is best for their families.
Spending a month working in your field in another country is so helpful career-wise especially if you want to do anything international. Don’t worry about money getting in the way of wanting to do a summer internship abroad, check out my How to Fund Your Humanitarian Travel Tips. On my website you can also find these beautiful indigenous women’s weaving’s so we can all work together to break this vicious cycle of poverty.