Medicinal Gardens and their Importance to Indigenous Families in Guatemala

In Guatemala, especially in rural indigenous communities, the use of essential medicine is often forgone due to the social and financial barriers that are present. Even if an indigenous family can afford accessing medical care, they will face discrimination that goes beyond the absence of treated in their native language. Despite these unfortunate circumstances, here at Maya Traditions, we try to empower communities by giving them the tools to care for each other in a sustainable and culturally rooted way.

Maya Traditions artisans and staff standing and crouching in the Chuacruz garden

An example of our efforts is our My Health, My Tradition initiative in partnership with the Daniele Agostino Foundation. Thanks to a first year project grant, four of our partner communities (Chuacruz, Nahualá, Patanatic, and San Juan) now have a functioning community medicinal plant garden and 24 artisans from two partner communities (Chirijox and Quiejel) each have a small family garden. A total of 245 organic medicinal plants were distributed, with each garden having at least 6 different varieties.

Once the gardens and plants were established, our staff led six workshops (one per community) on the basic characteristics of medicinal plants and their various uses, the drying process they need to undergo in order to be used effectively, and how to produce tinctures and salves to treat things like colds, headaches, muscle pain, and so on.

By creating organic medicinal herb gardens, we address health in a preventative and culturally-rooted manner so that families can more easily understand and integrate practical changes into their lifestyles. This initiative has also created a new start up platform that will become an income diversification opportunity for the participating artisans and their families. During 2018 we learned that medicinal plant gardens could not only be empowering to our artisan’s personal health, but also their economic well being.

Now equipped with the tools and knowledge to make their own medicines, a Vicks Vapour Rub that once costed approximately 38 quetzales (approximately $5 USD), can now be produced as an organic salve, directly from the gardens of our artisan’s.

By putting the power of medical treatment back into the hands of our indigenous communities, we are not only enabling improved health but also improved financial circumstance. We hope to see this program grow in the future, where our artisans are not only producing medicinal products for themselves but also to be sold and used as a new stream of income.

To learn more about and support our My health, My Tradition Initiative, click here

Designer Spotlight: Tribe Alive

From their chic accessories to their stylish apparel, Tribe Alive is an ethical brand that is worth your attention. They have grown quickly, combining social impact and design while appearing as a notable brand for companies such as Madewell and J.Crew, since their founding. Tribe Alive´s mission is to empower the lives of women through fashion. They partner with women in Guatemala, India, Honduras, Haiti, and Fort Worth, Texas and we, Maya Traditions, are proud to have them as one of our design partners.

We recently had a chance to chat with Katie, Tribe Alive’s Senior Designer to learn more about her experience designing and collaborating with women artisans worldwide including our Maya Traditions artisan partners to make that perfect, final design. 

Katie has had the “design bug” her whole life. Her interest sparked as a kid, from drawing wedding dresses and dream homes to learning how to sew from her grandmother. She later continued to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer through studying Fashion Design and Merchandising at the University of Texas at Austin. She has now been with Tribe Alive for two and a half years and loves her job of creating beautiful things while making a meaningful impact in lives all over the world.

Katie, pictured with Tribe Alive products

What does supporting Fair Trade and Maya Traditions mean to you?

Empowering the artisans of Maya Traditions and other organizations we partner with to thrive is the “why” behind everything I do. Many of my day-to-day conversations revolve around design, fit, customer feedback, and marketing strategies, but the talented women behind our pieces are the moving force of our work and the motivation to keep working hard when challenges arise – which they often do in this field. Along with empowering women, supporting fair trade is an essential part of this work to me because I believe in helping create a better world. Fair trade recognizes and protects the value of the human beings who make our products by establishing a wage standard that considers minimum wage dramatically inadequate. For far too long, the human factor has been squeezed out of our products to bring prices lower and lower as consumers demand more for less. We, alongside Maya Traditions, are putting our foot down to say enough is enough and to educate customers on the real lives on the other sides of their products that matter and deserve pay that can actually support their needs.

How have you seen Tribe Alive and the sustainable fashion movement grow?

In my few years with Tribe Alive, I have watched the company grow exponentially in our brand vision & market saturation as well as the impact we are able to have with artisan communities around the world. We have grown to produce women’s apparel and to cultivate that collection as our now best-selling category. We have grown to partner with larger brands like Causebox, Jcrew, Madewell, and Box of Style to put ethically made products in thousands of peoples hands and educate them on our brand mission and the importance of artisan-made goods. We have grown from working with four women in Honduras on a small beaded jewelry line to now sustainably employing over 150 artisans from eight different groups in five different countries all for living wages. We have built homes, funded educations, and just this year provided our first microfinance loan to an artisan in Guatemala because we believe in our ability to impact lives in many creative ways through these relationships. At Tribe Alive, we believe in growth that helps lift up the people around us to grow alongside us, and while the last few years have been incredible, I believe the best is only yet to come.

What is your favorite part about designing products that incorporate textiles made by indigenous women artisans?

As a life-long learner, I have so enjoyed designing alongside Maya Traditions because of the education I’ve received on the incredible traditions of back strap weaving, indigo dying, irate textiles, and natural dyes. This partnership fuels my creativity perhaps more than any other as I work to incorporate ancient, traditional practices into modern textile and accessory designs. We have achieved this by looking for inspiration in modern art, geometric shapes, and forecasted color palettes and determining together the best techniques to bring my designs to life. It feels like a true collaboration as we discuss designs, go through intensive sampling, and solve problems together. And it is all the more rewarding when an iconic retailer such as J.Crew chooses to carry two of the products Maya Traditions artisans have woven.

What is it like collaborating with the artisan partners of Maya Traditions to make the final, beautiful end product?

This is my favorite part! Often times, the artisan partners at Maya Traditions have so many amazing ideas and solutions to present throughout the design and sampling process, so that when we arrive at a final product, many voices and hands have made the end piece what it is. The quality of the weaving at Maya Traditions is beyond what I have seen anywhere else in the world. For me to play a small part in creating these beautiful handwoven pieces that our customers wear for years, alongside such inspiring and talented women, is truly a designer’s dream.

What would your advice be to designers that aspire to implement fair trade, ethically made textiles into their products?

Fully immerse yourself in your ‘Why’ and just get started. Fair trade work is often challenging and it does take more time, but you have the potential to change lives and further the vision of a better world with your work, and that is worth everything. Every life in your production line matters equally to your own. From the farmers growing cotton, to the dyers creating magical colors, to the weavers incorporating hundred year old family traditions into every piece they make, these individuals are worthy of inspiring work and fair wages. Partnering with organizations like Maya Traditions ensures that those priorities are being advocated for every day and means creating ‘truly beautiful’ products whose stories are as beautiful as the pieces themselves.

Thank you for chatting with us, Katie! Shop TribeAlive’s products here.

If you are interested in learning more about being a design partner with Maya Traditions, contact [email protected]. Additionally, check out our wholesale catalog.

Schools Days Are Here Again!

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

~ Nelson Mandela

This week, school bells across Guatemala will ring once again, welcoming back students and beginning the next step in their academic growth. Compared to statistics presented a decade ago, the World Bank has reported an increase in children participating in primary and secondary education, with the latter doubling in size in Guatemala over the past ten years.

As one of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations has declared the need to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” In the case of Guatemala, the ability for children to obtain an education is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty not only through access to quality jobs, but also by fostering innovation that will create new opportunities for future generations.

Read moreSchools Days Are Here Again!

Doris Skelly is Making The Difference

Doris Skelly is Making The Difference

Doris Skelly lived in Guatemala from 1987-1988, working with women and children in the San Miguel and Santa Rita areas of Xela. For years she maintained connections with these families that she came to know and love, and, as she puts it, “I left a part of my heart with them.”

Doris Skelly with Erin Kökdil, former Executive Director, Maya Traditions Foundation 2013-2016

Though she was unable to stay in Guatemala long term, her life had been forever changed by the experience of living and serving there. When she returned to New York City she taught art in a local school with an ethically diverse population and remained there until her retirement. Since then she has dedicated herself to helping students who have difficulties with reading and writing in English.

Read moreDoris Skelly is Making The Difference

The Goddess Ix Chel, Weaving Techniques and Saving Tradition. Read all the way to the end, it gets better!

I learned long ago that I am not at the center of the universe, but Ix Chel, the Mayan Goddess of  Weaving and her drop spindle, are. Also the goddess of fertility and procreation, representing female empowerment, Ix Chel is said to have founded the city of Palenque and set the universe in motion, introducing weaving to all her people. Weaving has since been passed down from mother to daughter, each generation passing the baton to the next, helping to keep the spirit and culture of weaving alive. Ix Chel is often pictured in traditional Mayan textiles, still being produced in remote areas of Guatemala today.

Before tuk tuks and motorbikes, there was the traje. Originally put into law by the Spaniards, the traje helped to identify the indigenous peoples communities for tax collection purposes. Today, stories of community, religion, history and identity are written into the clothing with symbolic colors and designs.

The traje is made up of three components: huipil (blouse), corte (skirt), and faja (belt), all of which are made by hand on the backstrap loom using techniques passed down from mother to daughter since the 1520s. To gain a better idea of the intricate patterns and techniques used over the decades, below are just some of the more common methods that have been perfected by our artisan partners.

Read moreThe Goddess Ix Chel, Weaving Techniques and Saving Tradition. Read all the way to the end, it gets better!

Meet Daphne

Hi, my name is Daphne and I’m from the Netherlands. Ever since I was a little girl I have been passionate about traveling. I’ve spent most of my life fighting an incurable case of wanderlust.

I studied ‘International Tourism Management’ for the last four years and currently I am earning a ‘Master of Science in Tourism, Leisure and Environment’ in the Netherlands.

As I prepare to graduate in June 2019, I am fulfilling a Communication and Research Internship at Maya Traditions Foundation where I can pursue my passion of researching responsible tourism development and creating awareness of cultural preservation. As part of my internship here, I work with the communication department with daily tasks and responsibilities, do research on marketing and ethical tourism travel and help with ongoing projects in the social programs. One of the projects I got to help with this month is the bed project in Quiejel.

The giving chain started with friends and family of Tracey Stewart, a long time volunteer with OUR Guatemala: Travel with Purpose, who donated the beds in memory of her.

Read moreMeet Daphne