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

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.

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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.

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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.

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International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

In recognition of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we want to highlight a few of the many exceptional women we work with at Maya Traditions.

This date recognizes the first meeting in Geneva in 1982 of the UN Group on Indigenous Populations. The annual celebration is held across the world, from the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to places like Kenya, Peru and Guatemala.

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