Friday, October 5, 2007

Sale Update and Next Event : October 14th

Thought all of you might want an update on how the sales are going. This past weekend was the Fog Fest here in Pacifica. We had two beautiful, sunny days, so weren't able to celebrate the Fog, but the sun made it more enjoyable for everyone who came.

The volunteers who helped with the sale made it more enjoyable for me. Shirley Bier and her son, Danny, arrived at 7:30 AM and helped me get the canopy up and arrange the merchandise. We had a great spot with no one on either side of us, so had good visibility.

Shirley stayed on for the parade. We were joined by Huldah Williams and Jean Floyd and all enjoyed the "only in Pacifica" parade. It is always fun with lots of good music.

When Shirley left at about noon, Chris Galvez, a new friend from San Francisco, arrived to keep me company for most of the rest of the day. She was a great help and we had a chance to talk about the Fund between customers. It is always a help to get ideas from others. She will be helping mainly with the scholarship fund. As she speaks Spanish, she will be able to be in contact directly with Guatemala and won't need me to be in the middle.

At 6 PM the sidewalls had to be put up for the night to protect the merchandise. I was struggling alone to get it all done, when Mar Kaden happened along. This is not the first time she has happened along when I needed her. We both are just a little too short to work comfortably, so Mar just hailed down a passing tall person and he gladly stopped and helped us. It is always great to have company and it makes everything seem like less work.

The next day, I opened up alone and enjoyed coffee and cinnamon bread from the booth across the way while I waited for customers. Katie Burke, a fellow Presentation Associate, showed up shortly and stayed for most of the rest of the day. She was great company.

Monica Olsen and Sarah McIntoch arrived in time to help me get the canopy down and everything packed into the car.

It was a great week end and we took in over $1600 for the artisans in Guatemala. Our reason for doing it all.

Next week end, Oct. 14th, I'll be selling at the Save the Music Festival in the Park in Belmont, CA. The festival is from 11 AM to 5 PM.

A volunteer or two is needed to help set up from 9 AM to 11 AM and to pack up after the festival from about 5:30 to 7 PM. Can you come and help? It is an opportunity to help out and also enjoy the festival. Call me at 650 738 9551 or 650 303 9132 to volunteer and for more information. It will be very lonely without you!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Guatemala Trip: An Update

Well, I’ve been back from Guatemala for a little over a month now. The trip was quick one, but it was productive. After my three months there the beginning of the year while my leg healed, I could see that there was a need to reorganize the staff and expand it. We always feel there isn’t enough money to have the staff we need, but in Board discussions we decided that the new staff was necessary and that we would have to bite the bullet and find a way.

In our 2007/08 Budget, there is a new part time position for a Center Manager to keep everything organized and working and increased time for both the Scholarship and Mission: Guatemala Coordinator. The bookkeeping position stayed the same. As I need to be here in the US more, we felt that the staff there would be expected to take on more responsibilities for the Guatemalan part of the project. To do that well they merited more time on the job and a corresponding raise in pay. When I left Guatemala the middle of August, I felt satisfied with our new hires and so far things have been going quite well. More on this as times goes on.

The scholarship program as always is going along well. The monthly meetings are both educational and fun.

August 6th is my birthday, so we planned to celebrate, as that was their meeting day. In our planning, we decided to make it one grand fiesta for everyone’s birthday, no matter when it was in the year. It was a great time with a pinata, a grab bag, and a delicious cake. A good time was had by all.

In July, Mirna Santelel, a part of the Animation Team, hosted an excursion to her village. She taught the group how to make the traditional baskets that are made in her town, San Jose Poaquil, from straw and gave them a tour of the village. A group of the scholarship young women from a neighboring village demonstrated some traditional dances. The young women often do not know much about places outside their own village, so this was a good learning experience.

In June, Enelia Reyes, another member of the Animation Team, taught the group a craft. Having the young women who have graduated as members of the Animation Team gives them a chance to give back something to the Fund. They also are examples to the other young women - showing them what is possible.

Cessia Reyes graduated last year and is a member of the Animation Team for 2007. She had decided to continue studying at the university level even though she didn’t have a scholarship. She was working selling refreshments in the local buses to support herself.

A few months into the year she began to have leg problems and was unable to continue working. She struggled on with her studies, but with the new semester she just didn’t have enough money to pay her fees.

At the meeting that Cessia told us she was going to have to withdraw from school., a some extra scholarship money became available. Carmela and I had a quick conference and decided to pass on it on to Cessia for the rest of the year. That made it possible for her to continue studying. I know she is very grateful.

All in all, the trip was successful and it was great to see everyone there.

Submitted by Kay Sweeney, Kateri Fund Managing Director on Sep 25,2007

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Using the Fair Wage Guide at Mission Guatemala

Chimaltenango, Guatemala, February, 2007 - I saw the ad on Idealist. Com - Mission Guatemala was looking for a volunteer for a month to teach Spanish to the small staff of Guatemalans working for their non-profit organization. The main office was in Chimaltenango, a city the guide books suggest you spend little time in. Others I spoke to however, found the place intriguing and authentic with an almost two-thirds indigenous population and a huge week-long market. It had been almost 40 years since last I’d been to Guatemala and I was eager to go again. Kay Sweeney, the director and founder of Mission Guatemala, called me at the end of December of ’06, a month before I was ready to go, and asked if, instead of teaching, I’d be interested in helping them do a trial-run of the Fair Wage Guide.

Picture Note: Aura Sanchez observes a woman embroiderer from Santa Clara la Laguna t0 calculate in the process of determining a "fair wage" for her work

Mission Guatemala, a member of the Fair Trade Federation, was very interested in getting a better handle on whether the handful of artisans from which it was buying, were receiving a fair wage. Given that many of the crafts were either weavings or ceramics, I eagerly agreed. I had lived in Peru years ago and had become fascinated by Quechuan weavings and pottery. I had even done some weaving and pottery myself. How exciting to spend time venturing into little villages in the altiplano of Guatemala and observing the production of these exquisite crafts. I would be working with a staff member of Mission Guatemala, Juana Ixmata, and together we would assess as many artisans as we could realistically do in the span of four weeks.

During this period we succeeded in observing five artisans in the towns of San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango and Santa Clara La Laguna, Sololá. We were amazed at how eager the artisans were to have us observe them; how diligent and serious they were about their crafts. In addition to observing and timing the various tasks, we also took photos of, and recorded discussions about the work. Before starting our work, we carefully explained the theory behind the use of the Fair Wage Guide and the reasons we were interested in trying it out. We explained that both the buyer and the vendor stood to benefit from an accurate assessment of an hourly wage. We also recommended that, if they had access to the internet, they take a look at the Fair Wage Guide and incorporate it into their own business practice. Finally, we asked them how long, they surmised, it took to make the item. Invariably, they told us the time almost to the hour. This is especially notable given that the work is often interrupted by having to prepare lunch, pick up a child at school, work in the corn fields, or other chores.

Because we were intent on observing more than one artisan make the same product, in order to get an average time assessment, three of our observations were of back-strap weavers making small four by six inch brocaded woven bags. The first two were identical in design and took approximately the same time to make, an average of 16 hours. After inputting our data on the Fair Wage Guide website, we learned that we were slightly underpaying for these bags. Anxious to more closely approximate at least the national minimum wage, we discussed what options were available for raising the artisans’ wages. We knew that we could not sell the bags for more than what we were getting. So we decided to have a similar bag woven with a more simplified pattern. This worked well. With the more simplified pattern we were able to cut the weaving process to almost half. We were excited about the possibilities that the Wage Guide afforded. The back-strap weavers were all women, as is the tradition in Guatemala. The ones we observed were living in San Juan Comalapa, a town in the department of Chimaltenango. Our first weaver, Rosario Catu de Tzaj, met us at the bus stop and took us to her house where we sat in her courtyard and observed her weave. We broke for lunch. She offered us a very tasty vegetable soup with tortillas. After that we resumed our observations into the hot afternoon. Not in the habit of weaving during the afternoon hours, Rosario asked her husband to put up a blanket so as to keep the sun from beating down on her as she continued her weaving. Finally, with the completion of one bag, we were able to call an end to the day’s observation. We thanked her for her time, hospitality and generosity. Rosario accompanied us back to the center of town to catch our bus.

In Comalapa, a town known for its artists, there is a long progression of murals on the wall of the cemetery. The murals depict the early Mayas, the Spanish conquest, the Mayan descendents and their rituals and customs, and the recent, very brutal 36 year war. It was clear from talking with Rosario that there are few indigenous families that were not personally and tragically affected by the government massacres during the war. Her own father and brother’s names, she told me, her eyes brimming with tears, are etched in stone on a memorial at the entrance to the town, where those who were disappeared, are remembered. While our goal was to observe every step in the process, we also knew that we would have to make some estimates when tasks were repeated, or were of a similar nature to another task. We were also aware of the fact that a weaver will lay warp for several items at a time. This required that we divide the observed or calculated times by the number of items that would result from one warp. This became especially necessary during our fourth observation, when we were observing a treadle loom weaver. Although we spent three days observing the process, we actually observed only portions of a number of specific tasks. For instance, the spinning of one spool of weft or warp was multiplied by the number of spools necessary for the entire process and then divided by the number of items the process yielded. (Camilo Catu Cutzal, the weaver, had three weaving productions going on. We were thus, able to observe all of the required tasks but not in their entirety.) After in-putting our data we were happy to learn that our payments were well above all the indictors on the Fair Wage Guide website. Our last observation was in the small village of Santa Clara la Laguna, high above the majestic Lake Atitlán. Santa Clara is known for its embroidery. A large group of women had gotten together to embroider tee shirts for Mission Guatemala to sell in the US. Over the course of two days we observed a representative group of four women replicate the same embroidery pattern. The women mainly spoke Quiché. Juana, my colleague, also spoke Quiché , so communication was not a problem. Their estimate that the embroidery would take about two full days, or sixteen hours, was right on target. The women worked diligently with heads bowed over their work, never stopping to rest their skillful fingers. Despite their undivided attention to the work, they talked and laughed a lot.

Kids came in and out of the small living room we were gathered in; older kids taking care of the little ones. At one point the baby of one of the woman began to cry. She gathered her up, put the baby on her back and continued to embroider. We built in breaks for them to attend to children, cooking and other household chores. They were very grateful to us for coming out and observing their work. They told us that ordinarily, this kind of work was done between other pressing chores including the planting and harvesting of maize on plots of land on the hillsides. After finishing our observations in Santa Clara, we learned that the wages we were paying them were sorely below the Guatemalan minimum wage. As a follow up to the observation, Juana Ixmata met with the women and explained the problem. They then simplified the pattern of embroidery to cut their work time to one eight hour day.

February and my month-long commitment to Mission Guatemala was fast coming to an end. There were a number of other artisans that had to be observed. Juana and I had both learned a lot during the short trial period. I was confident that she could continue these efforts and contribute to Mission Guatemala’s goal, to raise the standard of living for at least, this little part of the global world.

Profile of Aura Sanchez Garfunke

Aura Sanchez Garfunkel is a lawyer in Winthrop, Massachusetts working part time as project coordinator of a legal access program for undocumented women who are victims of domestic abuse. In the past her work has included among others: a poverty lawyer and associate director at Greater Boston Legal Services; executive director of Health and Human Services for the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts, and country director for the US Peace Corps in Micronesia. She has travelled extensively and, in addition to living in Micronesia, lived in Lima, Peru; Hiedelberg, Germany; and Jersualem. Aura grew up bilingual in Spanish and English, born in the South Bronx to parents who migrated to New York City from Puerto Rico. She attended City University of New York at Brooklyn College, Harvard University School of Education and Northeastern Law School. Because of her own upbringing she has always been fascinated by cultures and cross-cultures and as a result, majored in anthropolgy at Brooklyn College. When she's not working on immigrant issues she's writing and performing. Aura is a member of the Streetfeet Women's Company, a multi-cultural group of writers and performers. The group has been in existence for 25 years and has published a collection of their work called Laughing In The Kitchen. They have also performed in the Greater Boston area as well as at UN celebrations of the Year of the Woman. Aura has 2 sons who live on the west coast and a daughter who also lives in Winthrop.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Welcome to the Blog Site

We hope we can use the blogging medium to exchange and establish a dialog between the various participants engaged in furthering our cause.

Mission: Guatemala is a program of the Kateri Tekakwitha Mission Fund, a small 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation helping Guatemalans, especially women, better their lives through education and income generating activities.

The Kateri Tekakwitha Mission Fund was founded in 1997 by Kay "Cata" Sweeney shortly after her first visit to Guatemala volunteering in a religious community for indigenous women. During her volunteer work, Kay was struck by both the natural beauty of the country and of the fabric woven by the indigenous women.