Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back in the bay

Now that I’m back in the Bay Area and gearing up for a new semester at Berkeley, I’m working to reflect upon and contextualize all that I saw and learned this summer working in Guatemala, and to determine how I can stay involved both with Nest and with Oxlajuj B’atz’. This past Tuesday, I was invited to attend a Meet & Greet for Nest’s Bay Area Chapter, and to make a short presentation about my Fellowship. It was a great opportunity to learn a bit more about Nest as well as to share my experiences and thoughts from the summer.

Nest’s Bay Area chapter has around 25 women – designers, working professionals, women who are simply interested in Nest’s programs and mission – who gather for fundraisers and events to support the organization. The first thing I saw when walking in the room were three beautiful signboards with testimonials and pictures from Chuacruz and Morales, two of the Nest groups I visited, with pictures and stories from many of the women whom I had a chance to get to know. While I was looking at the boards, one of the women mentioned to me that her organization, Spark, - which seeks to engage young women in the U.S. in combating global inequality – will be giving a large grant to the Chuacruz community for some additional foot pedal looms and capacity-training workshops. I shared some of my own pictures with her, and was able to talk a bit about my observations and experiences with the group, especially how much the grant will mean to them. 
Other women asked me whether or not I was able to see Nest’s impact on the ground in Guatemala, and if so, to what extent. To this question, I honestly answered no, not quite…. Despite all of their work with organizations like Nest and Oxlajuj B’atz’ – as most cooperatives partner with many different NGOs and non-profits for both training and market expansion opportunities – I met so many women this summer who are still struggling to make a living by selling their hand-woven goods.  One of the hardest takeaways from my Fellowship was going into these communities and seeing that, though the women are working with many different organizations, Nest, Oxlajuj B’atz’, and others, they’re still living in abject poverty – thus something is clearly not fully translating between do-good, non-profit organizations like Nest and the communities they’re trying to reach. Specifically, one of the problems that I consistently saw in Guatemala was a lack of demand for the artisans’ products – there simply are not enough markets for the women to sell their products, and to do so at a fair price. But what I did see in Guatemala was how working with organizations like Nest and Oxlajuj B’atz’ helps to empower the women, to train them in new skills and capacities, to give them more confidence as Guatemalan women. This is an amazing accomplishment in itself, and it gives me a lot of hope for the future.
It was amazing to see such an interest in the work I did this summer, and such an appreciation for my suggestions and ideas. Now, I’m looking forward to getting to know some of the other women on the board and within the Bay Area Chapter, and to learn more about Nest’s involvement both domestically and internationally!

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