Thursday, January 19, 2017
Beading Beyond Borders: Micaela’s Idea
Written by Anna Watts, Multimedia Associate
For most families living in the small, agricultural community of Chaquijya, life rarely strays outside of a five-mile radius of farming land, the local market, and home. A trip to the neighboring town of Sololá for a larger market, a pharmacy, or a hospital is the farthest many will ever travel.
But for Micaela and her family, the boundaries of daily life have begun to extend much farther beyond their home.
“In Honduras, there is much more demand,” says Micaela, who works as an artisan, beading products from earrings to rosaries. “Here [in Guatemala], many people do beading work in the same styles and patterns. But in Honduras, no one is using this style and so we can sell [at a higher price].”
For years, Micaela struggled to make ends meet by selling her beading work to vendors in the neighboring, more touristed towns. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of women who bead as a way to earn additional income for their families, supply is high and demand low, meaning that vendors can buy for very little and profit off of high margins. If an artisan requests a higher price for their work, vendors can easily move their business elsewhere.
It was always a far-off dream of Micaela and her husband, Calixto, to circumvent this artisan exploitation by searching for other venues to sell. However, with Calixto working in the fields, they lived barely payment to payment. This left them with no financial safety net that would allow for them to explore expanding Micaela’s business ventures.
Then, five months ago, Micaela applied and was accepted into a 10-month loan cycle as part of a community group in Chaquijya partnering with the Mayan Families Microloans Program.
Micaela with her children in front of a table displaying some of her recent work on earrings, rosaries, bracelets, and necklaces. Photo by Anna Watts
With the loan, Micaela was able to buy in higher quantities and more variety the materials and beads she uses to create her products. Calixto also now had the means to make their idea reality —with the money to pay for his fare to Honduras, they had the opportunity to explore new potential markets. And it worked. In Honduras, Micaela’s beadings were unique and could sell at a much higher price point, about 25% more than the price she received in Guatemala.
For many indigenous families in rural Guatemala living without financial security or savings, innovating and experimenting with new business ventures is a risk too high to undertake. High illiteracy rates and a lack of financial education contribute to these obstacles, making it nearly impossible to access credit.
Micaela, Calixto and their three children outside their home in Chaquijya. Photo by Anna Watts
“It is very difficult for us in the banks here,” Micaela explains. “There are many forms to sign and read and many people [in Chaquijya] cannot read and do not understand the forms so we cannot receive a loan.” Chaquijya does not have a local bank. For families living in this community, a trip to the bank involves a full day-trip, requiring funds for transportation and a day off of work that few can afford.
Opportunities like those offered by the Mayan Families Microloans Program, which works within local community groups to offer additional support like native language translation and financial education, helps families like Micaela’s bridge the gap between business ideas and investment realities. And this, in turn, opens the doors to other opportunities for future generations.
Because she can now afford to send her children to school, Micaela says, she knows “they will not suffer like I had to. They will have many more opportunities.”
Sara and Evelyn, her eldest daughters, are both still in primary school. Their aspirations reflect Micaela’s point —Sara will become a veterinarian, she shares shyly, Evelyn a doctor.
“Having accessible loans is very important for us,” says Micaela. “Because, little by little, this is how our community can develop itself.”