Unique World Inspirations is proudly partnered with Lucia’s Imports. Together we are committed to working under Fair Trade guidelines and through Lucia’s Imports supporting long-term partnerships with organizations such as Sharing the Dream, Guatemalan families, artisan groups, and cooperatives. Through these partnerships, Guatemalan women are provided jobs to produce and export high-quality Fair Trade jewelry.
Together we work to get Guatemalan Fair Trade jewelry to the global market to help Sharing the Dream support The Elder Bead Shop and Center. Their bead project helps provide over 60 indigenous Mayan elders nutritious meals, medical care, and emotional support.
We interviewed Lauren, the director of Share the Dream, to learn more about how their beautiful beaded Fair Trade jewelry is making a difference in the lives of these amazing elders right now.
What inspired the Elder Bead Shop and Center to start and how did it all begin?
The Elder Center Bead Shop was set up as a way to make the Elder Center more self-sustainable and rely less on donations. In 2009, Diane Nesselhuf, the US Director of Sharing the Dream in Guatemala asked Bernabela, the Elder Center and Bead Group Coordinator, what ideas she had to make the Elder Center more self-sustaining and be able to survive in the event that Sharing the Dream ceases to exist one day. Bernabela is a master beader, and she suggested a bead project. Thus, the Fair Trade Bead Shop was born.
How have your artisans benefited from Fair Trade?
By receiving a fair wage for their work, the artisans are able to support their families. This means that they are able to send their children to school, provide nutritious meals for their families, afford healthcare, and make improvements to their homes. The biggest change that we have seen in the artisans is in their self-esteem. With Fair Trade, the artisans don’t have to try to sell their products in the market and take whatever low price they can get. They have a continual income and an outlet that appreciates their work. All of this elevates their self-esteem, and their husbands and children look at them in a more positive light, uplifting the whole family.
What community impact has The Elder Bead Shop & Center made?
The Elder Center provides a much-needed service to the community of Santiago. The elders are oftentimes the forgotten and the invisible members of society. They don’t have family members who can take care of them, and there are no social safety nets in Guatemala that would be available to these elders. Thanks to the Elder Center, the elders do not need to beg on the street. The Elder Center has made a direct impact on the lives of 65 elders.
The bead project provides stable employment for the artisans, which allows them to make a difference in their families’ incomes. The difference in what the artisans earn is much higher than what is paid for the same product on the streets. The Sharing the Dream scholarship students, as well as students from a partner organization, and they interact with the elders at the Center. Through this interaction, the students learn to respect the elders, which changes the mentality that many have as seeing the elders as a burden on the family. By fostering this change in the young students, we hope to foster lasting changes in the larger community.
What would you like people to know about Fair Trade products?
When you purchase Fair Trade, you give the artisan who made the product the power to make a difference in their own lives. By purchasing Fair Trade, the artisans have dignified employment, and they earn a fair wage for their work. This allows them to provide for their family, send their children to school, and have a say in their own development. When you work with an artisan group, you make an impact on the whole community, not just one family.
“When you work with an artisan group, you make an impact on the whole community, not just one family.”
When people hear Fair Trade, they oftentimes think of fair wages, but Fair Trade is about so much more. Fair Trade is about respect, building transparent relationships, creating opportunities, and building capacity. By buying Fair Trade products, you are not only providing the artisan with a fair wage for their work, but you are helping them to further develop their skills and have access to new opportunities. These are opportunities that would not otherwise be available and are drastically changing lives for the better.
What is one thing you want people to know about The Elder Bead Shop & Center?
The Elder Center has become a family for the elders in the program. Many don’t have family who are able to take care of them, and they depend on the Elder Center to survive. Lucia’s Imports and the bead project helps us to support the Elder Center and makes the Center more self-sustainable. Your purchase of our bead-work helps us to continue to support the elders and allows us to be a source of stable employment in the community.
What is unique about your crafts and artisans?
One of the things that make Sharing the Dream different from other artisan organizations is the work that we do with such a large scope of artisans. Working with more than 20 partner artisan groups from around Guatemala, including the Elder Center Bead Group, we provide workshops for the artisans in order to help them to improve their business skills and craft techniques so that they can find new clients and more work for themselves. We work closely with the artisan groups to help them to develop new designs, and unlike many artisan organizations, whenever we give a design to the group we encourage the artisans to sell the design elsewhere so that they can have more work. We don’t appropriate our designs, as our main interest is that the groups have as much work and income as they can get.
We also ask our artisans to come in and work in our workshop. This gives us an opportunity to help the artisans to develop their skills and teach them new skills that will be useful to them for future employment. It also allows us to ensure that our products are Fair Trade and that the artisans that are getting paid for the products they are making, in a safe, clean, working environment.
Why should people who love traveling be especially interested The Elder Bead Shop & Center?
Santiago Atitlan is an interesting community, and the Mayan culture is still very strong here. The traditional traje (outfit) is still commonly worn, and the majority of people speak Tzutujil, the local Mayan language. The Elder Center is a unique place, and there aren’t many programs like it. It’s a very humbling experience to see the elders and provide and serve them their lunch.
The Elder Center Bead Shop is a great place to pick up one-of-a-kind gifts while in Guatemala and support an impactful cause. All of the profits go to support the Elder Center and make it more self-sustainable. You can also meet the artisans who made the products and watch them as they practice the beadwork that makes Santiago Atitlan famous.
What is the best way for visitors to Santiago to schedule a visit or stay?
Visitors who are interested in scheduling a visit or staying in Santiago can reach us either via email at [email protected] or via telephone. The phone number for our Santiago office is 011-502-7721-7096, or via our US phone line in Guatemala at 605-540-6159- It is free to call this number from US phones. English is spoken at the US phone line and via email. Spanish is spoken at the Guatemalan number. The elders are in on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and the bead shop is open Monday- Friday, or by special appointment. We also offer accommodations at Casa de Sueños, our Sharing the Dream Inn located just around the corner from the Elder Center and Bead Shop. All profits from the Inn support our Tutoring Center for our scholarship students. Meals can be arranged for groups of more than 4 people.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
Sharing the Dream in Guatemala is a fair trade organization, and we work with more than 20 different groups of artisans from around Guatemala. As part of our Artisan Development program, we provide workshops for the groups to help them to develop their skills and find new markets. We also support these groups through the purchase of their products, which are sold in our brick and mortar stores in Sioux Falls and Vermillion, SD, in our online store, and now through our wholesale project.
Sharing the Dream also operates the Elder Center in Santiago Atitlan, where we have 65 Mayan elders who come in three times a week to receive a hot, nutritious meal, access to medical care free of cost to them, and much needed social interaction and care. We operate the bead project as a way to support the Elder Center. Sharing the Dream also runs a small scholarship program and an inn in Santiago that supports the scholarship program. We also provide a rural school with school supplies and support a health promoter in Rio Dulce through our partner organization Casa Guatemala. We thank you for your support!
We thank Lauren for taking the time to share how Fair Trade is impacting Guatemala now. You can support the talented artisans and support the Mayan elders in Guatemala by purchasing their beautiful products here.