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Rug hooking in Guatemala

By Mariellyn Kuske, SSND Associate Co-coordinator, North Dakota and Minnesota

I traveled to Guatemala to take a class in the art of rug hooking from Mayan women. We learned the Mayan style of designing and hooking cotton rugs. We had interpreters to help 16 North American women communicate with 16 Mayan teachers.

Rug hooking group at Glendy's home, the local leader of the rug hooking group in Guatemala.

As students, we received clear instruction in design and construction of the rugs. We also received affirmation of our determination to come to Guatemala, to meet women of different backgrounds and language from the young women (ages 19-52) who openly shared their lives with us. Each day a woman would share how she came to rug hooking and how her life had changed by learning this art, making and selling her rugs. We heard how leadership training had helped each woman gain courage to believe in themselves. Each woman explained how the rug money helped her family pay for education and extra food. With new confidence, the women became advocates for clean water in their village, sanitation improvements and even recycling.

The highlight of the trip with the Mayan women was Thursday, when we spent the day on visits to two villages where the rug hookers met. We were hosted by the group leader in her home. While there, we were given refreshments, a demonstration on making tortillas and watched a traditional Mayan dance. We met the family and saw the living conditions of the village. We also began to understand the farming practice. Humor and silliness played a big part in breaking down barriers. We danced together and enjoyed “musica.”

Rug hooking group at Glendy's home, the local leader of the rug hooking group in Guatemala.

Working with my rug-hooking buddy, Lidia, I could see how she gave love so freely. She cared for me and she held my hand when I tried to cross the street in front of a “took-took.” She has little money or even material goods but she had love to share with me.

The trip to Guatemala stretched me in ways I did not expect. Communicating with Lidia was a challenge because we did not speak each other’s language. We spoke with our eyes, hands and heart. I was stretched by eating different foods prepared under different conditions. The biggest stretch was using the outhouse at the home of the group leader. Acceptance of the reality of land ownership in Guatemala challenged my principles of justice. The people we met did not own the land where they farmed or had their homes. Community and family is so important to Mayan men and women. I am encouraged to strengthen my own family connections.

My heart was stretched with gratitude for the education provided by “Multicolores,” the non-governmental organization that hosted our tour. I am encouraged to financially support this NGO working in Guatemala, because of their methods of empowering women with hope and the ability to improve their lives.

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