San Antonio PalopĆ³

Cooperativa San Antonio Palopo

Created in 1980, the San Antonio Palopo Cooperative has more than 142 members and is the largest source of employment in this modest village on Lake Atitlan. In town, the cooperative is housed in a two story building that has the administration and work area on the top floor where the men produce large colorful fabrics on their foot looms.

At the street level is “La Tienda,” the store where these skilled artisans sell their beautifully crafted textile products. While the men use foot looms, the women still weave on backstrap looms in their homes, preserving a traditional art which has existed for over 500 years.

 

As stunning and creative as the San Antonio Palopo products are, the real story for El Quetzal is the way in which we have been working with this cooperative. As a fair trade organization, El Quetzal bought this cooperative their first foot loom. Since they had had no formal education in their native language or in Spanish, we also provided basic literacy classes for the women for two years.

In our partnership with La Cooperativa San Antonio Palopo, communication is a key. Although the director and several of the men are fluent in both Spanish and Cakchiquel, their native Mayan language, the women only speak Cakchiquel. In order to communicate directly with the women we employ a Guatemalan woman interpreter. This allows us to act as proponents of equality within the workplace and try to assure that work on the products we purchase is distributed equally between the men and women, and that the women receive equal pay for equal or comparable work. In a recent visit to the cooperative, it was gratifying to confirm that the women were being paid the same as the men although they had not been aware of it. Due to their lack of formal education and lack of representation on the co-op advisory board it is difficult for them to understand the operations of the business and assert their equality. Changes will not happen overnight. Nonetheless, by communicating face-to-face with the women artisans and the director, by keeping the lines of communication open between us, we are striving to improve the lives of women, which, in turn, will benefit their families, the cooperative, and, ultimately, the entire community.

On the other hand, some changes do happen very suddenly. During the heavy rains that accompanied the hurricane season in 2010 the village of San Antonio Palopo was inundated by a devastating mudslide. The coop Tienda did not escape, and all of the foot looms as well as nearly all of the products that were stored there were lost. The women’s work and their backstrap looms, which were kept in their homes, were mostly spared. Nevertheless, the co-op suffered a severe setback, and it will be some time until they will be able to produce their beautiful and colorful tablecloths and other larger woven products. 4/2011