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Blog posts of '2014' 'July'

Hope for the Next Generation

As Unique Batik looks for nonprofit partners to support in the regions in which we work, one of the most important attributes we seek is sustainability. Will the organization be able to work effectively not only now, but in the future to make a long term impact instead of putting a temporary band-aid on the community’s problems? One of the most impressive things about Asociacion La Libertad, or ALAS, is that they have a sustainability plan to secure the organization's future. ALAS, a nonprofit organization based in Guatemala, coordinates educational development and more for the neglected populations of Guatemala.

Students in ALAS’ educational programs contribute to the plan by working while they attend school. To launch a new school in a remote area, La Libertad must ensure that they can support the minimum number of students required by the government.  Unique Batik has funded tuition for the seven qualified students needed to reach the minimum number required and start the new school.  Once the school is established, the students will help sustain it through their work.  Through this system, not only are they creating a future for the students who come after them, they are also empowered by knowing that they can contribute to the community.

After the brutal 36-year civil war ended in in 1996, 410 refugee families were repatriated to a remote zone of the highlands of Guatemala in the Zona Reina area, to the village now known as San Antonio de Nueva Esperanza, or “New Hope.” Reconstruction began and the vision of the village elders included establishing education as a foundation for future development. With the lowest literacy rate in Latin America, especially among rural, indigenous populations, education is of paramount importance to the development of the lives of the Guatemalan poor.

Fourteen years after the initial founding of La Libertad’s educational program, which seeks to provide formal education ranging from elementary school through college, the village of San Antonio de Nueva Esperanza and its neighbors have seen over 450 people complete their education through the ninth grade. Approximately fifty students participating in extended vocational training for computers and agriculture have gone on to study at the university level. Considering the odds against them -- on average, only one out of ten rural Guatemalans completes middle school -- these figures indicate the tremendous success of ALAS.

La Libertad continues to take on challenges, including the 2010 opening of the university satellite campus of the Mariano Gálvez University, the only one in all of the Zona Reina. With this, the original vision of extending local education from the middle school to university level has been brought to fruition, but sustaining this vision takes continuous work on the part of not only ALAS, but program participants. One benefit of local university classes is that it guarantees that local teachers who want to stay in Zona Reina and expand the educational system can achieve their own necessary education to lead and inspire future students.


Unique Batik is proud to partner with ALAS in providing educational opportunities for the people of Zona Reina and San Antonio Nueva Esperanza. Through the years, the community has shown its commitment to education and La Libertad has created a program that can achieve its goals sustainably, making the vision of the founding village elders a reality that will touch generations to come.

Introduction to the Modern Maya

Once one of the most powerful civilizations in Central America, the Maya people remain an integral part of Guatemala. The rise of the Maya civilization began thousands of years ago and spread across what it now southern Mexico all the way to modern day Honduras. The Maya civilization lasted longer than any other Mesoamerican culture that came to power in the area, and as a result, traces of the culture remain very much alive even today.

Today, there are about six million Maya living in Central America. Although they have relatively modern lives, most still live a lifestyle that is distinct from that of Guatemalans descended from a European heritage. Instead of Spanish, the official language of Guatemala, most Maya speak primarily  indigenous languages, of which there are 22, each reflective of a disparate regional heritage. Because the Maya civilization was so widespread geographically, various dialects evolved into unique languages over time.

Many Maya women, in particular, may not speak fluent Spanish at all. Growing up in Maya households and, unfortunately, likely not to have attended school where the Spanish language would be taught, women and girls speak only their indigenous language. Only 48% of indigenous women are literate in Spanish. This language barrier contributes to many disadvantages including inequality in the labor force, limited access to adequate health care, and exclusion from the legal system. Unique Batik works primarily with indigenous women, seeking to create income and the possibility of an education for those who would otherwise have little to no opportunity.

A history of craftsmanship is still seen in the beautiful handicrafts of Maya people today. Although their work has evolved to take in new influences, assimilate them, and in some cases become something entirely new, a reflection of Mayan history remains in carving, painting, textiles, and more. Considering today’s prevalence of beaded jewelry, it may surprise many to learn that although weaving has been an integral part of Mayan culture for centuries, the introduction of small glass beads and the subsequent creation of woven beaded jewelry did not occur until quite recently. Since the introduction of the tiny glass bead, women in Guatemala have used their traditional weaving skills to create a wide range of jewelry designs, which have become quite popular in the marketplace.

Weaving holds a position of high importance in Maya culture, not only as a handicraft tradition,but as a religious and social tradition. Ixchel, goddess of the moon, has a special connection to women. She is represented with weaving implements in her headdress, and is said to have taught the first woman how to weave. The tradition is passed from woman to daughter, and has been for centuries. Weaving is a social activity, as well; with the portable backstrap loom, women can weave virtually anywhere. Historically, it is one of the only sources of income available primarily to women. Maya women take great pride in their weaving skills, as can be seen in the amazing textiles that come from the region.


At Unique Batik, we strive to sustain both ancient and new traditions of Mayan handicrafts through marketing these special products to buyers across the globe. Having spent many years traveling to Guatemala and the heart of the Maya culture, not only observing its beauty, but learning about it personally through friendships and long term partnerships with our artisans, we recognize both the beauty of the Maya peoples and the struggle that they face. Through fair trade, we hope to preserve the one and alleviate the other.