Women in NGO’s

Emily Ellis

TRAMA Textiles: Amparo de León de Rubio and Oralia Chopén

The word trama, or thread, can also mean “food” in Spanish. For the 400 indigenous weavers supported by TRAMA Textiles, the thread is just as essential to their livelihood as food. Following the devastation of the Civil War, many women found themselves without any means of supporting themselves. TRAMA was founded by two weavers,  Amparo de León de Rubio and Oralia Chopén, in an effort to create a weaving cooperative that would enable the women to sell their work in Quetzaltenango and abroad.

“In the modern world, it is very difficult for these women to make a living,” Amparo explains. “TRAMA gives them a way to earn a liveable salary, and gives them pride in their culture.”

One of the benefits of selling work through TRAMA is that the weavers can reach a wider market, since TRAMA exports textiles to stores abroad.  In addition to this, the women can be assured that they will not be swindled – that is the farthest thing from Amparo’s mind.

“Everything I do is for these women – I struggle for them, and for their children,” she says flatly, summing up the 30 years of her life she has dedicated to TRAMA. “It gives me a great happiness and satisfaction in my heart to help them.”


Mentes para el Futuro: Alison Kempson Aparicio

Physcotherapist Allison Aparicio moved to Quetzaltenango from the USA with her husband, a Xela native. In 2012, she founded Mentes para El Futuro, an organization which provides psychological support and educational services to families of the 650+ children who attend the 15 de Septiembre Public School in Xela. Learning disabilities and traumatic home-life are major problems among the children in the school; it is all the teachers can do to keep order in the classroom, let alone provide individual attention to troubled children. That is where MPF comes in.

“Our goal is to get the kids to college, and they don’t have that goal for themselves,” Allison says.“ We want to help people understand the importance of education – as things are now, they don’t see a future for their kids, and we wish to change that.”

Gradually, the counselling, tutoring, and social services that MPF offers has made profound differences in the lives of the children and families of 15 de Septiembre.  But Allison is modest about the young organization’s success. “Thereupitic work is like riding a wave,” she says. “You go where it takes you.” The students and families of 15 de Septiembre are undoubtedly grateful that it brought her to Xela.


Proyecto Miriam: Juana Maria Tax Saquimox, Coordinadora de Becas Primaria y Secondaria

“Miriam is the name of our founder,” Juana Maria Tax Saquimox, Scholarship Coordinator at Proyecto Miriam, explains. “But there is another meaning. In the bible, Miriam was a woman who escaped from slavery.”

It is a fitting named for an organization that strives to free women from the bonds created by a lack of education, poverty, and domestic violence. Founded in 1996, Proyecto Miriam offers 34 scholarships for women (most of whom are indigenous) who live around Xela and Guatemala City. The scholarship program can be truly life-changing for the beneficiaries.  Juana, who received a university scholarship in 2004, is a perfect example. ¨Without Proyecto Miriam,¨ she says. ¨ It would have been impossible for me to attend university.¨

Earning an education can be extremely difficult for women, due to the cost, familiar responsibilities, and the long distances to universities. PM strives to accommodate them in any way possible; the fact that most of the organization´s employees are former beneficiaries is proof of its success.

¨It is a struggle to change your life,´´ Juana says, reflecting on the endeavours of PM. ¨But it is possible if one is given a chance.”

Primeros Pasos: Maria Elena Xuruc, Clinic Director

Although Maria Elena Xuruc, Clinic Director of Primeros Pasos (First Steps), has only been working for the organization since 2013, she has had years of experience an administrator of NGOs. ¨Working with Primeros Pasos has been one of my most challenging positions,¨ she says. ¨But also one of the most interesting, since there is such a variety of projects.¨

Primeros Pasos was founded in 2002, with the aim of offering health care to the remote rural communities of Palajunoj Valley of Quetzaltenango. PP has since expanded to offer a variety of services, including mobile clinics, women and children´s health education, and secondary education scholarships. Although PP offers essential medical services to those who would not be able to access them otherwise, at the heart of its work is the prevention of future problems. PP places a particular focus on the health education of women and girls, a demographic at a high risk for teenaged pregnancies, issues of sexual health, and domestic abuse.

¨Here in Guatemala, culturally speaking, girls are considered to be of less importance,¨  Maria  Elena explains. ¨But they are the women of the future. It´s important not only to improve their physical health, but their mentality and self-esteem, so that they can in turn educate their children.¨

The necessity of these services is indisputable, and it is difficult to say how many lives have been improved, or even saved, by the  simple health screenings and educational workshops offered by PP.  Despite the organization´s success, Maria Elena knows there is far more to do. ¨We´re working very hard,¨ she says firmly. ¨And we have our steps strongly directed towards where we want to go.¨

Jocelyn Valeria

Jocelyn Bates and Valeria Ayerdi: Director of EntreMundos and Editor of EntreMundos Revista

Although EntreMundos works with a multitude of projects, the advancement of women´s rights is a top priority. ¨It has always been a mission of EntreMundos to foster female leadership,¨ says Jocelyn Bates, director of EM since 2010. In an organization where most of the team are women, as are most of the contributors to the magazine,  female leadership is certainly in evidence.

Besides publishing the bi-monthly EntreMundos Revista, EM also runs capacity building workshops, as well as IT Training and Community Tourism training programs. Jocelyn says that in the seven years she has lived in Xela, she has seen a considerable increase in the number of women attending such workshops and becoming managers of businesses and organizations. ¨It´s a fairly recent development in Guatemala,¨ she explains. ¨EntreMundos trains people from over  100 organizations in our capacity building program, and we are seeing more and more female management and coordinators. Especially in our IT training, we have seen a real turnaround in the amount of women who taking initiative and training themselves, and becoming the go-to members of their organizations.¨

According to Valeria Ayerdi,  editor of the EM Revista, increasing the number of women in leadership roles is a matter of building their self-confidence. ¨Some women hesitate because they think writing an article for the magazine or being a manager is a man´s thing . . . .. but once they try it, they do amazing work.¨

EntreMundos offers a wealth of opportunities for women to express themselves.  But according to Valeria, struggling against a system that oppresses women is a slow process.  ¨We as women should commit to ourselves and to other women to let our light shine so bright that no one can put us in the shadows again . . . women have died fighting against this discrimination. It´s up to us to take a stand.¨

With women like Jocelyn and Valeria as role-models, the number of women that EM helps to reach their potential is only bound to increase.