Something that is important to us is making sure our weavers are able to keep their ancient tradition of weaving alive whilst earning a sustainable living. Whilst we are committed to paying our weavers a fair living wage (roughly 50% higher than the average Guatemalan wage) we believe fair wages are the bare minimum. We understand that true support goes beyond finances, and we are constantly looking for the best ways to help and support our weavers in all areas of their lives. Thus, in 2017 we started our ´Almaya Fund´ - a support system consisting of various targeted fundraisers. We currently have 2 fundraisers going, one sponsoring the education of in-need children from our supported Indigenous communities (based on economic status) and the other to buy new weaving equipment to replace our weavers old worn ones which they have been relying upon for many years.
Part of our initiative of better understanding our weavers and understanding what fundraisers they could benefit from is by conducting yearly interviews and surveys to better understand their ages, economic backgrounds, languages, Indigenous groups, as well as their complaints and feedback for us as their employer. Our recent fundraiser (for buying new weaving equipment) was created in response to reports made by the weavers saying they needed new equipment.
Whilst the answers to these surveys are used within our annual report, we felt we needed a specific document which clearly states our findings (thus the writing of this document).
As many of our weavers are unable to write in Spanish, these surveys were conducted by our volunteers verbally and responses were written down to be put into a google survey to see the data more clearly.
It is important to us to learn more about our weavers history of schooling and the opportunities they were given growing up. We found that 50% of our weavers never went to school and only 27% completed primary school. This is unfortunately commonplace within Guatemala, especially here in the Western Highlands of Guatemala (where all our weavers live). What is so important, however, is realising what can be done to tackle this problem. Whilst many girls are taught to become weavers from a very young age, it is important that they have access to make educational choices. We seek to help these communities by offering access to basic education that is not easily received otherwise.
This led us to create and give workshops on topics that often suffer from stigmas. We worked with both the weavers and their children concerning important information about menstruation and mental health. As much as we are happy that our weavers continue to weave and want to keep this ancient tradition alive, we believe in the protection of choice. Children should have the choice to go to school and learn all that they have the passion to learn.
Our weavers vary greatly in age. From our conducted survey we found that (from those that participated in the survey) our youngest weaver is 22 and the oldest is 75 with the most common ages being 36, 32 and 72. As this is a craft passed down through families, quite often weavers are related to one another and generations of a family can be seen weaving together. We are happy to help provide the means to strengthen those familial bonds that allow women of all ages to earn a wage even when they'd be physically unable to do other jobs when they reach old age.
Whilst we work with around 115 women from 14 different communities, it is important to us to know where they live and which groups they belong to. From our surveyed women, this is the listed locations of current weavers -
Quiche- Chajul, Cotzal, Nebaj
Quetzaltenango - San Martin, Cantel , Totonicapan, Urbano
Sololá - Pujuji, Churuneles, Chirijox
San Juan La Laguna - Grupo de Chris, Asocación Bota
San Antonio Palopó
Sacatepequez - Santa Maria de Jesus, San Juan Comalapa
Huehuetenango - San Rafael Petzal, Buena Vista, Todos Santos
We wanted to understand the breakdown of the different languages that our weavers speak as Indigenous languages are alive throughout Guatemala. We found that only 8% of our weavers speak Spanish as their first language. The survey highlighted to us how important Indigenous languages are to our weavers and their communities. Our weavers speak Quiché, Mam, Cakchiquel, TzutujilIxil. All of our weavers speak the native language of their village and often learn Spanish to communicate with others who may not speak the same Indigenous language.
In terms of Spanish, the survey showed us that 66.7% of the weavers can speak Spanish, 47% can read it and 44% can write it.
Many of our weavers are part of a large family unit and many of them are married. However 32% of our weavers are single, 21% are widowed and 45% are married. These numbers help us to better understand individual economics and which families rely solely upon our weavers for their salary. As such, with this information we are more able to see who needs our help the most in terms of support. Thus the creation of our scholarship fund - which enables us to help those in the hardest economic struggles receive access to their right to education.
We also sought to learn more about how much family the weavers were responsible for. Many of our weavers have children, and although the average number is 3, many have 5 or even up to 10 kids. This means that many of our weavers have many financial responsibilities and often cannot afford for all of their children to go to school. By knowing how many children our weavers have we can understand how many people they're supporting.
We then asked the weavers who relies on them and their salary -
74% said their children
26% said their husband
23% said their parents
20% said their grandchildren
4% said other family
We asked the weavers what their main problems are when they are weaving and they said -
31% - inadequate lighting
59% - uncomfortable seating
44% - inconvenient workplace
We also asked to what extent do you feel comfortable and safe in the location you typically weave which 100% said very secure.
We also asked if they would prefer if Trama made them a secure place to weave within their village and 25% said yes whilst 63% said no. This information helps us realise that this may be a possibility in the future, but that it is not an urgent need.
Reasons for Weaving
It was also important to us to understand exactly why our weavers weave. As well as cultural and historical preservation, weaving is a part of a woman’s livelihood and way in which they earn for their family. Many of our weavers have told us that they are very proud to weave as it allows them to earn money for themselves. As highlighted by the survey, many of these women have many people/family members relying on them financially.
Additionally, when asked why they weave, some women stated “es bonito y una parte de la familia” - it's beautiful and part of the family. Many of the women feel a historical and cultural tie to this practice, realising the value of weaving as more than monetary. Most of the weavers, however, said “me gusta tejer para ganar dinero” - I like to weave for earning money. Proving to us the financial needs of these women and the alleviation provided through the art of weaving.
Relationship with Trama
Finally, it was important for us to understand our weavers' relationship and feelings about Trama as their employer. As well as making sure they are paid well, we felt it was important that the women felt they could give us their honest opinion regarding their relationship with us, enabling us to do better as an employer. Thus, the women were put into 17 groups to talk and answer the following questions -
Do you think Trama Textiles provides fair pay for textiles and other work?
Whilst 19% disagreed with this statement 53% gave a straight yes and the other percent said yes but with comments. These comments included suggestions about pricing and order quantities. Being a small collective, Trama is often unable to give the weavers reliable jobs as our orders vary. This was unfortunately exacerbated by the economic and civil effects of COVID-19, and many of our weavers had to turn to other jobs.
We then asked to what extent does your weaving work cover your living expenses?
6% said it covered all, 19% said most and 63% said some.
We were elated to hear that when we asked if they feel Trama Textiles’ leadership provides a platform for weavers to speak openly about their grievances 100% said yes.
While our surveys help us to learn a lot about our weavers and better understand them, we are constantly working to improve on ways we can further support them - whether this be through creating new workshops, fundraisers or more extensive data collection to discover targeted needs. We achieve this by providing a platform of critique and conversation for our weavers as we seek a workplace of honesty and respect between all members. We strive to be a fair and ethical employer as we care about our employees' livelihoods and needs, and as such we are constantly doing our best but are always open to new ideas.