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Volunteer Spotlight: Zella in Xela

Volunteer Spotlight: Zella in Xela

In the last six months, my work with Trama Textiles has given me the most memorable experience of my life. When I arrived in September of 2021 I did not know how welcomed I would be, into a community not only rich in culture, but in friendship, education, and patience. 

Photos cannot capture the emotions felt, the lessons learned, or the bracing highland winds pulling the hair out from behind your ear. I hope that anyone reading this one day has the opportunity to partake in the experiences that Guatemala has to offer. 

Volunteering at Trama is an immersion in the medley of culture, language, and history that shape daily life for indigenous mayan women. Being able to learn through impactful action as well as through the opportunities at the weaving school, creates a one of a kind space for anyone seeking cultural enrichment. The history and stories of these women are not folklorized or removed from context, but were shared with me over the last six months, during lunches, office meetings, tumultuous bus rides through the highlands, and mornings in the sun. 

There is so much to be gained from Trama that extends beyond learning and study, but through observation of their way of life and values. The serenity of letting your hair dry in the sun, silent before a day's work, the way routine can take different forms and shapes- and the unbreakable bonds of family. Volunteers at Trama are in the heart of a mayan home. The office in Quetzaltenango is also the home to the president and vice president, so volunteers are present and welcomed for birthdays, new babies, hardships, and often witness a bustling kitchen.

Trama is a cooperative and business, and the census visits we conducted provided a direct invitation into the diversity of rural communities. Over a dozen trips into the highlands, I was able to study the practices and styles of a variety of artisans with different specialized crafts. I was fortunate enough to try the dishes and hear the languages of some of Guatemala’s most rural communities - like the Ixil families in our Cotzal group, who speak one of the rarest forms 

of Mayan language, that exists only in three municipalities in the Cuchumatanes mountains. We tasted Buxbol, made from wild leaves and masa, and sweat together in their family’s temazcal. 

I was also lucky enough to see ancestral crafts practiced and integrated into the home. The separation of worklife and family life are blurred by these artists, as working within the home is a beautiful pillar of their communities and way of life. Whether it was Don Pablo and his pedal hand loom, the massive foot pedal looms of San Antonio that fill the salas, or the quiet garden weaving of our other pueblos, it is such a welcome gift to be invited to see these arts come to life at home, where they were learned from mothers and grandmothers.

My time at Trama is something that has shaped me in an unforgettable way. I will move through life going forward with a more open mind and heart, and from weaving beside Amparo, I have more patience both with myself and for the world around me. The Trama Cooperative is a family with space for everyone looking to be welcomed and taught so much more than they could imagine.  

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