For the last three years, the Social Justice Team explored how to create a lasting partnership in the Highlands of Guatemala. Our work began with a member, Jodie Kacer, who joined our congregation in 2010. Jodie was a longtime UU from Wisconsin who knew the power and presence of international ministry. Shortly after she joined our community, she wanted to know what international outreach we were conducting. We didn’t have any international outreach! Jodie slowly introduced us to the work she was engaged with in Guatemala. Jodie passed away in 2012, but her work lived on as we held a congregational trip in 2013 and then submitted a project proposal to the Board of Trustees.
As we have deepened our understanding of social justice ministry in an international context a few important values emerged. We wanted any project to be sustainable and empowering. We did not want to simply engage in toxic charity where we gave away stuff that would not change systems. We also wanted to ensure that the least empowered and most vulnerable in the Highlands of Guatemala felt the greatest positive impact. Last, we wanted to ensure that our work was responsive and collaborative. We hoped for a project that met the desires and dreams of those living in Guatemala.
After exploring several organizations, we confirmed our desire to work with Maria Pacheco and her organization Wakami. Maria has created a model in which Guatemalan women become business owners in a jewelry making business. In addition to providing training, living wages and initial supplies, Maria also works with the family unit to help provide educational opportunities and healthcare for the children. It’s a holistic model that is not a handout but an empowering hand-up. Eventually, the women become owners of their own business. Maria works with international designers to ensure that there is a consistent market for the products produced. In addition, she fosters community and collaboration between the women creating Wakami “villages” across the Highlands.
We have been hoping for some time to plant a new Wakami village in Chuk Muk, a particularly resource strapped and isolated community. Maria began exploring if Chuk Muk had the dynamics to sustain a Wakami village and community members eager to participate. This past fall, Maria confirmed that a Wakami village will be possible in Chuk Muk.
How does this reflect our values?
As Unitarian Universalists we affirm and promote the interconnected web of all existence. In this modern world, hands from around the world make our daily lives possible from our clothing, food to even our homes. With this connection, comes a great responsibility. The World Neighbors Project seeks to balance our social justice ministry and fulfill our responsibility as world neighbors.
So what’s next?
We are partnering with several other organizations in order to cultivate a Wakami village in Chuk Muk. We have put forth a goal of raising 7,000 in the next year for the village. After two years, Maria’s business model allows the Wakami villages to be self-sustaining. We intend to raise these funds through the plate collection, private donations and an art auction. The art auction will be co-planned with Amy Hartman, the Social Justice Chair at the UU Fellowship of Lake Norman, the Sinapi Foundation, and some members from Holy Covenant, United Church of Christ who traveled with us to Guatemala last year.
How can I help?