"Our husbands had died and we had to find a way to feed our children and give them an education. So we decided to form a group to look for opportunities based on our skills as weavers."
"Our women's group came into being in 1985. Because of the armed conflict in Guatemala, six widows – María, Petronila, Lucía, Dominga, Marcela and Antonia – needed a way to earn a living. Our husbands had died and we had to find a way to feed our children and give them an education. So we decided to form a group to look for opportunities based on our skills as weavers. Antonia is the president and founder. We want to make ours a better world.
"At first, it was very hard to decide on a name that represented all of us and adapted itself to our Maya culture, especially our weaving heritage. We chose Waqxaqi' Kan because it means "Day of Weaving." In addition, it is the day we celebrate women in the Maya calendar, March 8.
"Our group is now made up of 18 women, who have specialized in creating different kinds of products. Some weave scarves and others weave table runners. All of us learned to weave by watching our mothers and grandmothers weaving for years. It is our tradition that women learn to weave on backstrap looms."
Doña María Chiroy, one of the founders of the group, tells how Doña Antonia had to travel to Quetzaltenango for training and that's where the idea to form a women's group came about. She remembers how the first samples were the traditional huipil blouses. "We had to take them to another association in Quetzaltenango to see if they liked our work and wanted to sell them for us. We were so happy when they told us they liked our work and wanted to sell it in a school there.
"We've had our difficult times, too. One of the first times the women went to Quetzaltenango to sell our weavings, we were held up and robbed. We had put a lot of money in those weavings and it was all lost. Another time, one of the members left our group and took one of our biggest clients with her. This was really discouraging, because it's been really hard to get other clients. But not everything was negative. Our children received scholarships from a foundation that purchased our weavings. This made it possible for the children to study and we could spend more time weaving.
"What I enjoy most is combining new colors on the loom and developing new samples," Doña María continues. "New samples are always a challenge because they push us to try new ideas and change our way of seeing the world.
"As a group, we enjoy traveling to other markets to show and sell our designs. We really like exchanging the ambience of our village for new towns and experiences. We also enjoy sewing bags, coin purses and different articles that we sell.
"Our group is based in our home village and that's where we hold meetings. We divide up the work and deliver yarns to the weavers. The women do the weaving in their own homes, and bring them back for quality control.
"Everything we create is carefully made by hand with a huge dose of love."