Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Weaving Change

The Birth of a Small Handcrafted Industry...

Sister María Luisa Gamboa arrived in Tampamolón, in the southeastern region of the State of Huasteca (Mexico), in 2003, as a pastoral response to indigenous communities. Hospital Muguerza invited and supported our sisters in this ministry. With the aim of promoting human dignity, María Luisa began by visiting communities in eight municipalities, close to each other, to meet the people and assess their needs. During her visits, she was struck by the poverty and vulnerability of women. Women used to embroider napkins, but despite their beauty, they sold poorly. So Sister María Luisa suggested they consider making clothing in addition to napkins. Since the women wanted an additional income in the household, they found the idea appealing. To launch this project, Sister María Luisa asked for help from her mother, who was skilled in sewing. Maria Louisa mother gladly made patterns of different sizes using newspaper. Then María Luisa bought fabric and thread, and with these, the women began to learn to cut fabric for blouses. Everything had to be done by hand as they didn't have sewing machines.

When Sister María Cardoza arrived a year later, in 2004, to work with Sister María Luisa, she was inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of the women. She recalled her years of study when she was younger. In her youth, Sister Mary (as most of us call her) had taken sewing classes but hadn't shown much interest. However, faced with the need she saw, she returned to her hometown and sought out her sewing teacher to learn how to make shirts and children's clothing.

How to Sell the Merchandise?
One thing is the production of clothing, another is the sale. To sell the products, women send representatives from their communities periodically to take their products to selling places in the city. Everyone cooperates in advance with transportation, food, and lodging expenses. Each garment carries the name of the person who made the product and the price of the garment. Upon return, they distribute the profits from the sales.

At one point, the women were invited to participate in a Successful Projects competition at the national level organized by FONART (National Fund for the Promotion of Crafts). After going through the different stages: regional, district, and state, they reached the final stage, the National one, in the city of León, Guanajuato. They didn't win first place, but they were considered to attend every year, for a month, with all expenses paid (lodging, transportation, food), and most importantly, to have a space to sell their products at the National Potosina Fair (FENAPO) - one of the most important fairs in the country. They continue to participate to this day. This speaks to the quality their products have achieved.

From Huasteca to Mezquital Valley
About fifteen years later, around 2016, having established this cottage industry in Tampamolón, María Luisa and Mary chose to move to Chilcuautla, Hidalgo, to the Mezquital Valley to work with women from the Hñahñu or Otomí communities. The Mezquital Valley was once considered the poorest area in the country. In fact, Mexico City's sewage is discharged there. However, thanks to state government, investment from Mexicans returning from the United States, and support from Germany, an irrigation system was installed using canals that irrigate farmlands. Mexican families who returned to the country invested in nurseries and greenhouses, and with drip irrigation, they began to grow lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, squash, cauliflower, and tomatoes. This has greatly improved the region's economy.

The small industry was gradually growing...
Sisters María Luisa and Mary, having visited the Hñahñu communities and realizing that women's need was to have their own income, encouraged them to diversify their products. The sisters shared their learning on making blouses, children's dresses, skirts, shirts, bags, purses, etc., with the women. Additionally, with the financial support of the Hilton Foundation and Christus Health, the sisters managed to buy sewing machines, chairs, and tables that are of great use to the entire community.

Looking to the Future
To this day, the project remains strong in both locations, Tampamolón and Chilcuautla. Once a year, the sisters return to the Huasteca, and there they meet with the coordinators, and everyone is trained in new models. This way, the sisters continue to support and accompany the 6 groups of women in that community.

In addition to accompanying the artisan women, Sisters María Luisa and Mary also participate with the entire local faith community in four areas of social pastoral care: labor, penitentiary, social commitment, and ecological. In 2022, they obtained funds from the Hilton Foundation to support 36 families in the conservation of maguey, a very important plant for their daily work. To protect the maguey plants from animals, the foundation supported with 74 rolls of cyclonic mesh, each roll being 50 meters long. With this help, families can continue working with maguey fiber and preserve the use of the Waist Loom, an ancestral technique with which they make the ayate and other artisanal garments.

Contemplating the passion and commitment of our sisters in their accompaniment of women, I experience a deep sense of pride in what our Congregation is achieving through Mary and María Luisa. Their unwavering faith, generosity, and dedication embody the spirit of the Gospel. Our beloved María Luisa and Mary are not only alleviating social challenges in two indigenous communities but are also cultivating transformative change that enriches society as a whole. Their ministry is an inspiration; a testimony to the power of love, creativity, and solidarity.

Written by Sister Miriam Banon CCVI

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