Maria Isabel Ramos - Natural and recycled hand-woven accessories
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"People see me picking up wrappers in the street and they ask what I want that 'garbage' for. I tell them it isn't garbage, it's my prime material and let them see my bag."
"I was born in a village in Chiquimula, Guatemala. My mother was a homemaker, my father a bricklayer, and I'm the eldest daughter. I am forever thankful to my parents for the way they brought us up: always with love, they taught us good values, they sent us to school and always gave us what they could.
"Unfortunately, when I was 10 years old my mother contracted a chronic illness and I had to take over looking after the house and my siblings. I still do, because given our economic situation mom has not been able to get any better. I have seen three of my siblings die from malnutrition, illness, and lack of resources to buy medication.
"We always lived with financial constraints, below the minimum standard which meant we didn’t even have much for food. That’s why I grew up a vegetarian, not as a personal choice, but because the situation forced us to. I remember when my 15th birthday was coming and as a quinceañera I really didn't care for a party or a dress, like custom dictates. All I wanted was a pair of shoes because I had never had one.
"I got married when I was 15 years old and now I have four beautiful children. Thanks be to God, my husband let me continue going to school. When we married we moved to one of the poorest municipalities in the country, where we still live and I work as a teacher.
"In 2008 I began an undergrad course in pedagogy, specializing in environmental education. This has opened the doors for me to learn, and to teach, about recycling solid waste. Along with some students, we decided to research some techniques and got very interested in weaving potato chip packages, so we began to work on this project.
"However, since they worked during the day, most of them began deserting little by little. That's when I decided to form a group in the village where I live. I've been offering environmental education to a group of women, most of them homemakers, who seem excited about learning this technique.
"We decided to call our group 'Enchanted Wings' because we want to fly, improve, and charm clients with our products and history. Other than designing and crafting, I also do the quality checks of the products by other women.
"The first item I ever did was my own bag, which I've shown with pride morning, noon and night, winter or fall. I still use it – I keep as my first and most valuable work. It has some imperfections, after all it was the first one I ever did, but I look after it and use it with pride.
"People see me picking up wrappers in the street and they ask what I want that 'garbage' for. I tell them it isn't garbage, it's my prime material and let them see my bag. They immediately like it and that's how I've received many orders for more!
"I love my craft and its inspiring to see the quantity of material that can be recycled. There are many families in need in my community, and female unemployment is 90%, and yet there is a general desire to get ahead and improve our quality of life.
"That's why I got together with other women from my village and venture into the design of items woven with palm leaves. It is still a big part of my focus on recycling and eco-friendly products since palm is a natural and sustainable material. Weaving boxes and other items has been a challenge for me since it requires different weaving techniques and materials and that's always complicated. However, in as much as it is a project that helps many women improve their income, it has been a success.
"I have lived from love, and thanks be to God, having no food to eat or clothes to change into, not looking or feeling good, has helped me appreciate what I now have. My dream is for my children to grow up in a totally different situation from the one I grew up in, without forgetting the love. I would also like to see people in my community, especially women, have jobs with a proper salary.
"I would like our group to become a source of pride for my country, and invite all those who are interested in environmental education and recycling to join us. And, lastly, I would like to see an end to talks about mortality and malnutrition, and instead hear talk about education and productivity.
"One day, when I was walking with my family in a tourist area, my youngest daughter who was 2 years old at the time, leaned down to pick up an empty pocket she saw on the floor, but she fell over. A lady who saw it all asked me why would such a girl so small want to pick it up? I showed her my bag and explained to her what I did, and she was so impressed she placed an order for two bags right there and then!
"When we heard that Novica was coming to Guatemala we got really excited, and now we feel our dreams may possibly come true. That's why I would like to thank Novica clients for their purchase on behalf of Enchanted Wings. With your purchase you are contributing to decrease environmental pollution while at the same time you’ll be helping to generate more employment for women in marginalized areas and in condition of extreme poverty. They will have money to improve the quality of life of their surroundings, as well as contribute to the upkeep of their families in terms of food, health and education."
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