Education Equals Empowerment

Empowering woman, inspiring change: NGO helps women create self-sustaining businesses

By Caitlan and Luke Smith


The staff of Thirteen Threads poses in their office in Panajachel, Guatemala, where they
work with local Mayan women to help them make a living through traditional crafts.
Below is an example of one of the rugs made by members of Thirteen Threads. The
style isn’t traditional; it’s based on a product-design workshop women attended, but
it’s become a top seller.

For Thirteen Threads, a non-governmental organization based in Panajachel, Guatemala, empowering women is exactly their goal.

Thirteen Threads, or, in Mayan, Oxlajuj B’atz,uses four focus areas to strengthen Mayan women in the surrounding communities.

Health and well-being, small business, democracy and team building, and artisan and product development are the four programs in which Thirteen Threads works.

The headquarters in Panjachel provide office space for its employees, mainly Mayan women, and a store which displays handcrafted artwork by women participating in the organization.

Andrea Branchaud, Director of Development, Monitoring and Evaluation, spoke with us about the importance of empowering women in the community.

By working with 20 groups of women throughout the highland area of Guatemala (the area surrounding Panajachel and Lake Atitlan), Thirteen Threads hopes to show women that they can become leaders within their communities and provide for their families when their husbands cannot.

These 20 groups are self sustaining and receive training workshop seminars through Thirteen Threads in the four areas mentioned previously.

Ana Lucia Chavez, field supervisor, also spoke with us about her dreams of seeing women empowered and successful. As a Maya, she has seen the worst of prejudice and believes it is through organizations such as Thirteen Threads that Mayan women will realize their full potential. She briefly told a story about how her daughter stood up to a school teacher when many would not.

Chavez’s face lit up, and she explained how proud she was to see an attitude of questioning in her daughter, the same attitude that led her to this organization. Chavez sees change happening through grassroots movements and Mayan women becoming self-sufficient. She stated bravely, "I am a Guatemalan, I love my country, but I do not trust it."

Chavez and Branchaud both showed incredible strength in what they hoped to accomplish and believed real change could happen through empowering Mayan women throughout Guatemala.