Santa Cruz la Laguna, a community of entrepreneurship
October 2, 2013 | By Jozlyn Pelk |
Today, I got to check another adventure off my bucket list: riding in a tuktuk. For those who are not familiar with a tuktuk, it is a small three-wheeled vehicle with no doors and has a steering wheel of a motorcycle. This tuktuk took us up an extremely steep, windy hillside to the town of Santa Cruz la Laguna, where we would visit the Centro de Capacitación (CECAP) vocational training center, a project of Lopez Island nonprofit Amigos de Santa Cruz in partnership with the community of Santa Cruz. The jaw-dropping picturesque view of Lake Atitlán, a lake surrounded by three active volcanoes, was in perfect view from the CECAP; not a bad way to start off the day.
The history behind Amigos and the CECAP is fascinating to me. Amigos de Santa Cruz was started 15 years ago as a community initiative to provide classroom materials and healthy nutrition programs to the local primary school. The Santa Cruz community knew the importance of sending their children to school; however once the children were in class, they did not have the adequate resources to learn and were not participating because they were not receiving the appropriate nutrients and food they needed to thrive.
Over the years, the community of Santa Cruz has come together through a committee to address the biggest issues affecting its population including poverty and lack of economic opportunity, alcoholism, early pregnancies and a 60% illiteracy rate. “Due to the participation of the community, we are able to address our communities biggest needs,” shared Rosalía Perez, assistant director of Amigos.
This interest to create opportunities for people and create a self-sustaining community led to the construction of the CECAP in 2010, creating a space for various vocational training programs such as weaving, beading, carpentry, computer literacy, youth leadership and blacksmith workshops. Noé Simón, director of the CECAP, witnessed this incredible collective effort by the people of Santa Cruz, who each, in some way, contributed towards the construction of the building and saw value in having a facility for education and economic opportunity.
Today, Amigos de Santa Cruz has reached more than 1,000 people in Santa Cruz and the surrounding communities of Jaibalito, Tzununá, Tzanjomel, Chuitzanchaj and Pajomel through its four nutrition programs, student scholarships, youth leadership and sexual and reproductive rights workshops, vocational training programs at the CECAP and a model classroom for preschoolers. “Our vision is to better the conditions in Santa Cruz and become a self-sustaining community,” said Noé.
I feel privileged to have met with some of the people of Santa Cruz who are participating in these programs. We visited with women participating in the sowing and weaving program, who were working on the most beautiful traditional garments. We also met with dozens of students working in the carpentry workshop, culinary program, beading workshops and computer training center.
I was inspired by the CECAP’s emphasis on creating economic opportunities for women. Rosalía shared that nearly all of the women I met with in these workshops have become small business owners and are able to generate an income because of their new vocational skills. 90 percent of vocational workers in Santa Cruz have graduated from the help of the Amigos scholarship program.
I had life-changing experience of meeting with a woman who has set an example for others in the community because of her involvement at CECAP. We were welcomed into the humble home of Espiritu Santos Alvarez, a 30-year old woman who has completed two beading workshops at the vocational training center. Espiritu laid out her jewelry portfolio on a table under the shade of the tin roof of her house, which consisted of aqua-colored doorways and windows, an outdoor stove, and a weaving table. Espiritu shared her story of becoming an artisan, and how her time at CECAP has allowed her to earn an income to support her family.
“I have learned to make new things in the workshops… and because of this, now I can be productive,” said Espiritu in her native language of Kaqchikel. “People now have work and I can work too… and I’ve started to sell my crafts.”
90% of people who pass through CECAP’s doors now have access to employment opportunities, whether it is working for a local business or creating a business out of their own homes.
Amigos’ impact in Santa Cruz does not go unnoticed; the entrepreneurial spirit of the community is thriving and women like Espiritu have inspired me to reflect on the importance of women’s economic opportunity in Guatemala and in my own country.