"I have a personal dream of making my textiles known around the world. I also want my daughter to learn how to weave so that our Mayan handloom techniques are preserved."
"I'm Alejandra Micaela Ujpan and I was born near Lake Atitlan. When I was 15, I began helping my father promote handicrafts. He sold candles in towns around the lake, where you can see thousands of handwoven textiles. At that time, there weren't many shoppers, but the few we had were big fans of Maya fabrics. I mentioned to my family that I wanted to learn. My mother and my grandmother began teaching me to weave.
"My grandmother taught me how to approach people and offer my work for sale. At that time, I was unable to stay in school and began working cleaning people's homes. It was a difficult period because my family couldn't afford to help me continue my education. But this didn't stop me. In fact, it gave me strength to move forward and I learned more and different skills.
"Years later, I worked on a radio station that help defend Maya people who were marginalized. My program educated first time mothers and taught women's rights. People at the station saw my desire to learn more and I received training to continue.
"Unfortunately, not everything was going well. During Guatemala's armed conflict, when government forces learned how our radio program was empowering rural Mayan people, they wanted to take some of us as hostages. I was able to avoid being kidnapped one afternoon, thank God. But the threats continued and I voluntarily turned myself over to the army, where I was held for nine months. During that time, I cooked for military personnel. Despite the circumstances, I was grateful because no one harmed and they even gave me the chance to learn new homemaking skills.
"To pay for my release, my father had to sell a piece of land. It was a very tough time but, fortunately, I was surrounded by supportive people who were always at my side. Through it all, I could see the hand of God in my life and he never abandoned me.
"Today, I'm very happy. I found love and we married in 1986. We have four children. My husband has been very supportive of everything I do.
"A few years ago, my husband and I had a small inn where visitors to our village could spend the night. Unfortunately, a storm leveled it. Hard rains destroyed most of the building and we couldn't recover anything. We didn't give up and we've continued forward as a strong and united family that overcomes all adversities.
"I have a personal dream of making my textiles known around the world. I also want my daughter to learn how to weave so that our Maya handloom techniques are preserved."