Maguey baskets and cotton weavings in Central America
"I've become passionate about creating new designs and teaching people who are willing to learn.""I'm Alida Soledad Cruz Mus from San Cristóbal Alta Verapaz. I was born in 1963 and had an unforgettable childhood. I lived with my parents and was a very mischievous little girl. Thos were happy times because my mother didn't work and my father used to take me to the house we have there where I played with the children of the people who helped us and we had fun. I remember once, we took a canvas tarp and, one by one, we slide on it from the top of a hill. We ended up covered with dirt and laughing. My dad almost had a heart attack because he thought we would hurt ourselves. Even so, I didn't worry about the danger.
"When I was older, I came to the capitol to study. I worked in real estate, selling homes and attending classes. I lived in a little apartment with three of my cousins. With the money I earned, I helped my mother with her expenses. Becoming an artist or an artisan never crossed my mind.
"It all started in 2009. There was a big mudslide not far from our town that affected a lot of people in the nearby communities. Because of that, many families relocated to San Cristobal and I started helping as a volunteer.
"It occurred to me that to entertain the ladies so they wouldn't dwell on their losses, I'd teach them to crochet. They didn't like it much and they felt kind of useless even though I took the time to teach them. Later, I visited their communities to see what they usually did, the materials they worked with.
"I noticed that they used maguey fibers, so I started a project and designing maguey crafts that then I could teach them to make to sell. That’s how the Manos a la Obra group started. We got the support of the Agexport and JICA to teach us and they helped us so that they received training on how to weave on a backstrap loom. Today, we have many women who are quite skilled at weaving.
"I've become passionate about creating new designs and teaching people who are willing to learn in order to get ahead. I've come across resistance in my own family because they don't care about learning about my artisans and they don't believe it's possible to get ahead and prosper in our country. However, I love helping and some day, with hard work, I would like our group to grow and be very prosperous.
"My biggest dream is to build my house by myself when I'm older. I dream of a house in the countryside surrounded by fields, groves and animals, and to help my mother so she doesn't have to work. Since my father passed away six years ago, she has had to work very hard to get by.
"The people who know me are amazed by the qualities they've seen grow in me. They congratulate me on this work that helps people who live in extreme poverty. But I see my people as artisans who want to get ahead and have a better future just like I do.
"In my free time, I like to play sports. I do a lot of mountain biking because I love to be in contact with nature and feel the fresh morning air on my skin."