One of the most beautiful things about fair trade is the way it transforms things. It transforms people who are oppressed into people who have opportunities. It transforms beggars into businessmen. It transforms kids on the street into kids in the classroom. And sometimes, with a little creativity, it turns trash into treasure.
Take the humble guitar string. People have been playing guitars (or guitar-like instruments) for over three thousand years, and steel strings have been in use since around 1900. If you’ve ever played a guitar, you know how frequently the strings break and have to be replaced. Have you ever thought about what happens to those strings when they are discarded? Are they recycled, do they end up in a landfill, or what? One Unique Batik artisan group is transforming recycled guitar strings into fun bracelets, bangles, and rings, and in the process, they are creating not just jewelry, but jobs.
Tres Estrellas, located in the Canton Pujujil region on the edge of Lake Atitlán, was founded in 1995 in response to the dire poverty of the people in the region. Or, as co-founder, Juan Par, put it, “so that people would not die of hunger.” The Guatemalan Civil War, which began in 1960, plagued the country for more than thirty years. The Maya people were particularly targeted by government death squads, forced disappearances, and a scorched earth policy. After decades of war and hundreds of thousands of lives lost, it is no surprise that rebuilding has been a long and arduous process.
Many Maya women were left widowed by the war, desperate to find ways to feed and care for their families. Today, most of the young women in the Tres Estrellas artisan group are children of widows. The group is made up of thirteen women, ages 22 – 45 years old. When there is not enough work making jewelry, the women supplement their income making traditional baskets. But because there is so much competition in the basket market, their income from selling baskets is about half of what they can earn making jewelry with the group. Group leader Juan and his wife, Maria, design and develop the products and provide training and technical assistance to the other group members. Juan has been a hard worker since he was a child working in the coffee and cotton fields with his father, and is grateful that this employment has allowed him to provide for his family and educate his eight children.
The biggest challenge for the group is to create enough work for the artisans, who are still struggling to rebuild their lives and their community in the aftermath of such a long and brutal war. With each unique guitar ring and bracelet that they make, they get a little closer to that long awaited dream. We hope that you will love our Unique Batik guitar jewelry not only because it is funky, cool and old-into-new, but because you want to be a part of transforming struggle into success. Together, we can do it – one string at a time.