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Whitman students aid women weavers in Guatemala

February 03, 2010

Amy Schmitz
(315) 443-3834

Members of the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) organization in the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University traveled last month to Chumanzana, Guatemala, a community of extreme poverty, to help build and create a successful thread supply store. Called Threads of Hope, the project is intended to create sustainable incomes for Chumanzana women, who supplement the community’s primary industry of agriculture with weaving.

Ninety percent of the people in Chumanzana are illiterate, and many Chumanzana children do not attend school; Threads of Hope is therefore seen as a vital aid in economic development.

The new local store will cut time and travel expenses for the women weavers. It used to take half a day to travel to Guatemala City to purchase the thread needed for their weaving products. Now, with Threads of Hope, the women have their supplies right in their own community. To further ensure the success of the store, the SIFE team worked with the local women to develop sound business strategies, educating them about retail principles and store ownership, and empowering them to run the local store independently. The SIFE members continue to work with the women remotely on a weekly basis to assist with the store’s progress.

The ambitious group who made this all possible, La Associsiacion de Mujeres Chiguila, consists of eight Chumanzana women who are determined to provide a better life for their children through fostering business ideas and developments of weaving. Currently, this group has an international market through Fair Trade Marketplace in DeWitt. They are also beginning expansion to the SU Bookstore, through cooperation with the SIFE Guatemala project.

In addition to the 950 weavers in Chumanzana, the thread supply store will serve the 23,000 other weavers within a four-mile radius of the community, generating greater potential for profit. Students who traveled to the small village, including Whitman junior Sierra Fogal and senior Kelly Fisher, learned that entrepreneurial spirit exists in impoverished areas such as Chumanzana but the women there lacked the business skills and resources to make their idea a reality.

“We didn’t go to Guatemala and put the idea for this store in their heads; we didn’t make the dream for them,” Fogal says. “They had the dream, and we had the resources. And we were able to help guide them in how to run the store independently.”

“The most important thing was giving them the confidence to run a successful business,” Fisher says. “After teaching them sound retail principles, I left there fully believing that these women can succeed, and their success will have an impact on the economic development of the whole community.”

Founded in 1975, SIFE is a global nonprofit organization that helps students develop communication skills through learning, practicing and teaching the principles of free enterprise on their campuses, in their communities and beyond. SIFE also emphasizes teamwork, leadership and community outreach. With more than 1,600 participating colleges and universities in 40 countries and territories, SIFE is one of the largest university-based organizations in the world.

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