When Guatemala City and the town of Totonicapan both wound up our itinerary, several Guatemalans we spoke to wondered aloud: “Now why exactly are you going there again?“
Usual suspects on the Guatemalan tourist trail these places are not. The primary reason for our visit: cooperation with Kiva, an American organization that raises capital for small loans from online lenders. It then disburses the funds to borrowers in the developing world via its partnerships with local microfinance institutions. Individuals lend small amounts (e.g., $25) over the internet, and collectively they help to impact the lives of many. Innovative, and — as Kiva describes it — “person-to-person.” (You can read more about microfinance and how it works here.)
Our contribution was to photograph Kiva borrowers (i.e., individuals who had received small loans). Working with volunteer Kiva Fellows, Andrea and Lori, we got to see first-hand the effect of loans distributed through Kiva's partner microfinance institutions (FAPE and ASDIR in Guatemala City and Totonicapan respectively).
The project took us to villages outside of Totonicapan and a host of areas outside of Guatemala City, including a slum in Villa Nueva. We met a select group of women – and one man – using small loans ($1,000 or less) to build or expand their small businesses. They weaved, sewed, crafted shoes, baked goods, made candles and ran stores. In their homes and workshops, they shared their stories, their lives, and their goals.
Here are just a couple of those stories.
A Weaving Business Inside the Family Home: Totonicapan, Guatemala
The image below captures the interior of a family home outside of Totonicapan in the highlands of Guatemala. The space measures somewhere between 150 and 200 square feet: a TV workspace in one corner, a bed in the other, a small table, and some knick-knacks hung on the wall. A husband and wife and their two children live there. Look closely and you'll notice a large weaving loom – the purchase of which was aided by a Kiva microloan – taking up half the space.
When we visited Juan and his family earlier this year, he had successfully sold his first batch of hand-woven traditional cloth (or traje) at the market.
Candle Workshop Outside Guatemala City
Although only one person received a Kiva loan for the candle workshop above, the entire family benefits. In the shelter of bamboo and corrugated tin, several generations work together cutting string for wicks, dipping them in pots of hot paraffin, and arranging the candles to dry.
After giving us a tour of her candle workshop, the Kiva borrower — a young mother named Magda — proudly showed us the plot of land where her family home would soon be built.
While the photo sets linked below don't offer traditional snapshots of travel in Guatemala, they do provide a glimpse of how people live in small towns and villages. Ultimately, these people hope to support their families, improve their lives, and provide an education for their children.
And after all, isn't that what we're all trying to do?