Aj Quen meaning "weaving together" is an association formed in 1989 to represent 26 producer groups.  Members of the 26 groups are indigenous communities living in the western highlands, comprising about 800 people, of whom 88% are women. This area of the country was subject to particular repression by the army before peace in 1996.  Many of the women are widows from that time, living in very difficult economic conditions.  This is also the area most affected by the 2005 earthquake, when communities lost their houses, possessions, looms and crops.
 

Aj Quen's objectives are:

  • to market products at a fair price in order to improve artisans' conditions

  • to eliminate middlemen from this trade

  • to preserve traditional textile skills

  • to develop independent production

  • to spread understanding and awareness of the culture and situation of craftspeople in Guatemala

 

To meet these objectives Aj Quen are active in three areas:

  • Marketing of handcraft

    Keeping prices competitive and still managing to pay a fair wage is a dilemma faced by most Fair Trade groups and Aj Quen does this by avoiding all waste, buying raw material in bulk and helping weavers to change to more efficient looms.  90% of Aj Quen's sales are in export, and the level improves every year.

  • Micro-credit:  

    When there are no orders for handcraft it is important that the artisans have and alternative means to support themsleves. Funds are made available to artisans who have received training  and typical investments include livestock, small shops and machinery.

  • Training and education:  

    This programme is mainly funded from outside and artisans do courses on a wide range of subjects from legal rights, how to access government help, family planning (average family 6-8 children in a strongly Catholic society), to production and small business skills

 

 ajquen@intelnett.com

 

Image and Text courtesy of Ajquen