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Travels to Guatemala: “We Don’t See Strangers—We See Ourselves”

Alexandra “Alex” Gray is a wife and stay-at-home mom of two young boys in southwest Kansas. She has been a Noonday Collection Ambassador  for almost three years and loves how her job allows her to escape domestic duties, meet new people, and, most importantly, make a lasting impact in the lives of vulnerable people. Today on Flourish, Alex shares about her recent Ambassador Trip to Guatemala, and how the connections she witnessed there helped her see the world as just a little bit smaller.

When reflecting on our recent Ambassador Trip to Guatemala, one phrase from our Ambassador Manifesto keeps repeating in my mind: When we look across the globe, we don’t see strangers—we see ourselves. Never has this thought felt more true, or more real and profound than it does now that I have visited the beautiful people of Guatemala. That phrase has been brought to life for me.

Because when I read it now, I see the faces of women and children working in the market, Artisans creating together in their homes, and business owners dreaming about what the future holds. And in every face and story, I now see myself and how the desires of my heart are so very similar to theirs.

I saw myself in Alicia.

Upon arriving to Santiago, we were warmly greeted by Rosario, one of our Artisan Partners. She and her brother, Alvaro, run a business that produces some of Noonday’s gorgeous beaded jewelry. They provide opportunities for many women to do beadwork at home, giving them the flexibility to tend to their homes and families as they work. Alicia is one of these amazing women, who graciously invited us into her home. As she held her precious newborn daughter, Carmen, she delighted in sharing how her consistent and fair-paid work with Rosario left her without worry as she prepared for the birth of her child.

Not only is Alicia able to focus on her baby, but she can even take maternity leave. And now, her ability to work from home allows her both to care for Carmen and to contribute to her family’s financial stability. As a stay-at-home mom of two young boys, I instantly felt connected to Alicia. The flexibility of my job as a Noonday Ambassador allows me to work from home most of the time while still providing for my babies.

And, because I play my own role in sharing Noonday pieces with communities here in the states, I know how interdependent my work is with the work that Alicia does back in Guatemala. I’ll always need talented Artisans like her to create the exquisite jewelry, and she’ll always need me to share it with folks back home in my own community.

It’s a beautiful system of interactive efforts that brings us together from across the globe.

I saw myself in Cristobal.

When I met Cristobal’s group, I got to watch the fascinating process through which artisans craft beaded pieces by hand. Cristobal shared the heartbreaking story of his childhood and how he lost his mother when he was still in his teens. Although he faced many hardships in his life, he persevered and refused to let adversity keep him from living out his dream. And he’s always encouraging others to do the same. His desire to empower and build leaders in his business is a testament to his inner strength and character. When purchasing a bracelet from him during our visit, I mustered up the courage to tell him that I lost my mom four years ago. Somehow grief has a strange way of fostering connections, because in that moment—without having to say much at all—Cristobal and I became instant friends.

His vulnerability and determination have reminded me that, even though life has its share of painful experiences, no one walks in them alone. And we each always have something priceless to offer our communities. I share Noonday Collection with people partly to honor my mom, who struggled for years as a single mother to make ends meet. Her legacy lives on in me as I use my gifts in whatever way I can to help the oppressed and vulnerable people of our world.

I saw myself in the women of Angelica’s Artisan Business.

After arriving in San Juan la Laguna, we were greeted with kisses by the lovely Angelica, who immediately led us to her own home. As we walked into her backyard, where textiles of all kinds and colors hung on display, we were welcomed by the smiles of family, fellow Artisans, and even adorably sweet children. Later, Angelica told us how her mother—who is still weaving today at 95 years old!—taught her the craft of weaving textiles when she was only seven.

Now Angelica and her mother both work together with many of the elderly women in the community, offering them new and much-needed opportunities to earn an income and provide for their families at home.

When Angelica had finished, she encouraged her team of Artisans to go around and introduce themselves. One woman fought back tears as she revealed how she was grieving the recent death of her son-in-law. It didn’t take long before all the ladies standing with her were wiping their eyes, and we Ambassadors certainly needed a few tissues. You could feel the sorrow in that moment; yet, the sadness was a beautiful picture of the family that this group of ladies had become, even in just a handful of moments.

They share life together—the good and the hard, the joys and the losses. I have no doubt that it’s a sacred thing to behold. I was reminded of all the women in my own life who have walked alongside me during the ups and downs, and I love knowing that our Artisan Partners have community like that as well.

I saw myself in Ana.

Our last Artisan visit was with Ana. While her team of ladies was busily weaving the brightly colored Atitlan Tote, Ana told the inspiring story of how far her business has come throughout its partnership with Noonday. And much of that success has been due to her tenacity and innovative spirit. Ana is always looking for new ways to make her products more desirable in the global marketplace. Developing new dye colors is one project she is currently working on, as she knows they need to offer more variety to meet the demands of current styles and trends.

By continuing her education and earning a Master’s degree, Ana is a true example of someone who goes after her dreams and uses her knowledge to impact the people in her community. She really is an inspiration to me. I thought about how I am actively trying new ways of inviting women in my town and the surrounding areas to play a part in changing the world through their purchasing power and influence. And after meeting these Artisans, I am even more motivated to help them and build up my impact on their businesses’ potential for growth.

Seeing myself as someone who can help.

What a gift it was to connect with Artisans and fellow Ambassadors on this trip. My time in Guatemala will always hold a special place in my heart. When we see ourselves in others, the challenges facing other people cease to become “their problem” and become “our problem.” We can’t do everything on our own, but when we erase the lines that divide us and build bridges instead, we can change the world!