Why We Go: Ambassador Lisa Foster reflects on her journey to Guatemala
At Noonday Collection, one of our favorite things is witnessing the connections that form between women from different parts of the world when they realize that no matter where they’re from, they aren’t so different after all. This summer we took three groups of Ambassadors on trips to meet our artisan partners in Guatemala and Rwanda to find those moments of connection. Lisa Foster, a Noonday Collection Ambassador from Hudson, Ohio, had the chance to travel to Guatemala in June. We asked her to share some of her experiences and how this trip has changed the way she thinks about her Noonday business.
So Lisa, tell us about your Noonday journey. When did you become an Ambassador?
I became an Ambassador in November 2011. I was one of the first ten Ambassadors, although I didn’t know that at the time! I had been interested in Fair Trade and social justice and considered opening a Fair Trade coffee shop, but the time commitment was too great. So when I found out about Noonday and how I could advocate for the poor just by sharing beautiful jewelry with people in my community, I jumped at the opportunity!
When my grandparents immigrated to this country with their children in the early 1950’s there was opportunity here; even if, as in my grandmother’s case, it was working 10 hours a day, six days a week in a NY sweatshop as a seamstress. So the stories of our Artisan partners resonate with me. I know firsthand the difference work can make to a family—I was the first in my family to go to college.
We’ve heard you have some interesting hobbies—how does being a Noonday Ambassador fit in with your busy life?
I wear a lot of different hats: mom, potter, beekeeper, wife, Noonday Ambassador, and more. So I love that Noonday fits with my passions and allows me to pursue other things I love, too.
For example, right now I’m working on making little Himalayan salt bowls, harvesting honey and canning (jars of kimchi and half sour pickles), and planning an adoption fundraiser with Noonday. I love that I can be advocating for Fair Trade and be part of the network of Noonday. It makes me feel that I have a part to play in the impact Noonday is making across the globe.
What were your thoughts as you prepared to travel to Guatemala?
The news of trains that had carried illegal immigrants, children as young as three, into the U.S. from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala was still in the forefront of my mind during our Ambassador trip. In fact, I had conversations with the other Ambassadors about this on our bus ride through the Western Highlands. We wondered about what would happen to those children and imagined how difficult it must be for a parent to make the choice to send their child away.
For me, knowing that we are part of a good work in Guatemala is really meaningful. Our work is helping parents to dream, to send their children to school, to have opportunity in their country for steady and well-paying work. It’s helping make sure we hear fewer and fewer stories like this going forward.
For some Ambassadors, taking a trip like this was a stretch, but I know each one of them felt the same as I did—that it was completely worth jumping through a few hurdles to have this experience!
How did speaking with some of these Artisans face-to-face change the way you tell their stories?
Meeting the women in Guatemala who create some of our pieces has helped me share their stories so much more effectively at Trunk Shows. I always loved being able to share the stories behind our pieces at my Trunk Shows, but now the stories that I share are a part of my heart and my own personal story. I feel so grateful to be able to continue building on the stories I can share with my customers because I have witnessed what Noonday is doing in Guatemala. Also, seeing how the pieces are made has helped me share the real value of all the pieces we sell. They are handmade in every sense of the word!
We’re always amazed at how much talent goes into each piece! What was it like seeing the products being created?
We were able to spend time with four different groups of Artisans with whom Noonday partners in Guatemala. This gave us a great look at how all of the different pieces are made. The first two were the beading groups. Seeing the level of intricate handwork involved in each piece and experiencing their focus was amazing. I think my favorite part was seeing their expressions when they were given a Noonday Lookbook and saw how their work was highlighted. Every one of us had tears listening to their stories and what this work meant to them.
Sounds like an amazing moment! Did any of the stories you heard particularly connect with you?
I sat with sisters Andrea and Rosario to learn how to make the Galaxy Wrap Bracelet, a Noonday favorite. With my very rusty Spanish, I was able to find out that Rosario was a single mom who was able to leave her abusive husband who had a drinking problem. Her sister Andrea explained that many women are struggling with this, but that it was the work Noonday has provided that has helped her sister support herself and her young son.
Then when we went to San Juan del Lago Atitlan to visit the weaving groups Noonday works with and I had a similar experience with a woman named Concepcion. We bonded by sharing stories of our children. We are close in age and have similarly aged children as well. Her husband harvests coffee, but they could not afford to send their four children to school. Now, because of Concepcion’s steady work with the weaving group, all of her kids are in school and her oldest daughter dreams of being a doctor. Knowing that dreams like this are possible helps propel me to make the phone calls to ask women to host shows—the most challenging part of this job—because I want to involve others in providing work for these Artisans!
What was it like getting to meet other Ambassadors from across the country?
It was an awesome bonding experience for all of us—we changed up our roommates at each opportunity and got to know each other so well. What a blessing to have this amazing sisterhood! To other Ambassadors, I would say: If you have the opportunity to have this experience, don’t hesitate—make it happen. Linking arms with other Ambassadors and our Artisan partners within their communities and sharing a common vision will expand you in so many ways.
Any advice for women going on future Ambassador trips?
Make the most of your trip! Spend some time researching the area before you go. I had done some research, but had no idea that many of the Artisans don’t speak Spanish—there are well over 20 indigenous languages in Guatemala! But practicing Spanish does really help in any event. Make sure you bring a journal to take notes so you can remember each face when you look at your pictures later. Oh, and bring an extra duffle in your suitcase that you can fill with your purchases—in my case, lots of coffee!
Last but not least, what are your favorite pieces from the Fall line?
Thanks for taking the time to share your about your heart for the poor and your Guatemalan adventures, Lisa. If you want to take a trip to visit some of our talented Artisan partners, consider becoming a Noonday Ambassador in your community!