From the Rancheritas' new post card, above and below:
Las Rancheritas: Women Empowered
by Victoria Challancin
There are days, people, and occasions that touch the heart in indelible ways--poignant, illusive, and ineffably pure and true. A simple luncheon on a Mexican ranch last Thursday touched me in all these ways and more. To see what can be done by motivated women, living in rural poverty, with a little help, training, and a few basic tools, is awe-inspiring. Truly awe-inspiring. And deeply humbling.
I gratefully experienced all of this when I attended a fund-raising luncheon hosted by Mujeres en Cambio, a "non-profit, all-volunteer, grass-roots organization committed to enhancing the lives of women living in the rural communities surrounding San Miguel de Allende." To accomplish this, the group raises funds via donations and fund-raising events such as this one. Over 98% of the money goes to scholarships for rural girls (we give out 150 a year, 38 of which are now in university, having been with us since junior high school), with the remainder used to help projects such as The Rug Hookers of Agustin Gonzales, who have bonded together to form a co-op to sell their handicrafts.
For over seventeen years, I have worked with this group, specifically in the scholarship program, which, as a former teacher, is particularly dear to my heart. But Mujeres en Cambio has another prong that is equally important, one that supports women with projects that will economically enhance their lives. In this case it is the rug-hookers of the rural community of Agustin Gonzales.
Charlotte Bell, friend and fellow volunteer in Mujeres en Cambio, is a photo journalist who donates her time to be the marketing consultant and more to the women's craft cooperative. With help from fellow members and friends, she tirelessly brings down wool, mainly in the form of clothing, from Canada and the U.S. for the women to use in their rugs. This is from Charlotte's blog:
In the small village of Agustin Gonzales, located in the central Mexican highlands near San Miguel de Allende, 20 people spend what little free time they have hooking rugs. You will find them working late at night by kitchen tables after children are asleep or perhaps you will see them sitting under a tree on the hillside tending the cows and working on their rugs.
Their subject matter is the life around them: mountains, cactus, cows, horses, burros, flowers, a small house, a church, ducks, rabbits, chickens, roosters or fish.
The people of the area are subsistence farmers who grow corn, beans, and squash. The proceeds from selling these art pieces help with paying for additional food, children's schooling, doctor visits, and other family needs. Many of the women are the sole support of their families.
Each art piece is entirely unique as is the skill of rug hooking in Mexico.
Thursday marked the inaugural opening of the Rug Hookers Store, which they built using their proceeds and a bit of extra money from Mujeres en Cambio.
Luncheon guests shopping in the new store
Details of an embroidered tablecloth
Papel chino, blowing in the wind
Details of a rug
An embroidery of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Patron Saint of Mexico
Rug Detail that says "My daughters and I don't understand Spanish."
Napkin Rings made with brass wire and agate found on the land
The women of the village were positively beaming with the excitement of seeing their efforts rewarded. Most of them wore brightly embroidered tortilla cloths intended to keep tortillas warm, an essential in every Mexican home and in my own, instead of aprons. The embroidery and crochet work is an example of their skills.
The incredible, dedicated Charlotte Bell, with two of the the women, one holding a shawl for sale that she crocheted by hand
Bonifacia Tovar, the Queen and Matriarch of the group
This group came together mainly through the efforts of Bonifacia Tovar, the matriarch of the group. For years and years, when Boni attended our fund-raising luncheons, I was seated next to her because I could chat with her in Spanish and help her feel at ease in the sea of Gringas that could have been overwhelming to a lesser woman. Once, when I served as auctioneer at a luncheon, I handed Boni a check for U.S. $250.00 for her absent daughter's rug that we sold. With tears in her eyes, she said, "Never in this life did I imagine that a child of mine could earn so much money with her hands." Need I mention that Boni wasn't the only one with tears?
Boni keeps the books, though she only has a fourth-grade education, and her husband did all of the metal-work for the store. And she has spearheaded the efforts to bring the idea of a store to fruition. And most excitingly of all, Boni, who has never traveled far from her village, will be attending with Charlotte a Crafts Convention in the United States next year!
An example of the bios provided on the members of the co-op. Note that her mother, who has no education, speaks the native Otomí language
The Mujeres en Cambio banner
The women, preparing for the luncheon
Drop by in a few days to see Part II, which will feature the food !
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
Please ask permission before using photos. Thanks!