Blog Archive

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Part I Las Rancheritas: Women Empowered

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.

The Store

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.

Lovingly decorated

 With the help of MEC volunteers, the women also have cards to sell that feature some of their rugs

 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
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!


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

They look so lovely in their lovely embroidered tortilla cloths Victoria! :D

Joan Nova said...

This post literally brought a tear to my eye. Their work is lovely, their pride evident and I want to give everyone associated with the project a big hug.

Hotly Spiced said...

What a wonderful thing to be involved in and how fantastic that you are able to help so many have an education xx

Unknown said...

Great photos of the event. You really captured the mood. Charlotte
check Las Rancheritas blog for more.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this Victoria; and for all the work and time you have contributed to Mujeres en Cambio over the years! Including the lovely photos and writing describing this occasion.
A special Occasion for me to celebrate the success(ongoing) of Mujeres en Cambio and the Hooked Rug project.
Warmly, Georgeann

Eha said...

Yes, I did find it!! You must be so very satisfied to be involved in this project. I look in the eyes of the women who proudly realize that they are accomplishing just a little more in their lives than perchance others they know! That they can show off the surrounds in which they were brought up and the arts and crafts they learned then to a wider world . . .