Empowering women through woodworking in Guatemala.
Why do you teach girls carpentry? Are there any jobs for women carpenters in Guatemala? Is there a market for the things you are making? Are they capable of doing this on their own? What happens one day if you are gone?
Many people are surprised when they learn that vocational training programs, which include information technology, woodworking, pre-engineering and culinary arts, places an emphasis on having girls in our woodworking class. So I thought I would take some time to explain what we teach and why
First of all, we don’t teach carpentry. Carpentry is building houses, framing and decking. Little of which would apply to our students here as the materials used in the construction of houses in most developing countries is cinder block and cement.
Second, what we teach is woodworking, the art of working with wood, understanding it, designing with it, and working through the creation process to produce a product.
Third, what we do is as much about the process as the product. For children who are orphaned, have been abused, or experienced profound childhood trauma, lack of self-esteem is especially common. Fear is one of the root causes of a lack of self-esteem, fear of failure, fear of the ability to do, to accomplish, or to even try. They often believe that there is something innately wrong with themselves. When they make mistakes, they can feel stupid or insufficient and worry what others will think of them. This only serves to reinforce their own feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, undeserving or unlovable.
We have seen our program help to overcome those things. The pen they make is more than a pen, it’s a healing process, a process they control, a process they own, a process that produces something people value.
When someone comes in and sees a 14 year old girl working on a lathe, tearing into a piece of wood to turn it from a square block, to a beautiful pen or bracelet, when they see them using a machine that they themselves don’t know how to use, it elevates them. When that girl produces a quality product, one that people see value in, and are willing to purchase, they start to see value in themselves. All of those give a boost to their soul, raise their spirit, and, little by little, help build their self-esteem.
Fourth, work ethic, it’s not just about doing a job, it’s about doing it well. We believe that the work we do, can, in and of itself, be worship to God. We want the works of our hands to be acceptable in God’s sight. We want whatever we do to be done for Him, for His glory, and to honor Him. In our workshop we focus on quality of the work and the pursuit of excellence. If something is not the best possible quality, we don’t sell it. By raising the bar and expecting quality work from the students we empower them to do it, and they do.
Fifth, confidence, though they may not make pens, bracelets or Christmas ornaments for the rest of their life, they have learned that they can learn. They have learned to use power tools, lathes, miter saws, sanders and a cnc shopbot router. We have opened their minds to a bigger, greater world of possibilities then they ever knew was possible. We have shown them that if they can learn this, they can learn so much more.
Sixth, business skills, in our program they learn what it is to run your own micro-business. They learn about costing, sales, materials and more. They get to earn their own money, spend some on what they want while saving the rest of it in their bank account. They learn about banking. It’s hard to teach someone the value of money and how to manage it, if they don’t have any money to manage. The value of this in their life cannot be understated and it is something that few children in orphanages are able to experience.
Seventh, relationships, working with them in the shop gives us the opportunity to build relationships with them, to love and care for them on a consistent basis as the years go by. Yes, as missionaries our primary calling is to make disciples of all nations, but being obedient to our Biblical calling to serve the orphaned and vulnerable requires a holistic process that meets both their spiritual and physical life. It requires ministering to their soul to prepare them to lead Godly lives, and meeting the needs of their mind and body to prepare them to live a productive life that utilizes the gifts and talents that God has given them.
So, yes it’s about making pens, but it’s about so much more than just making pens.
It’s about empowering girls who live in a society dominated by machismo. It’s about showing them what they are capable of. It’s about helping them realize their full potential. It’s about showing them that they have value, not just as a wife or mother but as smart intelligent human beings who can think, dream, design, produce and create value. It’s a step in helping them understand that they are the daughters of God.
It might not be the most traditional way of teaching these things, but we have found that it works.