DeWitt woman sows threads of hope abroad

Allison Porzio 06/08/10More articles
Chumanzana, a small town in Guatemala, has a new thread store, employment for local women, and the possibility of a better quality of life.

Maurine McTyre-Watts, proprietor of Fair World Marketplace in Dewitt, is the woman responsible for this accomplishment.

In 2004, McTyre-Watts founded her store with the goal of encouraging social justice and economic independence for disadvantaged people across the globe. Her store sells entirely fair-trade goods, meaning she works directly in partnership with artisans to help them develop a sustainable income. McTyre-Watts and other fair traders strive to move beyond the traditional idea of donating money to those in need. They hope to improve lives.

“To change poverty you really have to address an individual’s ability to care for themselves and to support their own family,” McTyre-Watts said.

Although McTyre-Watts contributes to outreach programs globally, she has made focused efforts in Guatemala. Her most recent project involved teaming with Syracuse University. In January 2010, she traveled to Chumanzana, Guatemala, with five SU students and an SU professor.

Together the group worked with a group of Mayan women to build a thread store. This July, she will travel to Guatemala with her daughter to check on the success of the women and the store. She will also look for ways to further develop opportunities for the people of Guatemala.

Chumanzana, the site of the thread store, is a major source of interest for McTyre-Watts on the upcoming trip. It has only been six months since she facilitated the establishment of the store, and the enormity of the effort is still forefront in her mind.

“It was very intense,” McTyre-Watts. “We worked on this store from morning until night, late at night when it was dark.”

McTyre-Watts and the SU team brought in thread, display cases, and other materials from towns outside of Chumanzana. In addition to cleaning and painting the store, the Syracuse team needed to teach the local women how to maintain a business.

McTyre-Watts spoke highly of the collaboration with SU.

“Whitman school faculty and staff raised the money for the thread store project,” she said. “I brought the women’s dream of a store to [their] attention and they took the project on.”

In addition to the thread store project, McTyre-Watts works with five other artisan groups from villages across Guatemala. During her upcoming trip, she will touch base with other co-op organizations; ideally, she would like to see all co-ops working together.

For McTyre-Watts, the reward is helping those in need. She looks forward to seeing one woman in particular: a Mayan woman who works at a footloom to support her 11 children. Her husband moved to Guatemala City to find work, and he lacks the funds to visit frequently.

“They are really struggling,” McTyre-Watts said of the family. “I’d like to give them enough work so that he can come back home.”

Unfortunately, many of the Guatemalans share similar stories of hardship, which often results in a bond. One group of weavers in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, bonded over unimaginable pain and loss.

“The women are all survivors from the civil war, so everyone in the group has lost a family member to the war either a husband a son or a brother,” McTyre-Watts said.

The weaving group formed in an attempt to support each other in a time of economic and emotional trauma.

As a goal for her trip this July, McTyre-Watts plans to collect and publish the stories of the men and women artisans from Guatemala on the Fair World Marketplace website: fairworldmarketplace.com.

Her trip will also result in the development of new products to suit the constantly changing American marketplace. A large role of fair traders is to show artisans from other countries the type of product that will sell in the United States. This is no small task, considering the minute budget of the workers.

“The other part of fair trade is that [the artisans] don’t go into debt,” McTyre-Watts said. “So you’ll have a lot of things that are made out of recycled materials.”

Among other products at Fair World Marketplace, one can find a purse made in El Salvador from recycled tires and inner tubes, wall art made in Haiti from recycled oil drums, and a picture made in India from recycled bike chains.

People in Central New York can contribute to the effort by looking for and purchasing fair trade goods at places like Fair World Marketplace.

“I think [Americans] are still learning about it; what it all entails and what it means,” McTyre-Watts said, “but I think the people who have learned about it are very supportive.”

Allison Porzio is a contributing writer for the Eagle Bulletin.

CATEGORY: General Society
TAGS: fair, world, marketplace, dewitt
EDITION: Eagle Bulletin

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