This week, we had six women from Silicon Valley and the Bay area visit our organization to find out more about what we do. They also visited the communities and met with our wonderful artisans. Today was their last day here and we had a panel discussion between the executive women who run companies like Apple, Google, and large law firms and the Mayan artisans we work with. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was not sure if it would be a professional panel where the women would talk to each other about their professional careers or if they would talk about their personal lives.
As the panel began, one of the staff members asked to hear, from both sides, the challenges they have faced as working mothers and how they have overcome them. The first woman to answer was one of the artisans and her answer is one of the best arguments I have ever heard for working mothers and I just had to share it with you all.
In Spanish, she explained that in her culture, her duty as a woman is to be a good mother. But how can she fulfill that responsibility completely if she can’t provide for her children? If she can’t educate them? If she can’t put food on the table? She said it so nonchalantly, as if it is the most basic thing in the world that everyone should understand. And it is. I loved that she said that and I felt so inspired that women here feel that way. Guatemalan women are some of the strongest I have ever met in my life. They are overcoming challenges that women in my generation have never seen. They are breaking thick cultural boundaries and are not apologetic for it.
The American women agreed and followed up with their stories of late-night homework help and early morning parent-teacher conferences. It was great to hear all of their stories, but what stopped everyone in their tracks was the story of one particular indigenous Guatemalan woman. I can’t disclose too much information due to confidentiality by-laws, but the gist is that she had nothing growing up, and in spite of this, has worked extremely hard to provide for her three children. So hard, in fact, that her 16-year-old son is already in medical school.
As she explained that her biggest fear is that her and her husband will not be able to pay for their son’s full education and he will not be able to become a doctor and make a difference in his community, tears ran down her cheeks and the whole office followed. I wish I could share some of the details of her life that built up to these strong emotions by every single woman in the room, and I apologize that I can’t, but I felt it was important to share a little bit of her determination. This woman is truly inspiring and I will never forget her story and willpower.