Our Story

About Us

UPAVIM is a 75+ member cooperative association, with more than 70 members working as seamstresses and making handicrafts. UPAVIM also provides employment for the women of the community as teachers, administrators, cooks, cleaners, secretaries, accountants, nurses, and bakers. Our online store, UPAVIM Crafts is the heart of UPAVIM. UPAVIM Crafts exports beautiful fair trade gifts and crafts around the world and financially supports the Children’s Center and K-6 Montessori School.

 

UPAVIM has also founded and supported several local projects and services for the community of La Esperanza, Guatemala, listed below. These programs provide services not only to our women, but to thousands of people in La Esperanza and other nearby communities. Some programs are free and the rest charge a low price. These programs are supported by fees, craft sales, other income generating projects we have started, as well as international donations and grants. ​

What does “empowering women” mean for UPAVIM?

It means offering the women of La Esperanza and surrounding communities:

Innovation

A space to be creative, innovative, and in charge.

Collaboration

A community that fosters positive collaboration with other women.

Protection

A safe work environment with a secure income.

Our Beginning 

Over time, UPAVIM began building a residence to house a dental and medical clinic, laboratory, pharmacy, day care and preschool, K-6 Montessori School, an English program, a crafts workshop, and a library. These programs have provided services not only to our women, but to thousands of people in La Esperanza and other nearby communities. Our projects are supported by a nominal fees, craft sales, international donations, grants, and other income generating projects.

Despite the progress, La Esperanza continues to suffer from many of the social problems that characterize marginalized populations, including: gang and domestic violence, illiteracy, unemployment, alcoholism, and malnutrition. Depression, fear, and apathy pervade La Esperanza's community. Many families have disintegrated. Many mothers are the sole providers for their families. Often, children are left without a lasting positive male presence. Lack of financial resources, proper supervision, and basic community services stifle the growth and development of our children. We are dedicated to tackling these issues in La Esperanza and instilling hope in the community. We accomplish this by providing employment opportunities for women, health and educational services, and more.

In 1989, UPAVIM founder Barb Lorraine and a group of Guatemalan women began a baby-weighing program to address infant malnutrition in La Esperanza called the Growth Monitoring Program. The program's findings made it clear that there was an imperative need for women to earn money in order to feed their families. Soon after, a handicraft-making project was launched. The craft program sought to generate sustainable and independent sources of income for the Guatemalan women, as well as provide a financial base for the development of other programs. The craft program eventually grew into what is now UPAVIM Crafts, a business that sells a huge variety of Fair Trade handcrafted goods to national and international markets. 

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Creating Hope

Before UPAVIM, La Esperanza was made up of shacks constructed out of tin, plastic, wood, and cardboard and earthen floors. There was no sewage system, electricity, or potable water and the roads were dirt tracks. People had to walk a mile to get water. Since then, La Esperanza has transformed into a viable community with cement block houses, water, underground sewage pipes, tar roads, buses and other basic services. These improvements were carried out by the active participation of the community and with support from international organizations such as UNICEF.