It’s not often that a person can directly impact those living more than 2,700 miles away from them. But, when Vermillionites shop at the downtown store Sharing the Dream, they are doing just that, helping to sustain and enrich the lives of people living in Guatemala.
That was the message shared by Lauren Vaske, the Guatemala-based director of Sharing the Dream, when she recently visited the Vermillion and Sioux Falls-based Sharing the Dream stores.
“We really are making a huge difference in the lives of people,” said Vaske. “We work with 20 different groups of artisans in Guatemala. I’ve met many of the artisans. One woman, a weaver, for example, has six children. Her husband is a farmer, but is struggling to make ends meet. Through her weaving, she has been able to make enough money to put her children through school.”
It is for families like this that Sharing the Dream in Guatemala exists, said Vaske.
Sharing the Dream began in 1996 to promote fair trade by providing reasonable wages and employment opportunities to low-income artisans in the Central American country of Guatemala. Today, the organization works with more than 20 cooperatives and small artisan businesses there that use traditional Maya techniques to create unique, handmade products, which are sold in the Vermillion and Sioux Falls stores and online.
In addition to providing a market for the products, Sharing the Dream in Guatemala also promotes artisan development through workshops and educational programs, provides scholarships for elementary, middle, and high school students in Guatemala, funds and runs an elder center there, and coordinates volunteer trips to Guatemala to complete a variety of projects.
Vaske, who was raised in Minnesota, has lived in Guatemala for seven years. She has been the Guatemala-based coordinator for Sharing for the Dream since 2016.
“I love it in Guatemala,” she admits. “The people are so polite and gracious. The beauty of the land is unparalleled. I have fallen in love with the country, and that’s why I continue to live and work there.”
But, the people of Guatemala are facing hard times currently. Food shortages and gang violence are plaguing the country, she said, which is fueling the exodus of Guatemalans out of the country and northward, toward the United States.
“They are all just searching for a better life,” she said. “They are trying to escape the gang violence that is plaguing the cities. And in the country, as the climate becomes more extreme, the farmers are struggling to raise crops. In fact, in the eastern quarter of Guatemala, it hasn’t rained for three years so the farmers are having a terrible time.”
Vaske can’t emphasize enough the positive impact Vermillionites have on the people of Guatemala when they shop at Sharing the Dream.
“I really do want people to know that when they purchase a product from Sharing the Dream, they are making an impact on an artisan,” Vaske said. “It’s so important!”
Vaske’s immediate goals for Sharing the Dream are to grow the online presence and market for the organization, to reach out beyond the Vermillion and Sioux Falls markets. In Guatemala, the organization is also working on building a new elder center, where they will continue to provide a hot meal and fellowship for elders in Guatemala three times per week.
Visit www.sharingthedream.org for more information about the organization.