The Birth of the Ruth y Nohemi Cooperative - Reverend Diego's story

What is today the Ruth Y Nohemi cooperative began in 1982 due to the Guatemalan civil war and the armed forces killing many people, especially in the Chichicastenango area. The hamlet in Chontala was bombed leaving 40 people killed. The army filled churches with people and then set them on fire. The people in the area were all poor but after these events they were even poorer. Before 1980, Diego worked with the Methodist church. His church had about 300 members. In 1979 Diego went to go to his church but the military stopped him. He wasn't allowed to return to his church until 1983. He watched the choppers bombing the area including the Hamlet. It was like watching a movie, not something real. But it was real.

In 1983 he had an impulse to go to the church. He found it totally destroyed. He began searching for the people in the area. When he found them, the military was forcing the people to stay in front of the school; they said it was to protect the people but really was to prevent them from doing anything. Diego found a family and asked to speak with them. He asked about other families, and they replied they didn't know of others. Their older son was missing and a younger son was kidnapped by the military. He found the same stories when he spoke with others.

After that encounter he began talking with the people about reconstruction of the church but they needed permission from the Government.

They started gathering for church under a big tree with everybody coming together. It didn't matter the religion-Methodist, Catholic, Mayan, etc.; everyone came together. Amongst all the people they found they had all the skills needed to be able to reconstruct the church. After a year, a Methodist church (UMC) in the USA heard their story and began to help. The US Methodist church asked them to leave a wall with bullets as a memorial but the local people said no, the reminder was too painful. The new church building was finished in 1985. Most of the people of the church were women and children as the men were either killed, kidnapped or ran away. The older boys had been taken by the military and were never seen again.

One day after their service/celebration, the women approached Diego and asked for corn and beans to feed their children. One woman had 7 children with nothing for them to eat. Diego almost lost faith with all the problems they incurred but they gathered and prayed. Diego went to the Methodist headquarters in Quetzaltenango to talk to others in the church about getting food. They asked what can be done? Can they do work to survive? Diego went to the Hamlet and asked the people. The women said yes, they can do anything if someone helps them get started.

The Cooperative started May 6, 1986. The UMC in the USA donated money and threads, which were shared with the women to begin to make fabrics and products to sell. The women began the cycle of making product, selling the product and buying more thread to make more products. The Government and Tourism Ministry prevented tourists from coming to this area of Chichicastenango. It was hard for the women to sell their products. The children went to the capital to join gangs or to get work. It was destroying the family. Kids met other kids that went ahead of them and got involved in drugs, crime, etc. The young men that went to the capital would come back to Chichi and talk the other young men into coming to the capital. They lied about jobs being available and only wanted them to join the gangs, etc.

Many women approached Diego and asked his advice on how to work with the boys. Diego thought he could do for the boys what his own father did for him: teach the young men how to be tailors. Diego's father taught him when he was 9 years old.

Diego went again to the UMC church in Quetzaltenango and asked for sewing machines. He got 5 machines and began teaching the young men how to sew. They used the weavings from the women. They went to the capital and other groups to sell the products. Many people from the UMC came to visit between 1986 and 1990. They worked this way from 1986 to 1990 but found a problem, many of the children and young men could not read or write. The young men were ashamed to start in 1st grade when they were 12 and they didn't want to miss work. They moved the workshop out of the Chontola hamlet so they could work during the day and then go to night school. Diego felt it was very important that they learn to read and write.

In the beginning they didn't have a place for the workshop. They started in the backyard of Diego's home; he also gave the young men shelter, a job and school. In 1991 a UMC woman came asking about the project that Diego was doing. She asked the young men and Diego what they needed and had a donation for them. She bought some of their products, brought them to the USA and began selling them. Six months later they had enough money to start building the house for the workshop. When building the house, Reverend Diego said that this is a community house, not just yours or mine. They got volunteers to help with the building and here they are today!

Some of the students are now professionals-accountants, mechanics, etc. They help others build houses and support the children of the Chontala hamlet. The Cooperative provides 25 scholarships and has 26 students in middle school. Currently there are 6 young men that take work home. Most of the young men take the work to their homes and work with their families. In this way involves the whole family and it can be thought of as a family workshop. But these are not really workshops properly speaking, because they don't involve people outside the family and they only have a sewing machine. In each case, the sewing machine was provided by the Nohemi & Ruth project

The story of building the houses began in March 1998.

The women said they wanted waterproof roofs (aluminum) so they won't leak in the rain since there were so few men to help with repairs. When Diego saw the houses in which they were living, many of the walls had holes and cracks in them. He then created the "House of the Widows" project to help fix the houses. Another miracle was the UMC in NY came for a visit on the project and they agreed to help. They brought a group of students to help build the houses. The Minister said they had the capacity to build 1 house per year. Diego asked who will be first and who will be last. Diego said, don't worry, let's get started. When the students came they said they could build a house in 5 days. The problem is the ground is not level, it is very sloped and the local people didn't finish getting the ground ready to build so the students helped with that too. When digging the foundation they found some Mayan ruins-pottery that dates back to 700 BC. A group of Catholic nuns came to visit and saw the Mayan pottery. They did a special prayer ceremony, adding corn to the pottery bowls in order to connect the present to the past. In addition, when the Catholics and Mennonites heard of the House of Widows project they also wanted to help. All 16 houses were finished in 2 years!