As the nonprofit group Mujeres de Maiz prepares for its eighth annual fundraising dinner and auction on Nov. 2, it can look back on a year of successes in helping indigenous Mayan women become more educated, healthy and self-sufficient. In 1995, Judith Pasco, a former Sequim High School Spanish teacher, told a group of friends about a weaving/sewing cooperative of women in the Mexican state of Chiapas and the Sequimites decided to raise funds to benefit them through scholarships, focusing on education and marketing their goods. From a budget of $3,000 in 2005, support has risen to about $30,000 today.
“We provide access to education to impoverished women and girls which mainly takes the form of scholarships,” Pasco said. “This year we have 17 women in school with scholarships. They’re from the sixth grade to university level and two graduated from university this year. The women come from 10-12 communities to San Cristobál de Las Casas.”
The women speak several different dialects of the Mayan language and learn Spanish as a second language.
“At bimonthly workshops the women work on their designs and marketing and receive lectures on alcoholism, domestic violence, health and hygiene,” Pasco said. “Everyone from babies to grandmothers wear the beautiful embroidered shawls they make.”
In 2005, Mujeres de Maiz (Women of the Corn) awarded its first scholarship and became a nonprofit.
“Then it took on a life of its own!” Pasco said.
The highlight of the year was purchasing outright a house in San Cristobál for the workshops and classes with six rooms, a kitchen and dining room. Other accomplishments include winning a $2,600 grant from Brigham Young University’s Hunger Banquet event; funding two eco-friendly latrines; clearing $1,400 in the group’s Sequim garage sale; providing eye exams and glasses for 13 young women; and having the cooperative’s goods featured for a fifth year in the Alternative Gifts International catalog.
“Two scholarship recipients in one village set up a children’s program to keep them in primary school, so now there are three, two of which are in their fourth year,” Pasco said. “Another one started an adult literacy class, now with 27 women.”
This year’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 2, moves to a new venue, the Masonic Lodge at 700 S. Fifth Ave., Sequim. The menu features a vegetarian chile relleno casserole (stuffed peppers), salad, beans, dessert and wine and beer. A $20 donation is suggested at the door. Pasco said more than 100 usually attend, which enables the group to raise about $7,000 for its projects.
“The auction is incredible — about 80-90 items of the women’s weaving and handicrafts will be up for silent bid plus jewelry, a handmade drum and purses. If you’re Christmas shopping, there’s no auction like ours,” Pasco said.
She added that Mujeres de Maiz also has tremendous support from the Sequim business community, as well as service clubs and churches.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Pasco concluded.