Panajachel is a vibrant community on the shoes of Lake Atitlan with thousands of tourists from around the world visiting every year. It seems there are as many retirement age tourists as the young college age– all wanting to see and experience this Guatemalan city. It became a popular haven for the hippies in the 1960’s and remnants of that culture is still here in addition to a sizeable populations of expats.
Because of this year round influx of tourists the handcrafts souvenir business is thriving. Small shops and booths line the main street and beach area along with hundreds of adults and children walking the streets trying to cajole tourists into buying something from them. Many of them from the smaller villages come into Pana to try to earn money. The sad part is that a lot of the children are kept out of shcool and sent into Pana with a basket of trinkets or weavings to sell to earn money for the family. I’ve seen children that looked as young as 7 or 8 fending for themselves on the streets and trying to sell handcrafts. I recently saw a boy of about 12 with a baby strapped to his back–obviously babysitting a sibling and selling at the same time.
Handcrafts are cheap in Pana because the artisan is paid so little but few tourists realize this fact. Artisans that make textiles or handcrafts try to sell them in their little villages but when they can’t they bring them to Pana and sell to a big store or to a wholesaler. Usually the artisan makes very little over their costs when they sell this way. Many tourists believe the old saying that ‘they expect you to haggle on the price’ —but I don’t believe it. If I was living in poverty I would not want someone to try to pay me less because I know the money I make today will make a difference in whether my family eats today.
This is where Fair Trade organizations, like Education and More steps in to help the artisan earn a fair wage for their work. We work with the groups in their villages –paying fair wages, giving advance credit, helping with keeping their children in school, helping them retain their culture, dignity and have pride in the work they do.