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New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump

by Creamos
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump
New Lives for 150 Women of the Guatemala City Dump

Living in an area as unstable and tumultuous as the community surrounding the Guatemala City garbage dump inevitably leads to loss for our participants. Since Creamos’ founding, we have sadly witnessed not only significant loss and bereavement, but an absence of the physical space and coping resources to support our grieving participants. This year, Creamos’ emotional support team (called Creamos Voces) identified several women in our program who were resorting to unhealthy habits to reduce the pain of loss. After recognizing this need, the organization developed a culturally appropriate, grief support group for those affected. Group participants were carefully selected and prepped for the dynamics and topics that were going to be covered.

The first few sessions of the group were dedicated to identifying and exploring current coping mechanisms that our participants were using. During these sessions, many participants disclosed engaging in unhealthy habits to reduce the pain of their loss, including substance use, and isolation. Many also noted that they carried profound feelings of guilt, while others expressed feeling as though they were “being punished.”

Although the atmosphere within the grief group was markedly morose and somber at the outset, the group produced some of the most beautiful and positive outcomes we’ve ever seen at Creamos throughout their eight week program. For the first time, our participants were able to validate the pain they had felt as a result of the death of a loved one, some of whom had been carrying this pain for more than ten years. With the guidance of our organization’s psychologist, the women learned about the stages of grief, and strategies for communicating their personal needs, anger and sadness in a way that doesn’t hurt others. As the group progressed, we began to see our participants’ pain shift and allow them to become present and compassionate mothers. We also saw them come to support each other without feeling judged in their own process.

One of the most impactful participants in the grief group was a woman who we’ll call “Momma X”. Although Momma X knew it was the right decision to leave her husband for the safety of her children, she always feared that leaving him would lead to his death due to the severity of his substance abuse. A week before the group started, Momma X’s husband died. She arrived to the first day of the grief group convinced that she was responsible for his death, along with other conflicting emotions. However, throughout the program, she found solace and comfort through the support of her peers. Her feelings of guilt began to morph into feelings of acceptance, and she was able to understand that his death was not tied to anything she did or didn’t do. Ultimately, Momma X stated that the group allowed her to move to a new chapter of her life, and made her feel confident that she had the tools to process future loss.

On the last day of the grief group, participants engaged in a group meditation during which they imagined what type of advice would they give to their future selves. The messages were filled with hope, including “You are going to be okay” and “I am loved and that is enough.”

What we’ve learned through facilitating the pilot grief group is that our women are more resilient than we had ever imagined. Despite the loss that our participants experience, they continue to do the work to make themselves better. They continue to study, to work in jobs that challenge them, and to be the best mothers they can be for their children.

Child Caregivers at work
Child Caregivers at work

Leslie was doing 100 squats like the rest of the exercise class, but she was more tired than most. Throughout the whole class, Leslie was carrying some extra weight - literally. She was exercising while carrying her baby. When Creamos’ exercise program started, women often could not attend class, or had to periodically stop to check on their children in a carriage. As Creamos grew, it became evident that the lack of childcare options for women in our target community was inhibiting women from participating in daily activities and securing employment. Creamos believes that no woman should be discriminated against, or excluded from any area of our programming, for having a child to care for. 

Soon after this realization, Creamos acted swiftly and appointed one of the program participants as Creamos’ first Child Caregiver. The program started with a few toys, a small playpen and three children. Four years later, Creamos’ Child Caregiving Program has contracted three babysitters and serves approximately 40 children a month. Our caregivers vary in experience and skill set, but they have all created their own interpretation of their role to highlight their individual strengths. The Creamos Caregiving team is a group of women who do not get their products highlighted, nor do they get to interact with visitors who sing their praises. However, they are the team who make it possible for so many women to participate in the range of programs and services Creamos has to offer. 

We’d like to take the time to feature and honor this dream team.

Meet Seño Kathi

Kathi has been involved with Creamos indirectly for the past ten years. Her mother Jeannette, was one of the first participants of the organization. From the age of two, Kathi has been attending Safe Passage, and in 2016, Kathi graduated from high school. Upon graduation, Kathi was preparing to attend university, and was looking for a job. She was encouraged to apply for the Child Caregiver position and was contracted immediately after her interview. Kathi is reserved, while having a calming and endearing presence. From the first day Kathi was hired, she has never been late nor missed a day, and is a mature and responsible communicator. There have been certain circumstances in which Kathi has had to come in last minute or perform a task outsider her job description. Kathi always goes above and beyond to be as helpful as she can. Since 2018, Kathi has taken English classes offered in the community. In the beginning of this year, Kathi took it upon herself to start an English club with the older group of children within Creamos’ babysitting program. This initiative embodies what makes Kathi so special. She is humble, never seeks praise, and will always take action when she deems it is for the benefit of those around her. In July 2019, Kathi began attending an intensive 6-month English Course provided by Guatemala’s municipality. She currently works in the morning, and attends class at night. Kathi aspires to use her English to help others in her community and work in a call center. 

Meet Seño Heidy

Heidy’s story is one of irony.  In 2018, Heidy was having behavioral issues in school. Her family was concerned, as she was at risk of getting kicked out of school for her conduct and poor grades. During her summer vacation, Heidy’s mother, Mirna, who is a founding member of Creamos, asked if as a punishment, Heidy could volunteer in our child caregiver program. Heidy was interviewed, and Creamos decided to grant her a trial period for a month. After the first week, Heidy’s whole demeanor had changed. She came into work with a huge smile, was friendly with everyone, punctual and slowly brought toys from home for the children. When she would arrive, children would run across the building into her arms screaming “Seño Heidy!!!” Mothers in the community began to hear about Heidy’s way with children, and hired Heidy to babysit for them on the weekends. After a month, Heidy approached her mother and stated that she finally knew her career path; she would like to be a Kindergarten teacher.  After her summer vacation, Creamos hired Heidy to work as a part time child caregiver under the condition that she continue to study. Presently, Heidy is now paying for her own schooling, and her grades are in the 80th and 90th percentile.  What began as a punishment has now become a career path for Heidy. She works under the guidance of Seño Vivi and promises to evolve  into an innovative and passionate educator.

Meet Seño Vivi

Creamos met Seño Vivi through one of our community partners. She is our most seasoned and experienced child caregiver who has worked at larger educational institutions in our community such as Safe Passage and Planting Seeds International. Vivi grew up a few blocks from the Creamos office, and expresses a deep desire to give back to her community.  Although Vivi’s time with Creamos has been brief, she has already enhanced the overall structure of the program. She creates weekly age-appropriate lesson plans for children of all academic levels. She has implemented movie and discussion days, and incorporates an educational component in all activities. Vivi provides supervision for Seño Heidy. Vivi’s experience and her kind manner allows mothers to feel fully confident that they are leaving their children in a safe and productive environment.

These are the three women whose work enables 48 women to participate in Creamos’ income-generating and emotional support activities. Thank you Child Caregiving Squad! 

Since inception, Creamos has always approached financial freedom with a unique and family centered approach. The strong rapport that Creamos’ staff has fostered with participants is one of the reasons it is such a special organization. Creamos staff aims to work in the most transparent and honest way with participants, and we always try our best to meet our participants where they are financially and emotionally. We truly believe that our women have the power to change their own lives, families and communities if they are given the opportunity to do so. This is the story of a mother of five, whose determination is creating a more prosperous and fulfilling life for herself and her children.

Leslie has been with Creamos since 2008. She has lived in the community surrounding the Guatemala City garbage dump her entire life, and like many women, has experienced a great deal of challenges. Leslie has always demonstrated extraordinary resilience, overcoming personal and familial traumas evoked by the hostile environment in which she lives. In her studies, she exceeded Creamos’ requirements of graduating from middle school, and was one of few women to graduate high school in 2011.

Upon graduation, Leslie continued to work at Creamos and dedicated much of her time to being a present and involved parent. She is a dedicated mother and will never hesitate to put all of her children’s aspirations before her own.

In January 2018, Leslie approached the Creamos team, and stated she was ready to go to university. She wanted to be a psychologist to support others in the same way she has been emotionally supported throughout the years. Although the team was taken aback, as we rarely hear women declare such a bold and certain dream, we wanted to support her anyway we could while ensuring she understood the reality of going back to school and acquiring such demanding degrees.

Truth be told, Leslie was a few steps ahead of us and guided us throughout the process. She had already approached a counselor at the public university to gain a greater understanding of the exam requirements, paperwork and deadlines she would have to meet. She visited different universities to explore the various programs, and most importantly, which university she felt most comfortable attending. Further, she signed herself up for tutoring through Creamos, and spent a year in individual classes, studying science, English, and university prep courses.

In November 2018, after applying for multiple scholarships, Leslie secured funding for her University studies. She was finally ready to make her dream a reality by studying clinical psychology at Universidad Rural in Guatemala in the Saturday program.

Going back to school after a break is never easy, and there will undoubtedly be challenges along Leslie’s new path. She comes to Creamos to receive tutoring three times a week and works with her new friends at university to ensure she is staying on top of her schoolwork. Everyday she balances her responsibilities of being an active parent, working for Creamos, her studies, and being a leader in the community.

It is evident that Leslie’s studies have impacted all areas of her home in a positive way. Last year, her youngest son won the “Most Respectful Student Award” and her eldest daughter continued to be one of Creamos’ most dedicated and hard working workers. Her other two daughters are both high-achieving students and her son is raising a healthy family. In addition, her husband began attending a gentle masculinity workshop once a week.

Leslie’s journey has been a wake up call for Creamos. In the beginning of Creamos, we wanted our women to leave the dump and graduate from elementary school. Ten years later, we now have four women enrolled in university, 50 women earning an income with Creamos and we serve 151 women in total. Creamos will continue to evolve our own programming and foster partnerships with external organizations to meet the needs and dreams of our participants. We believe that supporting women through endeavors as complex as a university degree, or as light-hearted as a Zumba class has the power to change an individual, community and family.



Smiling Ana - Photo by Anna Watts
Smiling Ana - Photo by Anna Watts

In 2011, there was a woman who consistently occupied the back, right corner of the adult literacy classroom. She had a demure personality, and would rarely make eye contact when spoken too. Although timid, there was always a strong determination demonstrated by her diligence in completing schoolwork and her timeliness when handing in assignments. The woman’s name was Ana Rebecca.

Ana was one of 16 children. By the time she was 8, she was going to the Guatemala City Garbage Dump with her mother, scavenging for items to sell, to support her family. When Ana finally had a family of her own, she continued to go to the dump, as she knew this was the most secure income available to her. Ana states that from the moment she knew she was going to be a mom, she was determined to provide a different life for her children. She enrolled all of her four girls in school as soon as she could, and decided she was going to do whatever it took to ensure her children did not have to ever work in the dump.

Ana was 27 when she decided to go back to school. Her main motive was her desire to help her daughters complete their homework. She entered the Safe Passage’s Adult Literacy Program as a first grader. After a year of studying, she made the bold decision to enter Creamos as a jewelry maker. With assiduous attention to detail in her work, her skills became more refined and we were beginning to witness a transformation in Ana. When we spoke with her, her eye contact was improving and her answers were becoming more expansive. Ana swiftly graduated from the training program and was soon earning a livable wage. For the first time since she was 8, Ana was no longer working in the garbage dump.

Just three years after beginning her studies, she was preparing to walk across the stage for her 6th grade graduation, and two years later she graduated from middle school. As her educational journey progressed, Ana’s persona and self-esteem blossomed. This was manifested in her innovative jewelry designs and her proud smile when she handed in her work. In addition, we saw her growth demonstrated in her participation in Creamos’ extracurricular activities and her new friends and colleagues in whom she confided. Ana was no longer the quiet woman in the corner. She was a leader within the organization.

Today, Ana has earned her position as Creamos’ Product Instructor and receives a regular monthly stipend for her work. Her teaching style is nurturing yet she believes in holding her students accountable. In her trainings, she creates a supportive environment and fosters trust with other women. We wholeheartedly believe that much of Creamos’ growth is due to Ana’s welcoming nature with new women in the program. We have watched so many new artisans show off their new skills and make the similar changes Ana made. These women have never failed to credit “my teacher Ana”.

Ana in Action - Photo by Anna Watts
Ana in Action - Photo by Anna Watts
A portrait of Irma     - Photo by Anna Watts
A portrait of Irma - Photo by Anna Watts

Creamos’ mission is to create long-term financial, emotional and educational opportunities for the local women and families in the community surrounding the Guatemala City Garbage Dump. For the past ten years, Creamos has gradually grown from a initiative, to a program, to an association. Taking the time to reflect on past successes while looking to improve aspects of our organization is imperative for continued progress. 

Since inception, one of Creamos’ primary organizational goals has been sustainability in both a financial and leadership aspect.  Participant leadership has always been an important component of our vision; however, this dream forces us to often confront interpersonal conflicts and mistrust amongst affiliates. Despite these clashes, certain women have emerged as leaders in our organization. These women have defied societal norms and fought for a better future for themselves, their families and colleagues. Creamos recognizes these women as our future leaders, managers and directors of the organization.

Although one may identify her as one of the more humble participants, Irma G. has been a leader for the last ten years. Three years ago, one of our participants in the program was losing her sight and could not complete an order for a notable client. Irma anonymously handed in double the amount of money that was asked in order to ensure the woman would get paid. No matter how many hardships Irma experiences at home, she has been one of the women we can rely on to emotionally support other women and go the extra mile to complete orders.  

Two years ago, we appointed her as the leader of our newest initiatives, Wakami. Wakami is a Guatemalan company who has trained Creamos participants to produce macro-made jewelry. Wakami teaches our chosen leaders specific jewelry techniques, and the leaders are then responsible for disseminating the information and skills to the rest of the women. In addition, this leader is responsible for the distribution and production of orders, facilitating trainings, organizing payments, and holding colleagues accountable for issues regarding respect and timeliness.

Although Irma was hesitant to accept this role in the beginning, she has thrived as a leader. She has been challenged to rise up in times when conflict resolution was needed, devised and implemented creative strategies to ensure orders are completed, and has fostered a culture of fairness and accountability. She advocates for other women when she sees injustice, while also setting clear expectations of their behavior. Watching Irma interact with the group of whom she leads, is something special, and the respect she has earned from the rest of the participants is indisputable.

Despite her innate leadership abilities, Irma is very adamant that she is first and foremost a mom. Irma has single handedly raised her 6 children and continues to ensure they have access quality education and support from her. Irma’s two daughters are following her mom’s footsteps and working for Creamos while they continue to study. She uses her extra earnings from her leadership role to provide for her family and foster a nurturing environment in her home.

Our vision at Creamos is to foster leadership amongst our affiliates because we believe in them. We believe Creamos can one day be an organization that is run through the skills and leadership of our participants. Through methodical leadership training, access to education and thoughtful organizational structure, we know we will soon be able to tell many more stories of leaders like Irma.

Mothers from Wakami - Photo by Anna Watts
Mothers from Wakami - Photo by Anna Watts

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Organization Information


Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala - Guatemala
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @creamosmujeres
Project Leader:
Hannah Sklar
Guatemala City, Guatemala
$67,399 raised of $75,000 goal
541 donations
$7,601 to go
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