Saq'Jal Women's Cooperative & Mayan Weaving School
San Alfonso, Guatemala
Since 2000 the Inter-American Center for the Arts,
Sustainability, and Action (CASA) has been working with
the women's Cooperative SAQ' JAL, and the group
Building Community on the implementation of a long-term
sustainable development plan in the village of San Alfonso,
just to the south of Quetzaltenango (Xela) in the
departamento of Retalhuleu.

San Alfonso is a little community of returned war refugees,
40 Mam Maya families living in the middle of a coffee
plantation between the city of Xela and the southern coast.
They fled their home of San Idelfonso Ixtahuacán in
Huehuetenango during the time of the violence (along with
an estimated 150,000 others from the Western Highlands),
crossing the border into Mexico. After the 1996 peace
accords, they could not return to their homes and
properties, many of which had been seized and
redistributed by the military, and so they began a search
for an alternative.

Shortly after arriving on their new land, twenty women
formed a cooperative, SAQ' JAL, to search for a common
solution to their desperate economic conditions. They had
some limited success weaving textiles for the export market
through an NGO and a private for-profit marketer, but the
orders were slow to arrive, erratic and never really
produced any reliable income.

In 2000, the group Building Community helped them build
a floor loom so they could weave textiles for the traditional
corte cloth of the region, hoping to meet an internal,
reliable market. In 2001 Building Community raised funds
for the purchase of a piece of land. In February 2002
Building Community and CASA organized a 14 member
volunteer brigade that helped fund and build a community
center and workshop. In 2003 another work brigade
funded and helped construct a new kindergarten
classroom for the Community School. 2004 and 2005
brought the development of a revolving micro-credit fund
and the founding of a cultural tourism project: the
Weaving School.

2006 saw the establishment of a new micro-business: the
Saq'Jal Typing School. In Guatemala, every student must
receive a certificate degree in typing to graduate from high
school. The courses are given using manual typewriters.
Although antiquated, this law creates a big market for
students in pursuit of their typing certificates, and the
women of Saq'Jal have stepped in to fill this demand in
San Alfonso and surrounding communities.

They have purchased eight type writers and have gone
through the long bureaucratic process of having the
Department of Education recognize them as a certified
educational institution. This process has also solidified
Saq'Jal as a government recognized association working in
the fields of women's rights, indigenous rights, and rural
socio-economic development. The typing school is allowing
the women of Saq'Jal to increase their expendable
incomes and reinvest capital into their social development

Each year new projects add to the growing realization of
an integrated, long-term, sustainable development plan
implemented and designed by the women of Saq´Jal.
Other projects include the construction of more outdoor
classrooms, the installation of a septic tank, fence
construction, the implementation of a composting program,
construction of composting toilets, the continued
development of a weaving school for artisans and tourists,
and the development of a high-yield, organic gardening

The cooperative members see the value and necessity of
defining their own structures for community self-
development. CASA continues to work with the cooperative
by organizing work brigades and by raising money for a
revolving loan fund which enables them to collectively
decide how they can best invest in their economic future,
either through collective projects or through loans to
individual members for micro-enterprises.

Volunteer Delegations to San Alfonso for interested
student and volunteer groups are organized on

Working alongside community members as a member of a
delegation, you will have the opportunity to provide a
meaningful service to the village of San Alfonso, learn
about the history and culture of the Maya people and
Guatemala, practice your Spanish, and be a delegate for
peace and social change. You will also experience and
participate in the evolution of a integrated rural
development project: a future model for autonomous living
based on universal human rights.

More Info: Peter Shear


  • to weave using a
    traditional back-strap loom

  • about the effects of the
    Guatemalan civil war on
    the Mayan majority

  • Mam Maya religion,
    ceremony, and

  • Mam and Spanish
    conversational skills

  • about women's and Maya
    solidarity and social

Program Information

Reservations &  Volunteer
Inter-American Center for the Arts, Sustainability,and Action

Centro Interamericano para las Artes, el Sustento, y la Acción