Fr. Greg envisioned the Women’s Center would be a place where women can work, think, be together – not just a meeting hall or a meeting place. Women would feel comfortable here; this is a place, just for them.
Traditionally, the Maya culture is a matriarchal society giving great significance to the role of the woman, especially as mother, processor of food, and keeper of the culture. She performs the sacred task of making corn in to tortillas, a symbol of life and principle food of the Maya. In the creation story, Popol Vuh, the first humans were formed from masa (dough) made of corn ground at Grandmother God’s grinding stone.
Today, Maya women throughout Guatemala have retained this role, primarily working in the home to process the foods the men have cultivated. In their care for their children and the home, the role of the Maya woman is crucial in bestowing the culture to the next generation; the language, customs, beliefs, traditional foods and wares.
Within the culture, there is a deep admiration and respect attributed to the household work of the Maya woman. The esteem for this household work derives from the difficult conditions in which Maya women must prepare foods, often cooking over intense heat and smoke from the fire
Maya Women have little opportunity for social interaction outside of the home, as much of their time is spent sustaining the household. Many times, the only occasions for contact outside of the family circle happen when they go to market, to church, to grind their corn at the mill or if they go the lake to launder the family’s clothes.
Born of appreciation and respect for the role of the woman in Maya culture and recognizing a need for her to relate socially with other women in daily life, the idea for a center for women was conceived. As many Maya women are often isolated in their work, consensus was formed to provide a space where women could come together to participate in their various tasks of the day, fulfilling them collectively, and sharing ideas, laughter and even a bit of town gossip.
The grounds of the Women’s Center are both aesthetically pleasing and practical, surrounded by a fruit orchard on one side, vegetable gardens on the other and medicinal plant and floral rock gardens throughout the many acres on which is it situated. There are benches and paths throughout the grounds encouraging wandering meditation and appreciation of the beauty of nature.
Francisca Ajcibinac Cocon, better known by many as ‘Guicha’ is the new director of the Women’s Center and has transformed the center into what Fr. Greg dreamed it could be. Guicha has made dramatic changes. She has been doing amazing work in scheduling programmed events, courses and other activities started at the Women’s Center. Currently there are traditional cooking classes and a baking class being offered. There are also weaving classes, where women learn how to use the back-strap loom, and a sewing class where women learn how to use the sewing machine.
Educational speakers have presented topics like self-esteem, domestic violence, women’s health, prenatal care, nutrition, women’s rights, and gender equality. Also the mission has partnered with a school in Sololá to come and teach courses on finance.
The classes are meant to empower and engage the women. They can come and learn new things. It is a nice way for the women to come together and motivate each other.