Women Like Us


Awhile back – maybe 5 years ago – a friend of mine talked about her life in a way I’d never heard. She explained that different pieces of her life are like pearls that have been collected over time. On their own, they aren’t much to look at. Over time, though, she said that those pearls have been connected by God’s hand at work, and now she looks at her life as a beautiful string of pearls….a priceless strand of hard-earned and valuable pieces that come together into something incredible.

Since I heard her explain her story that way, I’ve seen my story in much the same way. Different experiences…different struggles…different elements of who I am are all individual pearls that are being strung together by the One who makes all things beautiful. Recently, I’ve seen some of the pearls of my life coming together in a way I never expected (which is actually the way God works best). The most surprising thing, to me, is that God would somehow connect my love for the Spanish language, women in developing countries…..and shoes.

At a conference last fall, I learned about The Root Collective, an organization that is working to eradicate poverty and gang violence in some of the most crime-ridden areas of the world by partnering with business owners. Otto, a master cobbler in Guatemala, hand-makes incredible shoes, and each sale of those shoes here in the United States enables Otto to employ men like himself who are fleeing gang violence and need a way to support their families.

That mission tugs at my heart enough as it is, but the part of TRC’s story that makes my spirit absolutely leap is the part about the women. The women.

The women who weave the fabric for the beautiful shoes do so on traditional Mayan looms, carrying an art form into the 21st century that many of them learned from their grandmothers, and that their grandmothers learned from their grandmothers before them. The work they do is incredible.

And if you’ve been around my blog for any amount of time, you know that there is a special place in my heart for the women in developing countries. My trips to Belize have given me a love for the beautiful women who, though they look very different from me, are really far more similar than I ever would have imagined. They want to have a purpose. They want to know their part in this story God is writing. And they want to be able to provide for their families while they do that.

And friends, The Root Collective is making that possible.

Meet Juana.

Juana’s story is like many. She survived the civil war that tore the country apart for 36 years, but lost her husband in the middle of the night due to kidnapping. His body never surfaced. While the war did not spare women and children, she and the rest of her family managed to survive. Being born into a rural community, she never had the opportunity to go to school as a child. She learned to weave at the age of 11, in the tradition of her family. Her children also learned to weave under her tutelage when they were of age. Juana is an example of keeping an artform alive, not because of lack of opportunity for other work, but for the love of the loom. Her work alongside The Root Collective has given her an outlet for that love, but has also brought about a change in Juana that no one anticipated.

TRC’s founder spent time recently with Juana and the other women who work alongside The Root Collective in Guatemala. When she came home, Bethany spoke of “the changes in these women”:

They were more at ease, more relaxed, more confident. Juana barely smiled the last time I saw her. This time, as we were leaving, she gave me a giant hug, a big grin, and thanked me for the work I do on their behalf. To which, I reminded her, and the whole group, that my gratefulness towards them is significantly more. These women inspire me, remind me to remain faithful to my work in hard times, and make me believe that anything is possible. Watching them blossom from having less stress on how they’d care for their families… it’s amazing. Simply amazing.

The first picture of Juana was at the beginning of her work with the artisan group, and the second is her today. Can you believe the difference? She has blossomed!

We don’t think about these things here in the United States, but it really is possible for something like shoes to change lives. And through the partnership between The Root Collective and local artisan groups, it is happening every single day.

The Root Collective recently launched their spring catalog, and you will love the new colors and designs they’ve brought out for warmer weather. I’m in love with my tan peep-toes. (If the weather would just warm up now so my toesies don’t freeze!)

Check out the new catalog, and watch this video to learn more about the heart behind The Root Collective. I literally cry every single time I watch this.

The Root Collective — Walk the Vision from Em Grey on Vimeo.

(Photos and videos by shimmersofgrey.com.)

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