Last Sunday (June 3rd), the active volcano, “Fuego” outside of Antigua, Guatemala erupted sending a deadly combination of hot gases and volcanic rock, known as pyroclastic flow, hurtling down its Southeast side and destroying many towns in its wake.
Fuego Eruption as seen from the North. Source: BBC.
Chichicastenango, where our artisan partners are located, is far enough North of Antigua that our artisan partners did not face any danger as a result of the eruption. However, we still felt inclined, as part of the Guatemalan community, to lend a helping hand in the wake of the disaster. After two days of brainstorming as a team about how Utz Threads could help, we decided to channel 50% of the week’s sales to disaster relief.
In addition, Cinthya and Elena began taking donations from friends and family members. All funds were and are being handled directly by our production manager Eduardo, who is originally from Antigua and who, along with his wife Gabriela, headed to Antigua right after the eruption to volunteer.
After learning of several potentially fraudulent fundraisers, we trusted Eduardo to assess the real needs of the people and organizations on the ground and to use the money transparently and in the most impactful way possible.
Last Tuesday morning, Eduardo and Gabriela headed to Guatemala city for a psychological first aid training. They then headed to Antigua to a collection center being run by a friend, Irene Posadas, to lend a hand packing hygiene first aid kits.
Almost immediately, Eduardo informed us that collection centers, such as the one he was volunteering in, had plenty of food supplies. The major unmet need was for supplies for rescue workers. Many of the rescue workers in Guatemala are volunteer firefighters (in Latin America, firefighters tend to be volunteers) and as such, their boots were sub-par for the job at hand; they were falling apart because of the heat of the terrain.
The funds we raised during our first 24 hours were primarily invested in boots, which Eduardo immediately handed over to a corps of volunteer firefighters Tuesday night:
Firefighters in Antigua holding up the boots bought with Utz Threads fundraiser funds. Photo: Eduardo Aquino.
On Wednesday morning, Eduardo and Gabriela headed to Alotenango to distribute the hygiene first aid kits they had packed the night before.
Eduardo and Gabriela (far right) in Alotenango on Wednesday.
As Utz Threads, Cinthya and Elena received more funds, Eduardo was able to invest in even more supplies for the rescue workers in Antigua. Specifically, larger tools such as wire cutters, sledgehammers, and pickaxes, all pictured here and all hand-delivered in Antigua by Eduardo. In addition, Eduardo even hand-delivered 5 shovels directly to rescue workers in Alotenango, on the front lines of the disaster area. It’s safe to say it was quite a whirlwind two days for Eduardo and Gabriela.
Photos: Eduardo Aquino.
Although they are now back in Chichicastenango, the Utz Threads fundraiser is still in effect through this Tuesday, June 12th. In order to continue helping in the most concrete way possible, Utz Threads has decided to partially sponsor the Mijangos García family. We were notified of the possibility of supporting this family through Irene Posadas, the same friend who ran the collection center where Eduardo and Gabriela volunteered during their time in Antigua.
Survivors of the Mijangos García family. Photos (left): Irene Posadas; Right: Selvin Mijangos.
The Mijangos García family is from the hamlet of San Miguel Los Lotes, located directly on the Southeast slope of the “Fuego” Volcano. San Miguel Los Lotes was one of the first places hit by pyroclastic flow and was immediately covered, according to reports, in 12 feet of ash. Selvin (right-hand photo, far right) was on his way home from soccer practice when he saw the billowing wall of pyroclastic flow hurtling towards their home. He helped his grandmother (pictured with him here) and an aunt narrowly escape by getting them into a pickup truck that he saw heading out of town. However, many people from this town did not survive. Among those that lost their lives were around 20 members of the extended Mijangos García family.
San Miguel Los Lotes before and after the eruption. Photo: NYT Article, June 7, 2018.
We raised a total of $960 for disaster relief. $532.50 was spent on materials for the hygiene first aid kits and the tools mentioned above. $266.50 (~Q2000) went towards three months of rent for the Mijangos Garcia family in their new Antigua home:
The Mijangos García family with help from Irene Posadas and funds from Utz Threads signs their rent agreement for the months of June July and August 2018.
The remaining $161 was donated to Jess Bercovici of the Guatemalan clothing brand Stela 9.
Here is more from founder Jess about how this money will be used:
"One of the kindest, most honest and hardworking women I’ve ever met is my seamstress and pattern-maker, Irma. She has not only changed the face of my company, but has become a dear friend. [When Fuego erupted] her life changed forever. Her cousin, Cristina, is covered in 3rd degree burns from the pyroclastic flows, and is still receiving treatment in a Guatemala City hospital. Unfortunately, two of her six children, her beloved husband, Edwin [...] and his parents were killed in the eruption. Her husband had recently purchased land to farm coffee in order to create a better life for his children and their children. To make matters worse, the town of San Miguel Los Lotes, Edwin’s birthplace, is forever hidden from time under layers of pyroclastic flow. This means that they are not only in mourning for their deceased family members but are also now homeless.
What I would like to do is directly contribute to the purchasing of new land and the building of new homes for this family by raising funds. Edwin’s legacy leaves behind five families. Like most families in Guatemala, they shared land and while the other members of the family worked as ranch hands or housekeepers in Los Lotes, Cristina stayed at home to watch her grandchildren. They’ve been able to secure a small plot of land in Cuidad Vieja to be closer to Irma’s family and plan on building 5 homes to continue their way of life.
The land is Q90,000 and they were able to come up with Q60,000. This means they need an additional Q30,000 for the land ($4,167) and at least another Q70,000 ($9,722) for building their homes."
Transparency is something we value highly here at Utz Threads. As such, we invite you to take a look at the full breakdown of the usage of the funds, including receipts and photos of all items bought in this document.
Thank you for all your support and trust during this process. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support we have seen!
- The Utz Threads family