Lake Atitlán lies in the remote Guatemalan highlands. The extraordinary beauty of the lake and the three volcanoes which almost appear to stand guard is in contrast to the poverty in which many of its indigenous people live.

Luisa Rosario Xicay Tacaxoy is head of the Artesanas Atitlán Cooperative in one of the indigenous villages by the lake, Santiago Atitlán. She has two children whom she adopted when a hurricane took the lives of their parents. With her earnings from the cooperative she has been able to send her children to school and build a brick-walled home for them.

In 2008 the Artesanas Atitlán Cooperative began working together with the US not-for-profit Mercado Global.

Since then the cooperative has made jewellery for the giant Nordstrom department store chain in the United States. By incorporating design expertise, Mercado Global has been able to deliver far higher prices to the cooperatives, which feeds back to its members. Luisa earns three times more than what she did before the relationship with Mercado Global began.

Ruth deGolia, Mercado Global executive director said that by assisting the cooperatives with the design element of the production it could help them to design to a price point. “…it would allow us to pay a real living wage, that would really allow mums to provide healthcare, send their kids to school, provide more nutritious foods for their families, improve their houses and also have savings,” she said. Mercado Global is also tapping in to the demand from the developed world for high quality, but Fairtrade accredited, fashion items.

A real living wage should be a right. In Guatemala 90 per cent of people in rural areas live in extreme poverty.

Nutritious food should be available. Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of malnutrition on the globe.

School education should be compulsory. Indigenous children in Guatemala receive on average 1.3 years of schooling.

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: