Welcome to our workshop

our workshop (on the right)

We have opened our workshop/shop! (the building on the right – next to the central hub of the town – el comedor). A quick dust down of the cobwebs, a whiteboard borrowed from the church, a table borrowed from a teacher, plastic stools from home and we are on for business. To begin with, we’re opening between 1-3pm, Mon-Fri, before teaching in the school. This is when the little kids are free (up to age 10) as they go to school in the mornings. We picked up the key from an old man at the end of our street, paid him the £25 for the month’s rent and celebrated with kids and granddads who walked by with 2 big bottles of Mirinda – the local Fanta

inside the space – day one
our custom-made window which lets in as much breeze and light as possible

Day 1

We had invited 8 adults – Janet the hairdresser, William the resourceful maker, Enok’s dad who makes little turtles out of coconut shell, Telma the fierce schoolkeeper, Juan Carlos the grafter, sweet but flakey Pati and a couple of other women who are interested in making artesanias  – to our first meeting where we would explain how our social enterprise would work:

  • We buy the materials (from Guatemala City or Antigua – either way a 5 hour journey)
  • We hold a month of workshops where everyone shares their skills and create a range of products using local and recycled materials
  • Locals buy the materials from us and make the products
  • We sell the products in our shop and in Surf House and Surf Camp to tourists. 75% goes to the maker and 25% goes back into the project.

So we opened for our first day and, true El Paredon style, none of our core adult group showed up and loads of kids did. So we drew birds local to the area – Pelicans and herons. There is some real artistic talent here but they don’t do art in the school. Compared to classrooms in the UK – filled with paintings and displays – the walls are bare with the occasional ‘Jesus loves you’ sign.

In our first hour of our first workshop, we realized we needed to stop kids running in and out with all our precious bits and bobs so sparkly and new. We sent one of our keen helpers to find a piece of wood to lock the door. Another wee boy mopped the floor. Another put up the mask drawings the kids made the day before in an impromptu workshop in the outside eatery. Lots of curious adults wandered by and wandered in, as well as some chickens.

Day 2 in our workshop

our first key rings made by the kids

9 kids came and we made bracelets ‘pulseras’ out of the beads we bought in the city. Everyone were surprisingly calm and orderly, although it was hard to chuck them out at the end of the session. They each made three – 1 to keep and 2 to sell in our shop. It felt like a real success. That night, Telma came round with carved surfboards, triangles and turtles made out of coconut and an enthusiasm we hadn’t yet seen in her. We also met Enok’s dad who is happy to work with us on Sundays when he is not out at sea fishing and show some of the keen kids how to make his beautiful coconut turtles. We need to buy them little saws, files, sandpaper and sanding tools so they can get working. We also need a proper, solid table and lots of chairs (most of the kids are working standing or on drinks crates) as well as a hammer and shelves to put our materials on. We are trying to beg, borrow or steal for these things but may have to tap into our funds and get them from San Jose.

We also made our first sale to some men who were fixing electricity in the village!

our first customers

Lanchitas – our first product

One hazy afternoon little Enok came round with an arm full of pompas – hard wooden segments that fall freely from the tree in the football field next to our garden.


We saw them and instantly knew their potential –  as the boats that transport people to and from the village to the next town. These boats here are called lanchas. They are brightly coloured and can hold up to 30 people.

The lanchas have roofs made from a taut material publicizing local beer, fizzy drinks, snacks. So we are going to use old drinks cans.

We have started to make them and show them to people, who seem to like them and think we can sell them. We hope to sell them in tourist towns – Antigua, by Lake Atitlan, as well as in our shop/workshop/diner that we are going to rent with Priscilla, the owner of the local  diner – ‘el comedor’. We are also going to pay some of the local kids to sell them in the hotels here to tourists.

The grand plan is to teach people how to make them and then pay them for the finished products they make and sell them under our brand, recognising each maker and paying them a good price.

Street kid designers

When I lived in Cusco, Peru, there were loads of street kids selling postcards to tourists. The reason tourists didn’t buy many was that the pictures were faded and old and not something you’d want to send your loved ones back home. But you wanted to help the kids, whose families relied upon the income to survive. The kids selling the postcards were doing that instead of going to school, so they were missing out on an education.

I’ve had an idea for a social enterprise project which would allow the kids to design their own postcards, which would be more attractive to tourists so they would sell more. Most of the profits would go into buying food, education, clothes etc. for the kids and their families. This is one of the ideas I’d like to pursue when I go to South America in a few weeks.

Kids art is so great. Hal and Betty, my friend Susie’s kids, made these fabulous thank you cards over Xmas.

I think designs like these would work well as postcards.



The designer Ella Doran had a competition in Tower Hamlets primary schools to design trays to sell in her lovely shop on Cheshire Street, with a cut of the profits going to that school. I think this is a great model and the products are gorgeous. Read an interview with her about it here

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