Courage Up

There is a particular voice in my head, my “mean girl voice,” I call it, that never fails to jump in and speak up whenever it sees the chance to call out one of my perceived deficiencies. This voice before is no respecter of boundaries, and I have found that in every country I visit, women are plagued by the same disparaging words that try to keep them seated instead of encouraging them to step into the story that is theirs. Take Ana, for instance, a woman I met during my first “scouting” trip in Noonday’s second year. I had traveled to Guatemala in hopes of finding talented artisans to partner with, people who were hungry for impact in the communities where they worked. Since Joe and I lived and worked in Guatemala prior to marrying, it felt like coming home.

I had heard that many master weavers were known to live in the communities surrounding Lake Atitlan, so we journeyed to the area, made our way to the boat dock, and launched one of the tiny boats onto the water, en route to the small village of San Juan de la Laguna. It’s a quiet village that rests on the western shore of Lake Atitlan, and upon arriving, we found fishermen in rustic rafts skimming the lake’s aquamarine surface while indigenous Tzutujil women washed the family laundry at the water’s edge. The contrast was striking: in this land that was bursting with promise, poverty remained an obstacle to many. In San Juan de la Laguna, most locals rely heavily on agriculture—especially coffee, the country’s leading export—which means that when crops fail, life itself fails. Several years ago, when coffee prices took a tumble, financial depression rolled through the entire place.

I climbed a hill to find a small store-front in the front room of a traditional house. The intricate weavings and colors caught my eye, so I asked around until I learned who owned the shop. My search led me up and over the hills of coffee fields that blanket the landscape, ultimately into the presence of Ana, who explained that the storefront was run by an NGO organization that primarily focused on fair-trade coffee. Ana was the coordinator of the women who crafted naturally dyed scarves on traditional back-strap looms—portable, wearable contraptions that were perfected in Guatemala.

I was immediately struck by Ana’s passion for her community. She had seen the need for economic diversity in her village, a place where the majority of people worked in the unstable economic climate of harvesting coffee and made less than two dollars a day, and she had taken action. Standing barely more than four feet tall, this twenty-one-year-old was a force to be reckoned with. I got her information and I asked if I could email her in a few months, when we were ready to make an order for scarves.

At the appointed time, I reached out to Ana to find out how Noonday could place our first order. Ana explained that unfortunately, the NGO had decided to focus exclusively on coffee and had shut down the scarf-making arm of their organization.

Ana had no export license, she had no business background, and she was younger than most every other weaver. Still, she wanted to work with me, she said, because the women in her community needed work now more than ever. And so, she started a business herself.

Today, Ana owns a scarf-making shop that employs a nearly 30 local artisans, women who now make more money than even their coffee-harvesting husbands. These artisans can now afford food. Clothing. Education for their children. And every bit of the success they have seen can be traced back to one young woman who chose to “courage up.” It’s a story that moves me every time I think of it. May we all develop a courage and resiliency like that.

Recently I was working through a season of self-doubt, related to my effectiveness as Noonday’s CEO. (Just when I think I’ve “matured” out of these struggles, another one rises in my face.) I was tempted to sink deeper into self-pity, believing the lie that I’m not enough. But then I thought about Ana, Ana who took her world by storm. I gathered my courage, I logged a quick task list in my phone, and I poured my energies into making not excuses, but progress.

Tough times will rise for you and me both, but our courage can stand taller still.

If terrible circumstances taunt you today, then let Ana’s strength guide your steps. You’ll never regret the choice to courage up, to come at life with all the grit you’ve got.