Lauren and Erica started an online store selling bags, kids clothes and baby shoes. Yeah, the virtual hemisphere is full of those but these girls have set themselves apart from the rest with their philanthropic intentions for the business. A bulk of the proceeds from what they sell goes to the mothers and children in Guatamala who are in desperate need of support. When purchasing from the Humble Hilo website, you can choose to donate to one of three humanitarian projects linked to the non profit organization World Link Partners, of which Lauren is the Director. If you’d like to know more about this huge hearted pair and the soulful project they have managed to create, have a read through our chat with them below.
A TALK WITH THE GIRLS FROM HUMBLE HILO…
What is Humble Hilo and how does it run as a business?
Humble Hilo’s main objective is to create common threads between people, needs, cultures, and products (Hilo means thread in Spanish). We are an online boutique that mixes fashion with philanthropy. Our focus is to bring beautiful, handmade, and culturally rich products to market, while also helping people living in severe poverty in Guatemala. Not only are we able to provide business to many of the people involved in making the products we sell, but more specifically, a portion of every purchase made supports one of our humanitarian projects, of your choosing, that will help make a sustainable difference in the lives of impoverished villagers. Not only are people able to buy a beautiful product, but they are able to directly impact the life of someone in desperate need by providing opportunity.
Tell us about your journey and what inspired you to create Humble Hilo?
Lauren: Several years ago, I had the eye opening and life changing opportunity to live in the remote villages in the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala for several months while working on my Master’s Thesis with the World Health Organization in the area of Maternal and Child health. I fell in love with the people and the country as I lived and worked among them. Never have I been more humbled and completely heartbroken as I saw, first hand, the daily challenges that these sweet villagers face just to survive. I spent my days hiking from one remote village to the next, measuring and weighing malnourished infants and children, while also working with their desperate and hopeless mothers to try to come up with any solutions to their dire situations. I would spend my nights sleeping on the exam tables or dirt floors of health posts, my pillow wet with tears and my heart aching for what I had witnessed that day. I can’t tell you how many times I held malnourished babies that didn’t live to see the next day, how many mothers I worked with that didn’t have a way to provide for their 6-10 hungry children at home while their husbands were living in other parts of Guatemala trying to find work, and how many of these villagers were stuck in a cycle of poverty with no way out and no hope. I knew I had to help. I kept thinking “IF PEOPLE ONLY KNEW.”
Needless to say, this was a life-changer for me and redirected what I wanted to do with my life. I have now been working endlessly on behalf of these villagers of Alta Verapaz and others living throughout Guatemala for the past 7 years trying to create awareness of their desperate needs and raise funds to help create opportunities to help them climb out of this cycle of poverty… I have worked with several NGOs throughout Guatemala and I currently volunteer as the Director of World Link Partners trying to help create awareness, raise funds, and provide opportunity for these people (particularly women and children) in so much need. But I always knew there was something more that needed to be done to create more awareness.
These personal and heartbreaking experiences were the catalysts that lead us to start Humble Hilo. Erica and I came up with a business strategy that would help link people to a purpose and beautiful products, while also creating awareness of people in great need. It has been a win-win for all involved.
Could you talk to us specifically about the products and their background?
Guatemalans are some of the most talented artisans and weavers in the world. Guatemalan hand weaving is an art form that has been passed on from generation to generation for centuries. Most women who weave have brains like computers that memorize dozens to hundreds of intricate weaving patterns (because most of them are illiterate, they don’t write them down). One of the most intricate and laborious weavings is the “Huipil”. These are the traditional and meaningful blouses women wear. Each village wears a specific pattern and color of huipil to differentiate themselves. These huipils typically take 3-4 months to weave and families save up for years for them. They truly are a culturally rich and unique artform.
Humble Hilo has incorporated the Huipil into many of the products. We have bags in all sizes that are made from recycled huipiles (with the necklines still intact), huipil baby dresses made with a patch of huipil, coupled with material made from their traditional navy blue “cortes” or skirts worn by both men and women, and we have even made baby moccasins using huipiles.
What percentage of profits goes directly to charity?
A good portion! We really don’t want to focus on the exact percentage or portion because it’s so subject to opinion whether or not that is enough or too much. The charitable portion of this business is the main. Sometimes we joke with Lauren; if it were up to her she would donate everything to the charity.
Tell us about the people who will benefit from the sales of your products?
Humble Hilo supports humanitarian projects through the non profit organization World Link Partners (Lauren is the director of this NPO). We support projects in rural villages in Guatemala with people who live on less than $2 a day and provide opportunities for people to make choices that affect their lives. Theses villages are considered some of the poorest in all of Guatemala and face considerable challenges above and beyond the standard Guatemalan population. An indigenous man from the rural areas has a 70% likelihood of living in extreme poverty. Ninety percent of the women living in these isolated villages are illiterate. Infant mortality rates among this population are 62 per 1,000 live births, almost double the rate for the non-indigenous population.
The people and projects we support are in dire need, and there are attainable and somewhat simple solutions to help give them a hand up (not a handout) to lift themselves out of poverty. Humble Hilo has chosen to focus on projects that we have seen first hand to exactly this:
1-Infant and child nutrition
2-Education for girls and women
3-Microcredit loans for women to start their own small business.
Can you tell us a story of a family or individual who has benefited greatly as a result of charity?
In the region of Alta Verapaz, the number of malnourished infants and children is astronomical- one of the highest in all of the Americas. And infant mortality due to complications from malnutrition is excessive. Funds that have been raised from Humble Hilo are directly benefiting malnourished children in need. Here are photos of only a few examples of infants that are now on the nutrition program receiving regular food assistance.
Irma is one of many examples of a girl whose life is being transformed through education. When a girl, like Irma, starts as a 7th grader, every girl receives an academic scholarship (75-80% of their tuition costs, the families pay the balance to ensure buy in), school transportation, uniforms, and other incidentals, and most importantly, a mentoring group of 15 peers who will walk the journey from 7th grade to high school graduation and beyond together. This group meets weekly to learn leadership skills, key competencies like financial literacy and reproductive health, and build in each woman the capacity to overcome the powerful social and familiar pressures that constantly push against her schooling. Their mentor is a Mayan woman from the same geographic region, language group and socioeconomic circumstances who has overcome the odds herself to become university educated. She is the perfect person to teach, advocate, mentor, and support these young women and their families on this unprecedented path. The mentor’s role is to identify and strengthen the unique talents of each young woman and strengthen communication and resolve conflict between each girl, her school, and her family. Irma meets with her group weekly, but also comes to the office near her home to access the internet, do homework, and receive individual academic tutoring and intervention. As a high school student, Irma also has a paid internship at a local nonprofit organization, School the World. Because Irma is the sole provider for herself and her younger sister after the death of mother, she works full time and attends high school on the weekend. This internship is important for her professional development and her family’s economic stability. As Irma’s boss says, she’s integral to the organization now!
Maria (22 years old) and Carlota (22 years old) are from remote villages of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Through the support of Humble Hilo in conjunction with World Link Partners, they had the opportunity to train with the Asociacion de Mujeres Tejadores de Solola (The Association of Women Weavers) for 3 weeks in a different region of Guatemala. This experience was shocking for these two women who had never left their community. During these 3 weeks, they received business training and learned skills to develop new fabrics and methods of weaving. They learned how to use natural dyes extracted from flowers, roots, and leaves and other organic materials that can be found in their region to dye their thread. They then were trained on how to weave these threads in to beautiful scarves and other clothing that they will be able to sell and start a small business of their own. This opportunity has opened doors that will change their lives and allow them to provide for their families and communities. They are beyond grateful!
Maria and Carlota proudly receiving their certificates of completion from the Asociacion de Mujeres Tejedora.
On a more personal level, how does it make you feel, to know you’re giving something back to people who are in desperate need?
Lauren: I still have nights where I cannot sleep thinking about some of the people and hardships people in Alta Verapaz are currently going through. I know there is so much more that still can be done, but it brings me such peace of mind knowing that significant changes are being made through what we are doing, and that so many people are helping in this effort through their support of Humble Hilo. I hope that the Humble Hilo ripple effect continues and many more lives are touched on both ends.
Erica: It means everything; unlike Lauren, I grew up with a pretty typical, American upbringing. I hadn’t traveled much outside of the U.S., so I didn’t truly understand the need that was out there. My husband grew up in Latin American and has always had a deep love for the culture. Traveling with him, outside of America, I quickly saw how most of the world lives. Then, becoming a mother and knowing what a sacrifice it is, even in the best of circumstances, I quickly realized I wanted to help. Traveling with Lauren to Guatemala and hearing her stories along visiting with these beautiful people, I was able to share in her vision and my passion grew. Knowing that our simple idea has actually impacted real lives-it truly means the world.
What’s your idea of a perfect world?
Lauren: In my perfect world every person on the planet would have access to basic human rights such as: the opportunity to have a job, to receive an education, to send their children to school, and to have access to and money for health care. No mother would ever have to watch their child suffer and die because they didn’t have access to food, women would have opportunities to empower themselves, and extreme poverty would be an epidemic of the past. I do believe that these are achievable goals, and the world can be a much better place one step, one person at a time.
Erica: I echo Lauren’s words. To add to that, a perfect world would be a place where selfishness ceased to exist; people would first look to help others and make sure their needs were met. Peace comes from serving.
Do you have a philosophical take on poverty and what the world could do to cure it?
Lauren: As I mentioned above, I strongly believe that there is a solution to ending extreme poverty, and it is attainable. There are many theories and ways that can tackle this worldwide endemic, but my personal philosophy is that the most effective way to end poverty is to empower women and girls, known to some as “The Girl Effect” (watch this 2 minute video to get the idea http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIvmE4_KMNw). Empowering women and girls and giving them opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty translates to also helping their children, their families, their villages, their countries, and eventually the world as a whole. It creates a ripple effect.
Erica: AWARENESS! I believe the majority of people are good, they just don’t know what to do or how to help. Like myself, I didn’t know how real these situations were. Not to sound too redundant, but again, people who look first to see how they can help others before themselves-most of our issues would be eradicated.
What’s the best thing we can do, as readers, to help support your organization?
We would encourage everyone to think outside of themselves and realize YOU can make a difference, big or small to change. Educate yourself on the needs of the less fortunate and take a proactive approach to find a way YOU specifically can make a difference. There is something that each one of us can take part in and help make a world of difference in a world that needs differences made.
One of the many ways YOU can make a sustainable difference in the lives of those in need is supporting Humble Hilo. Buying a product from Humble Hilo ensures that someone’s life will be changed that is in great need. Not only do you directly change a life in need, but you also receive a beautiful handmade piece of art in return. So buy a bag, tell your friends and family about us, and let people know they can make a difference and make the world a better place.
HUMBLE HILO | Web Link
INTERVIEW| Sophie Gidoomal