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  • Writer's picturetimothy martiny

Empowering women thorough woodworking

Updated: May 23

Why do you teach girls carpentry? Are there any jobs for women carpenters in Guatemala? Is there a market for the things you are making? Are they capable of doing this on their own? What happens one day if you are gone?

Many people are surprised when they learn that vocational training programs, which include information technology, woodworking, pre-engineering, and culinary arts, place an emphasis on having girls in our woodworking class. So, I thought I would take some time to explain what we teach and why

  1. To clarify, we don't teach carpentry. Carpentry is building houses, framing and decking. Little of this would apply to our students here as the materials used to construct homes in most developing countries are cinder blocks and cement. We teach woodworking, the art of working with wood, understanding it, designing with it, and completing the creation process to produce a product.

  2. What we do is as much about the process as the product. For children who are orphaned, have been abused, or experienced profound childhood trauma, a lack of self-esteem is widespread. Fear is one of the root causes of a lack of self-esteem, fear of failure, and fear of the ability to do, accomplish, or even try. They often believe that there is something innately wrong with themselves. When they make mistakes, they can feel stupid or insufficient and worry about what others will think of them. This only reinforces their feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, undeserving or unlovable. We have seen our program help to overcome those things. The pen they make is more than a pen; it's a healing process, a process they control, a process they own, and a process that produces something people value. When someone comes in and sees a 14-year-old girl working on a lathe, tearing into a piece of wood to turn it from a square block to a beautiful pen or bracelet, when they see them using a machine that they don't know how to use, it elevates them. When that girl produces a quality product that people see value in and are willing to purchase, they start to see value in themselves. All of those boost their soul, raise their spirit, and gradually help build their self-esteem.

  3. Work ethic is not just about doing a job; it's about doing it well. We believe that our work can, in and of itself, be worship to God. We want the works of our hands to be acceptable in God's sight. We want whatever we do to be done for Him, for His glory, and to honor Him. In our workshop, we focus on the quality of the work and the pursuit of excellence. If something is not the best possible quality, we don't sell it. By raising the bar and expecting quality work from the students, we empower them to do it, and they do.

  4. ConfidenceThough they may not make pens, bracelets, or Christmas ornaments for the rest of their lives, they have learned that they can understand. They have learned to use power tools, lathes, miter saws, sanders, and a CNC shopbot router. We have opened their minds to a bigger, greater world of possibilities than they ever knew was possible. We have shown them that they can learn so much more if they can learn this.

  5. Business skills; in our program, they learn how to run their own micro-business. They learn about cost, sales, materials, and more. They earn their own money and spend some on what they want while saving the rest in their bank account. They learn about banking. It's easier to teach someone the value of money and how to manage it if they have money to operate. The value of this in their life cannot be understated, and it is something that few children in orphanages are able to experience.

  6. Relationships: Working with them in the shop allows us to build relationships with them and to love and care for them consistently as the years go by. Yes, as missionaries, our primary calling is to make disciples of all nations, but obeying our Biblical calling to serve the orphaned and vulnerable requires a holistic process that meets their spiritual and physical life. It requires ministering to their soul to prepare them to lead Godly lives and meeting the needs of their mind and body to prepare them to live a productive life that utilizes the gifts and talents that God has given them.

So, yes, it's about making pens, but it's about so much more than that.

It's about empowering girls who live in a society dominated by "machismo." It's about showing them what they are capable of, helping them realize their full potential, and showing them that they have value, not just as wives or mothers but as smart, intelligent human beings who can think, dream, design, produce, and create value. It's a step in helping them understand that they are the daughters of God.

It might be the most traditional way of teaching these things, but we have found that it works.

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