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Fairly traded scarves connect women economically and spiritually

By selling fairly traded scarves made by women weavers in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, Debbie Dupey seeks to empower women there and in the United States.

Debbie Dupey
Debbie Dupey with scarves woven women from Guatemala

Part of selling scarves at a fair-trade festival, private showing or church event is sharing stories of women’s lives, connecting them economically and spiritually.

Sales provide income for 15 Guatemalan weavers in desperate need, she said.  Many are widows, displaced from the mountains in the civil war.  Backstrap- or foot-loom weaving is the only source of income for many of them.

Buying rayon or cotton scarves empowers U.S. women as they learn about the weavers’ lives,” said Debbie in a recent interview.

She co-founded Corazon Scarves with Sandi Thompson-Royer out of their work together in violence prevention, training Central American women leaders, teachers and child advocates.  The name is from the weaving group’s name, “Corazon de Mujers,” and means “the heart of women.”

Debbie’s global connections began as research associate for People to People.  From 1998 to 1999, she went to Nepal and helped women create an economic empowerment program.

Local artist Judy Patterson designed the logo Corazon Scarves now used for the Women in Nepal program.  It comes from an ancient Buddhist story about Nangsa Obum, a woman oppressed in an arranged marriage.  She took a scarf she had woven and turned it into wings of liberation.  The scarf became a symbol of personal freedom and compassion for the wellbeing of others.

In Nepal, she helped a Buddhist organization start a nonprofit to address women’s issues and produce clothes.  That planted a seed, but it did not come to fruition there.  Now she does what she can on those issues in Guatemala.

Debbie, who has lived in Spokane since high school, now lives part of the year in Guatemala, returning to Spokane to sell scarves and calendars.  She now uses what she learned from bachelor’s degrees at Eastern Washington University in creative writing in 1986 and in education in 1990, plus a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University in 1999.

As director of Lutheran Community Services’ ACT for Kids program, she published resources to protect children from sexual abuse and trauma.  She was educator for the Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium.  Then she worked with Washington State University and the Department of Justice to provide training on human trafficking, and she helped form the Inland Northwest Task Force on Human Trafficking.  She did a survey on human trafficking and training on abuse prevention, domestic violence and human trafficking.

About 10 years ago, Debbie began leading domestic violence workshops with Sandi, who started Women Walking Together when she was in Spokane.  Sandi now manages a fair-trade shop in Leavenworth. The women began going to Central America, where Sandi had connections through the Presbyterian Church (USA), to train women in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica to be natural helpers and train women to help women struggling with domestic violence.

Eleven years ago, Debbie went to Vietnam to do a workshop on child witnesses of domestic violence.

From her visits to Guatemala, she also wanted to write a book to tell stories of women who experience domestic violence, gender and ethnic discrimination.

“I wanted to spend more time there to learn about women who survived the 36-year civil war and their issues,” she said.

She met weavers at Corazon de Mujer and their stories “touched my heart,” she said.  “I was eager to share their stories.”

When the women sell their scarves on the streets in Guatemala, they do not receive a price that reflects the value of their work and art, she said.  They have a hard time feeding, educating and housing their children.

Most did not have an education until they were in their 40s.  They want to send their children to school.  They pool funds if a woman’s child is at risk of leaving school for a lack of money.

In 2009, Debbie talked with Sandi about selling the scarves in the United States.  They bought a few in the summer and last Christmas, when they launched their website at

She has published the weavers’ stories in a 2011 calendar.
  She plans to produce a similar calendar every year, focusing on women in different countries to raise awareness of women’s lives, issues and stories.  Funds from each calendar will go for a project in the focus country.  Haiti is next, then Nepal.  She is expanding Corazon scarves to offer a market for women survivors of violence and oppression in different regions of the world.

On the island of Lagonav, Haiti, families struggle to survive as once fertile soil washes into the sea with each rain.  Images on silk scarves women weave reflect their lives.  Providing income for their families gives the women voice in their community.

 Debbie also looks forward to going back to Nepal, where her idea originated.
Going back and forth between Spokane and Guatemala for two and a half years, she decided to study Spanish and settle in Antigua.  Her son, Marcel, came to visit.  Having studied Spanish and business in college, he decided to study a quarter there and loved it.  Having experience working at a Spokane restaurant since he was 14, he bought a restaurant in Antiqua.

Last fall Debbie came to Spokane, sold scarves at about 10 events and told stories of how the sales give women more options.

 “One Guatemalan woman, who had lived with her sister for nine years, finished building her house.  Another woman put in a toilet.  A third women paid for surgery to overcome a life-threatening illness,” Debbie said.

Sales have increased the standard of living and security for about 55 women in three groups: the 15 Corazon de Mujers weavers; 36 women with Voice of the Tz’Tujiles, who make dyes at Lake Atitlan, and a family in San Antonia Aqua Caliente who make a different style scarf.

The group at Lake Atitlan suffered since a tropical storm hit Guatemala and partially flooded San Juan.  Tourists, who usually buy scarves, did not come because of publicity about the storm and the U.S. economy.  Guatemala is recovering, roads are passable, and it’s now “a lovely time to visit there,” Debbie said.

“The women are grateful.  It also makes a difference in my life and allows me to follow my dream,” she said.  “Mostly women buy the scarves, but men also buy scarves as gifts for women.”

A Spokane woman told Debbie that in Guatemala she bartered a woman selling a scarf to a small price.  She said:  “Realizing she needed the money more than I did, I felt guilty.  So I felt good buying a Corazon scarf.”

Before leaving Jan. 18, she will participate in a human trafficking vigil at 6 p.m., at the Women’s Hearth, 920 W. Second.

“Guatemala is a source of human trafficking,” she said.  “Buying scarves is a way to prevent it.  Women are vulnerable to it if they do not have a viable income.”

Debbie works with different faith communities here and in Guatemala, because “the faith community is often a great structure to work with in a society,” she said.  “It plays an important role in healing and connecting people.”

For information, call 434-4379 or email


Copyright © January 2011 - The Fig Tree