Sustainable Tourism Project Offers Empowerment Alternatives in Guatemala

After a fraudulent volunteer program exchange in Guatemala, two young female entrepreneurs launched Mujeres de la Luna, a sustainable tourism project seeking to provide better economic opportunities to rural women in Santa Cruz La Laguna. 

By Natalia Bonilla 

When Ane Dávila and Mailis Fontani arrived in the traditional northern village of Lago de Atitlán in July 2019, they were hoping for an exciting and immersive cultural experience helping at a local school and interacting with families but that wasn’t the case. 

Back then, Ane began talks in the Spanish language with the mothers of the children at the school to learn more about their situation only to find out a scheme of labour exploitation was taking place. 

“Women were paying to be in that organization and also they were working for that organization. They were taking care of the children and the women paid for that. It’s something that no one asked before because I was the first Spanish-speaking volunteer,” the 21-year-old Spanish university student said. 

After meeting several women, she and Mailis came to the realization that a community of women were experiencing similar problems which led them to report the website of the volunteer program and began to develop a social enterprise proposal to offer economic opportunities to an initial group of 10 women. 

“We started thinking how to sell their handmade jewelry because that is something they do in their daily life and they are used to selling them in local markets. We wanted to support them internationally but it wasn’t very possible because of high prices for shipping to send it to Spain. So we started researching the high impact of tourism and found we have a match here because they were open to share their stories to volunteer students like us,” Ane said. 

As an example of pivoting in business, the founders of Mujeres de la Luna – a name proposed and agreed upon by the local women in Santa Cruz – developed two successful MVPs with local tourism agencies before COVID-19 hit. 

Although the project is paused due to the pandemic, Ane and her team continue committed to the rural women they met in Santa Cruz and are currently looking for opportunities to restart the sustainable travel programs by 2022 in the Central American country – one of the countries with the highest female illiteracy rate in the Latin American continent – and other potential destinations like Seoul, South Korea.

With the belief that they don’t seek to “empower women” but accompany them in the process of economic independence, fellow team member Ane Arroyo explained how they are working towards an ethical approach to rural communities.

“We just show people the reality that some communities are facing and we understand that there are some people taking pictures for instagram. We want to focus on people with (sustainable tourism) values and if they don’t have that vision yet, we are creating it. We want at least for them not to have that vision of white savior complex,” the recently joined project leader said.  

The pair of young social entrepreneurs are currently in Seoul testing how to best incorporate Mujeres de la Luna tourism model in the capital city but challenges like social class disparities and lack of big data on authentic cultural experiences with rural women in the area are steering the project to explore new collaborations. 

Two of those include an arts design project in Korean language and personalized trips to South Korean travelers to Guatemala.

Mujeres de la Luna estimates to launch properly in 2022 although its team is working non-stop on finishing their university degrees and creating opportunities for the project and their headquarter Mayan community moving forward.

You can learn more about Mujeres de la Luna on and follow their work on social media at @m.delaluna

Photos Provided By: Ane Dávila, Mujeres de la Luna 

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