She’s an ambassador for her country, and she loves those who love orphans. And with rare exception, her presence is as much a part of an Orphan Outreach mission trip to Guatemala as volcano-dotted landscapes, Rosa de Jamaica, and families dressed in ropa tipica (traditional clothing that honors the heritage of the country and its people). Nelly’s brightly colored kiosk sits just behind the fountain in a crowded market in Antigua. In it, shoppers find purses, backpacks, blankets, and more. “See what we have created for you this year,” she says as she pulls out beautifully woven oven mitts and and a newly designed amenities bag. She is an energetic entrepreneur who remembers faces and is always asking customers – or, “my good friends” as she calls them – what they would like to see in her store. “I then pray and God gives me the ideas.” Nelly’s ideas have found their home in the hearts of mission trip participants, donors, church partners, and ministry supporters.
Nelly smiles when she looks at her bustling store and the others around it – she has helped family members and friends start their own businesses here at the market. “I remember what it is like to struggle,” she says as the tears pool in her eyes. “You see, I began selling things when I was only nine. My father, he died, and I wanted to help my mama with money for food. So I made little dolls with scraps from blouses and skirts. I would work so hard to make the dolls look nice for the tourists. I put the dolls in a basket on my head, and would stand in the streets hoping someone would buy them.” People did indeed buy the dolls, and soon Nelly was using the ropa tipica fabric for other gifts. “I made scrunchies for the hair and little purses. And people bought them too, glory to God.”
As her small business grew, Nelly reached out to some very special people to bring her ideas to life. “I watched my own mother struggle to provide for us, and I discovered so many other women who also were also over their households. I thought, ‘what if women from all over Guatemala created beautiful items for our visiting friends?’ That made me feel good because I could help others like me have a better life.” She knows every maker personally, and shares the region and history of every pattern on every item she sells. “This pattern is from Chichicastenango, and that one is from Santiago. The women will work more than three months on each piece of fabric to make it perfect. It is all hand-stitched, you see.” Every woven item Nelly sells had its origin in fabric made for blouses or skirts. “Few people will wear the clothing – but all love the colors. So I work with the women to create beautiful things that will help people remember my country with happiness.”
While she and her family spend much of their time at the kiosk, Nelly’s passion for those who struggle reaches far beyond the Antigua market. “My husband works in the church. And on Thursdays, he and I work together to pray for the sick and to feed those who are hungry.”
She turns to answer a question about a custom order for pillows with unique tapestry, then looks around again at the hand-crafted designs around her. “I want to always say ‘yes’ to new ideas. I want to say ‘yes’ to good deals and good quality. I love Jesus and I want others to feel that in my store. I believe everyone should benefit from the work of our hands.”