Once upon a time, there was a man named Otto. He grew up in the slums of La Limonada, a unique neighborhood located in Guatemala City, Guatemala. There he endured many challenges: poverty, social stigma, and a prevalent gang culture. Like many in his community, Otto had two choices – go to school or join a gang. There are no other choices. Young, idle minds must find an outlet. If your parents cannot afford to pay school fees, you’ll find SOMETHING to occupy your mind. With gang culture rampant in this slum community on the outskirts of the city dump, you join willingly, or you are “persuaded” to join.
I don’t know the details of how Otto came to be a member of a gang, but he did. He made bad choices. Gang life in Guatemala City is just like we hear about gang life here: weapons, theft, and fighting rival gangs. But Otto had another story to be written.
One day on a public bus, his heart was changed. He had an encounter and knew that this was a lifestyle he must leave. He jumped off the bus and ran… and ran… and ran… eager to escape the mistakes he had made and desperately seeking an alternative way of life. He experienced a real transformation when he stopped running and found his acceptance outside of the gang.
In his new life, using shoe-making skills he learned as a 10 year old, he felt burdened to make shoes for kids in his community – Children going to school, or for local kids in orphanages. He set about his task, creating shoes for children who deserve a life with more than only a of couple options.
He is good at his trade and then began making shoes for tourists, and finally, with The Root Collective. His shoes go on to find hundreds of feet and his passion grows to provide opportunity to many in his community. And EVEN THOUGH his son has been paralyzed due to gang activity, Otto longs to mentor and help mould futures for the young men in his community who live that lifestyle. Because HE KNOWS a life beyond gang activity and beyond bondage to poverty, he longs to mentor others in the art of shoemaking and show them there is another choice. And guess what? When Love hijacks our shopping and we buy those shoes? It helps bring those dreams a little closer to reality.
Otto's story was written by the wonderful Fair-Trade Fashionistas, advocates of fair trade, fashion and using purchasing power for good!
See Otto's workshop and the men he works with in the video below!
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