Twice each week, a small group of women—most retired—convert the pavilion outside the dining hall at Seminario Evangelico Teologia (Evangelical Theological Seminary, or SET) into a stunning art gallery/boutique.

They are the “Weavers of Hope,” who through the production and sale of a variety of woven handicrafts have forged a community that produces for them financial independence and spiritual growth.

“Initially, the purpose of the group was to provide work for the wives of married students,” says Elizabeth Gonzalez Rodriguez, an administrative assistant at the seminary who coordinates the weavers. “We wanted to give them their own purpose here.”

Founded in 2002, the group currently numbers nine local women, plus Gonzalez. Originally envisioned strictly as a small business enterprise, the Weavers of Hope quickly evolved into much more. “As they talked they also began to see the situation of women in the community and decided they could use the power of the group to do other things. The group began to intentionally include spiritual formation into their group activities, including a weekly worship service in the seminary’s chapel.

Each member of the group keeps 70 percent of the sales of the handicrafts. The other 30 percent is used by the group to fund projects they agree to support. They conduct or sponsor community workshops on such topics as violence prevention and building self-esteem. The group also supports social service projects in Matanzas that work with persons with HIV/AIDS and Alzheimers disease, the elderly and orphans, and single mothers. “We are especially happy to help the single mothers pay their kids’ school tuition,” Gonzalez says.

Weavers of Hope goods

Some of the handicrafts produced by the Weavers of Hope. —Jerry Van Marter

The value of the Weavers of Hope to its members is clearly incalculable.

“I am here from the beginning and it’s been a blessing,” says Rosa Gonzalez. “One of most important things is to not lose the tradition of weaving in our community.” Rosa Gonzalez calls her participation in the weavers occupational therapy.

“I learn something new every day. We are sisters, very united,” she says. “Besides the financial and spiritual blessing, it is beautiful to work together, to take our model to other communities and to represent the group.”

Carmen Gil, a retired weaving teacher, says the group gives her great satisfaction. “Besides being able to continue to teach weaving,” she says, “I have made great friends.”

When she retired after working for nearly 30 years, Rosalia Interian says she “felt lost. This group has become my salvation.” She, too, says she has “learned a lot and the good relationships and financial rewards have been a great help.”

Says Elizabeth Gonzalez: “All these things fill us with joy.”