She leaves her house and walks for at least 15 minutes, passing by paths where coffee is planted, and the sidewalk is very steep. The green scenery is interrupted by some white boxes. “It’s here”, Felipa says while she drinks some water to refresh herself. She puts on a white suit that covers her full body from head to toes, along with a mask, gloves, and rubber boots. She then prepares the aluminum smoker and fills it with dry twigs that she finds around, before turning it on with some matches. “We calm them down with the smoke and we protect ourselves with the suit, so they can’t sting us”, she says, referring to the bees.
Felipa Ajcalón is an indigenous women from the Pampojilá parcel, township of San Lucas Tolimán, Sololá. After being widowed, she started working to raise her five children, facing great difficulties due to the lack of job opportunities for women.
“My only source of income had been cutting coffee on the surrounding farms, although it did not cover our needs since that activity is very poorly paid”.
For seven years she has worked in honey production, an activity where few women participate, and her field work consists of monitoring and verifying that the boxes and frames are placed correctly so that the production can be optimal.
When it is time for harvesting, she opens the wooden boxes and carefully extracts the squares that contain honey. Then, she takes them home, and extracts their content. After that, she lets it rest for one or two days before packaging, so that she can then label them and get them ready for sale.
Felipa Ajcalón is an inspirational woman that leads the group Ajtikonel Kab as its president. The group is integrated by men and women from the community, all aged between forty-two and fifty. Felipa’s leadership has managed to create support opportunities for them, since because of her, they received protective equipment for their beekeeping activity, in addition to technical advice —specifically in terms of online sales and the use of WhatsApp to market their products.
For her, the award of both perseverance and teamwork is clear when their honey is being sold at stores and hotels surrounding lake Atitlán. This has been her main source of income and what has granted her economic freedom.
“Beekeeping is not a men-exclusive job. We started out as four women, and although I was stung in the beginning, I was not afraid. I encouraged my group to keep fighting, and since we are used to working in the fields, whenever we go to the production area, I tell them that just as bees do, we must have a positive attitude to work as a team”.
Now we are four female honey producers, and due to our experience throughout the years, we have learnt to recognize that the honey is dark-colored when the bees consumed the nectar from coffee flowers, while the light-colored honey comes from all the flowers that the bees visit while feeding in the forest. This latter one is what customers buy the most,” concludes Mrs. Felipa.