“I wanted the kids to feel as superheroes in their suits”
Scarlett and Celia graduated from the School of Architecture and Design at Universidad del Istmo. During their years in the University they decided to take part in a project that aimed to help children in three villages in the department of Huehuetenango, located in the highs of the west of Guatemala. These villages present a high index of people affected by the sickness xeroderma pigmentoso. This rare genetic sickness causes the skin and the tissue that covers the eyes to be extremely sensitive to the UV rays. As a result, the skin turns thin and colored patches appear and can develop into tumors on the skin. The only possible treatment is the complete protection from the light, something in which these Fashion Design students could help with.
How did the project began?
Scarlett: It began in 2013, in collaboration with INVEGEM, the Center for Genetic and Metabolic Diseases in Guatemala. Dr. Luis Álvarez, who works here at the University, is the executive director of this institution and in 2014 he proposed the project to see if anyone wanted to get on board, and I said yes in 2014 and Celia in 2015. The project in itself consists in bringing suits with UV protection to children affected by the xeroderma pigmentoso in the villages of Yulmacap, Yoljobé and Chinacaj. The designs are functional and aesthetic, and also for for the children , although what we cared about the most was that they were protected because their skin, as they do not have enough resources in their village, is already very damaged and they urgently need the protection. Some children are even affected by artificial light. As they do not have access to this protection there have been several deadly cases in the village, so our job is vital. We did a first visit to the village, supported by SOSEP (Secretariat for the Social Works of the President’s Wife), they coordinated with Guatemala’s air force so that we could get to the villages by helicopter, because they are very difficult to access.
We did home visits and took measurements for the kids and tried some prototypes of the clothes we had prepared. We also explained to them the importance of taking care of the clothes so that they would last. We even made a manual for them, but as they don’t speak spanish, only canjobal, the community leader offered himself to translate it.
We also realized that they don’t have medicines or shoes, that their nutrition is not adequate, so that their growth wasn’t adequate either. The sizes did not correspond to the usual ages, for example, a size 8 suit fitted a girl who was 15 years old.
What was the reaction of the people in the village when you gave them the suits?
Scarlett: They were expectant to what it was that we were giving them. To get the fabrics we asked for a donation to Indiana Knitwear and they donated 2,600 yards of fabric with UV protection, which is very expensive. Thanks to that donation we also coordinated the confection of the suits in a technical school: in that way they can practice with the patterns we send them.
Celia: One of the things that moves me the most is how thankful people are. During our visit, the community leader invited us over to his house for lunch. Sometimes, it is people who have the least the ones who give the most, and maybe it was the food for the whole family but they were willing to give it us.
Tell us more about the designs you put together.
Scarlett: We included many pockets because they like to keep many “treasures” they find while playing. Celia’s design is a jumpsuit.
Celia: I decided to do it like this because I was inspired by super heroes, I wanted them to feel like super heroes while wearing their suits, that they weren’t ashamed to be different but felt good. That was my inspiration, that it wasn’t a punishment suit, they already given looks in their village because of their condition.
From the University what kind of support have you received?
Scarlett: This was our graduation project, there was always an alliance in all times and they accompanied us in the process, even one of our teachers gave us the contact for the fabrics donor.
Now that you are about to graduate, how would you describe your university years?
Celia: They have been years I will never forget, not only on the professional aspect, but also as a person. The University has a very complete philosophy, it is not only worried about graduating good professionals, but also good people.
Scarlett: I believe that what I liked the most here and made me feel at home was that spirit of trying to help others. Also, the type of people you meet here, the contacts you make which are very important once you graduate and also the status of having graduated from a University as good as this one is invaluable.