TROUT VALLEY – Bob and Terry Davis never thought that a church trip to Central America would change their lives forever, but it did.
Since visiting Guatemala nearly two decades ago and seeing some of the worst poverty they ever had witnessed, the Trout Valley couple have watched the nonprofit that they were instrumental in creating expand into a booming organization.
The Davises have raised about $250,000 over the years selling hand-crafted goods to help the Mayan people in Guatemala. MayaWorks, the organization that they helped create, does about $500,000 in annual sales, according to its Web site, www.mayaworks.org.
Traveling the world for many years making documentaries, the couple had seen poverty before. But Guatemala shocked them.
"We saw the absolute hopelessness," Terry Davis said. "I remember saying 'What can we do? I don't feel comfortable leaving here without doing something.' "
The couple's guide told them to take back some of the handwoven baskets that women in the village they visited had made to sell in America. The Davises did that and sent the money back to the women in the village.
"That was how MayaWorks was born," Terry Davis said.
Since then, the Davises have visited hundreds, perhaps thousands, of trade shows, arts and crafts fairs, and other events to sell goods made by Mayans. They don't profit from the sales and pay all their own overhead costs, such as booth rental fees. The Davises sell everything from brightly colored blankets and clothing to cell-phone holders and dolls.
The money they raise is returned to Guatemala and used to build clean water systems, clinics and schools. Money also is used to provide small loans to Guatemalan women and scholarships for girls.
One unintended consequence of the Davises' work still makes Terry Davis smile.
"Men there didn't really appreciate their wives, but that changed because they are seeing their wives earn more money than they ever had," she said. "Now the men want to learn how to weave so they can make money. It has made them appreciate their wives more."
MayaWorks, which has an office in Chicago and one in Guatemala, has grown dramatically since it started in 1996. The organization now has about 160 active volunteers throughout the United States who sell MayaWorks products.
The nonprofit even sells some of the goods wholesale, said Naomi Czerwinskyj, a customer service associate at the MayaWorks office in Chicago. And the Mayaworks Education fund provides scholarships to more than 100 girls in Guatemala.
"We're realizing that we are helping them," Bob Davis said.
The Davises recently were honored for their work to help the people of Guatemala. The First Congregational Church of Crystal Lake lauded the couple earlier this month during a concert hosted by the Northwest Community Music Academy in Crystal Lake and featuring three national choirs from Guatemala.