At 3:01am on February 4, 1976 a seven-point-five magnitude earthquake stuck Guatemala. Cities throughout the country were ravaged. The majority of buildings at that time were built of adobe or cinder block, and crumbled instantly. Having struck so early in the morning, many were caught sleeping, and the death toll quickly climbed to 23,000. As a result of this catastrophic event, support rushed into the country. Among this effort was an American named Dennis Martin. Working with the Canadian embassy, Dennis led an effort that completed schools, water systems, and municipal buildings throughout the country. His time spent living in the impoverished regions of Guatemala impressed upon him the importance of creating an organization to employ the indigenous Mayan population--and give the people there an opportunity to strengthen their communities and economy.
Decades later, in 2008, Dennis met Dan Stalzer, a master chair maker from the Bay Area. He shared with Dennis the practice of woodworking using nothing but an ancient type of work bench, called a shavehorse, and a long draw knife to shape wood into extremely durable and elegant chairs. This practice eliminates the need for electricity or hardware, enabling a cooperative model where people living even in the most remote areas can gain skills and produce high quality goods. In 2010, Dan traveled with Dennis to Guatemala where they formed a pilot group of 30 students in order to develop a curriculum. The students learned quickly and they realized that Carpenters without Borders could be a real engine of economic stimulus in the country.
Currently, we at Carpenters without Borders are laying the framework for our organization. We look forward to helping to create jobs and teach valuable skills in the field of carpentry.
We are a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education and employment to the indigenous population of Guatemala through the instruction of fine woodworking techniques. We believe that job creation is the key to solving immigration issues throughout Latin America.
The Bentwood Chair that we produce is an ancient design which requires no hardware or electricity. Using tropical hardwoods grown on sustainable tree farms, our cooperatives can support themselves by creating beautiful, extremely durable pieces of furniture.
By creating localized cooperatives of woodworkers throughout the rural Guatemala, we are able to provide Mayan communities with a stable income and a specialized skill set, both of which would otherwise be unavailable to them. Using our shavehorses, participants in the program create all the components of our Bentwood chair, a highly durable and elegant design that does not require either electricity or hardware to construct.
We accomplish this by providing a paid two-week course in which participants learn by constructing their own Bentwood chairs. Graduates of this course that show motivation and consistency are invited to continue producing chairs in their towns using wood that we supply. The chairs that they complete we buy back from them, providing a way for individuals and families to support themselves. Cooperatives are encouraged to refer new members in need of employment to our woodworking course. This way, we create a network of self-sustaining cooperatives capable of providing for their families and villages while gaining useful skills in carpentry and woodworking.