At the young age of 17, Ashley Williams, originally from Tennessee, decided to visit Guatemala after sponsoring a child in the country during her high-school years. Upon her arrival, she was surprised by the country’s conditions and decided to stay permanently and volunteer.
(Para leer la historia en español, siga este enlace: La Serigrafía de la Gringa)
Soon, she heard about the circumstances of a neighborhood in Guatemala City called La Limonada (The Lemonade), located in Zone 5 of the city and known for its extreme poverty and major gang influence.
After being dropped off by a local city bus, Ashley noticed various staircases in the neighborhood. After descending one, she was approached by a group of young gang members who wanted to know the reason for her visit.
Ashley used her broken Spanish to explain that she wanted to explore the area. The men were surprised by her answer and asked more about her. Later, once stable communication was established, they asked her if she wanted to get a tattoo. Her immediate reaction was to avoid conflict and say “yes,” regardless of her hesitations.
Little did Ashley know that this initiated her membership in the neighborhood. After her visit, Ashley felt the need to submerge herself in the experiences that many impoverished were living through, so she decided to move to La Limonada for a full year.
During her stay in La Limonada, Ashley experienced fights and murders.
Ashley explains that it is easy for people to be accused of murder in the area even if they were not at the crime scene.
This situation happened to her next-door neighbor. After a killing in the area, there were false accusations against the woman.
Ashley told authorities they had been together at the time of the crime, but her neighbor still went to jail.
Ashley then visited her neighbor at the women’s prison. She asked what she could do to help.
The women, Ashley says, responded by saying that they wanted the opportunity to work while completing their sentences in jail. Ashley’s reaction was quite confused. The women explained it was their constitutional right to work while in prison.
Ashley decided to go along with the idea and gave the women things they could do to earn income while being imprisoned.
After a while of thinking, the women decided they wanted to learn and produce print-making products. Ashley asked them what they would like to name the print-making business they answered, “La Serigrafia de La Gringa.”
Over the years, Ashley started a work-study program for both men and women in prisons.
The program consists of finishing middle school, high school, and vocational school for those who were not able to complete their studies.
The curriculum is taught by imprisoned women who have been certified by the Ministry of Education in Guatemala. The program offers a monthly salary of Q3,500 (quetzals) or around $400, which complies with the country’s minimum wages.
Ashley’s program has served as an outstanding community project by offering second chances to men and women inside prison.
She said she was deeply inspired by the prisoners she has worked with and has now graduated from Law School at the University of Rafael Landivar in Guatemala City.