By Rosario Escobedo, Positive News

A grassroots work project called Guerilla Prayer Flags is providing employment, hope, and inspiration to struggling families on the outskirts of Juarez, Mexico, a border city ravaged by drug wars and violent crime. Mothers of special-needs children, widows, and community activists are creating beautiful prayer flags, inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, out of pieces of cloth, recycled bottle caps, and can tabs in a small workshop amidst sprawling pallet houses, washed-away dirt roads, and families struggling to meet basic needs.

The project began when Siba Escobedo, a long-time Juarez aid worker, and her friend from Mexico, Sofia Aleman, a widow with five children, began brainstorming ways that they could create a cooperative business to offer employment and independence to local women. Because the two worked together at a local community center for families with special-needs children operated by the Sisters of Charity, they knew many hardworking mothers for whom working outside of their homes posed a real hardship. “I like working here a lot because I can be with my kids,” said Griselda Lopez, who stopped sewing to give her youngest son Daniel a hug and a kiss. Most parents who live in the area work for maquiladoras, factories that manufacture products for US companies. “If you have a special-needs child, you can’t even work there,” Siba explained. Ideas abounded, but the insurmountable problem was the rampant extortion and violence faced by businesses in Juarez: it had become downright dangerous to operate a storefront.

A breakthrough came one day when Siba’s daughter mused that it would be nice to find locally made prayer flags like the ones she ordered online from Tibet or Nepal. After sharing some images of prayer flags with Siba and Sofia, Guerilla Prayer Flags was born.

The mission of the business is to provide employment to those who needed and deserved it, to use recycled materials available locally, and to spread the message of peace and hope anywhere and everywhere — guerilla style.

Thanks to the original idea of transforming piles of junk into garlands of hope, Guerilla Prayer Flags can now be found beautifying the city of Juarez and in retail stores including GreenStar. They make beautiful gifts, and feature 20 different themes ranging from Tibetan Buddhist to Virgin of Guadalupe, from Goddess to Holiday Advent and Social Justice.