By BRENLEY LEWIS
Many students at BYU are catching the spirit of humanitarian aid relief efforts, but two BYU students have personally taken their desire to serve to a new level.
Lee Hamblin, a senior from Provo, majoring in business management and Joel Otterstrom, a junior from Spokane, Wash., majoring in computer science, have created a way to help the poverty-stricken people they met on their missions in Guatemala.
They are doing this through a Web site they created known as “mayashop.com.”
The primary objective of Mayashop, according to the Web site information page, is “to make the diverse arts and crafts of Central America available to the world via the Internet, while simultaneously improving the standard of living for the artists who create these products.”
Their idea of doing something to help started while they were on their missions. Otterstrom said the spark was ignited when he was in one area where everyone in the city made shoes.
“There was no one to buy the shoes. They didn’t have a market. Being in this area made me think, ‘What can I do?'”
In April, Otterstrom and Hamblin met with Luis Alvarez, founder of Enterprise Mentors of Central America, a non-profit agency that redistributes funds through micro-loans and trains aspiring entrepreneurs.
Hamblin said they talked to Alvarez about their idea to create a Web page where they could distribute Central American products worldwide and give all profits directly back to the people.
“Luiz was very excited about our idea,” Otterstrom said. “He taught us a lot and helped us get started.”
Otterstrom and Hamblin met Alvarez again in Guatemala in May when they went to find vendors whose goods they could distribute. To find their vendors, they received references from members they met on their missions, Hamblin said.
The Miza family is an LDS family Hamblin and Otterstrom met on their mission. They have two sons at BYU.
They became one of the first vendors to sign on with Mayashop. They were also connected with Enterprise Mentors at this time.
The Mizas make scripture cases, backpacks and other goods, which they provide for Mayashop. They are also a part of Enterprise Mentors, which teaches them how to run a business, Hamblin said.
Hamblin said Enterprise Mentors is very beneficial for those who take part in it. “They (the vendors) have a lot of talents, but without Enterprise Mentors, they don’t know how to run a business.”
Because of this beneficial relationship, Hamblin said Mayashop gives 10 percent of the profits to Enterprise Mentors.
Mayashop.com purchases its products directly from the producers to avoid intermediaries and to guarantee that the vendors receive a fair price for their products, Hamblin and Otterstrom said.
The Mayashop products are being sold in several stores in the Salt Lake and Provo areas. Several stores in Spokane have also shown interest in their idea and products, Otterstrom said.
“We’re doing really well in the stores. I was surprised how easily we got into the retail stores. Store managers have been really excited about what we’re doing. They like our idea, they want to help, and most importantly, they like the products,” Otterstrom said.
Hamblin said they are expanding in retail because Mayashop is not yet well known on the Internet.
“We’re trying to expand publicity of the Internet site by registering with search engines and putting the Web address on the tags of our products,” Hamblin said.
In addition to establishing the presence of the Web site, the goals of Otterstrom and Hamblin are to eventually cover all of Central America — to be able to sell products from all the Central American countries, Otterstrom said. As a long-term goal, they hope to start a factory which will provide decent wages to employ members of the church in making a variety of goods that can be sold in the U.S. and worldwide, Hamblin said.