Maria's resilience began the day she came into this world. Born the "wrong" gender, Maria was forced to flee home with her mother as an infant. They travelled through mountainous terrain to seek refuge with her grandmother. As she is telling us her story, the tears begin to form in her eyes.
Her words, native Ixil, pass to one translator to the next. From Ixil, to Spanish, to English. Even without knowing the words as she speaks, the emotion is overwhelming for all of us, we can sense the pain that she bares. Her story continues: The time with her grandmother is short-lived and her mother and she are forced to run once again. During the 80s, there was much unrest with the military. Maria described seeing homes burned to the ground, with people inside; watching in fear as bullets filled the air. A scene that is hard to wrap our minds around for those of us living in safety. Miraculously, the resilient Maria survived. She met her husband and fled to the town of Nebaj. This is where life began to have hope, this is where they discovered Agros.
Her husband was the first person chosen to be the president of the community formed by Agros. Together, they found spring water and brought it to the community. They developed a school and found educators to bring an education to the next generation. Together, they created a life that was no longer one of fear, but of stability. It's important to note I used the word together. The Agros model is to help empower people to be self-sufficient. While Agros often purchases the land, the people in these communities are working to pay back their loans themselves. What we've witnessed here is a model that will last for years to come, not just a quick fix. Agros wants to get to the root of the problem. If you aren't willing to deal with what is causing poverty or malnutrition, it will be an endless cycle. While treating the affects of malnutrition and poverty can help (such as medical clinics to treat the malnourished), in general, they cycle back into those circumstances.
Above is Maria (center) with one of her daughters, Cecelia, and an Agros staff worker who is based in this region of Guatemala (right). As Maria takes us around her land, you can't help but notice that her head is a little higher. We wander through her greenhouses, observe her feeding her chickens, and hike up a steep hillside (which, she has no problem doing, yet our entire team struggles) to see her pigs. She has 8 children, and lost her husband a few years back from diabetes, but there is still hope in her eyes.
Her words to describe what Agros has meant for her and her family will remain in my head forever. Completely powerful. Maria says, "Agros is like a father, who gave us an inheritance."