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New Indigenous partners in Guatemala share successes

March 15, 2023

By Christine Hills

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PWRDF is supporting a three-year project to reduce poverty, improve food security and empower Indigenous communities in Mexico and Guatemala, with a contribution of $30,000 each year.

Xilotl Asociación para el Desarrollo Social A.C. has been working in Mexico for more than 20 years, and ODIGUA Sembrando Esperanza in Guatemala for more than 15 years, supporting sustainable development initiatives among marginalized Indigenous populations. In Ocosingo, Mexico, 85% of the Tzeltal Indigenous communities are defined as poor. Agriculture and livestock are the main economic activities, yet women and young people do not have access to land to farm. The lack of access to food affects 25% people throughout the municipality; families have a precarious diet that is also low in nutrition.

In Guatemala, six Q’eqchi’ communities in Alta Verapaz province suffered institutional violence during the civil war that stretched from the ‘60s until 1996. Today the communities bear the emotional scars of the conflict, such as lack of social infrastructure, extreme poverty and low rates of literacy. Eight out of 10 Indigenous people live below the poverty line.

This new bi-partner project will develop and deliver two workshops a year to train people how to plant and grow food and raise animals. It will include training 12 new promoters and holding exchange meetings with experienced promoters from both countries. Workshops will also centre on women’s self-esteem, leadership and organization and there will be several opportunities for cross-cultural learning and knowledge exchange, including for youth as well.

PWRDF has supported grass roots development organizations in Guatemala for many years. So when the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador hoped to develop a companionship relationship with the Diocese of Guatemala, they turned to PWRDF.

Bishop Sam Rose and the Venerable Charlene Taylor visit ODIGUA in Guatemala.

In February, the Rt. Rev. Sam Rose, Bishop of the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Venerable Charlene Taylor, former PWRDF Diocesan Representative, travelled to Guatemala in hopes of building a relationship. They met the Rt. Rev. Silvestre Romero, Bishop of the Episcopal Church of Guatemala. It was also a reunion of sorts. When Bishop Sam was a theology student in 2000, he travelled to Belize as part of the Partners in Mission program of the Anglican Church of Canada, and served under Bishop Romero Sr., Bishop Silvestre’s father.

After celebrating Ash Wednesday at the Cathedral in Guatemala, Bishop Sam and Taylor visited the ODIGUA offices in San Pedro Carchá. ODIGUA staff shared stories about their organization and projects, their methodology and the impact on the people and communities it supports.

“The staff of ODIGUA Sembrando Esperanza who administer these projects are passionate about the work they do,” says Taylor.

Bishop Rose spoke about the lack of food production in Canada and the reliance on imported food to complement what is being grown here. He noted that Canadians are responding to this situation by planting home gardens and using agro-ecological techniques. The guests and staff exchanged thoughts on the work done in both countries and discussed the similarities in techniques around agro-ecological family gardens and gender equality. Challenges for ODIGUA include the lack of full-time staff, the lack of funding to cover the payment of promoters and funding the construction of community greenhouses.

The delegation also visited the Esperanza Chizón community, where they learned about organic and foliar fertilizers and natural insecticides. Community members showcased the community garden with its diverse crop of carrots, onions, cabbage, radishes and chard, among others.

Those in the community appreciated hosting the visitors, and sent greetings to PWRDF as well as to ODIGUA for the support provided during the implementation of the project.

“We were blessed to visit a farming project that grows organic vegetables that not only feeds families but also provides income from the sale of excess produce,” says Taylor. “We received the gift of hospitality from a farmer and his family who invited us to his home and served us tea and soup.”

Taylor appreciated seeing the work first hand. “I read the project outline,” says Charlene, “but it’s different to see the project in the field and appreciate the opportunity to share with the community.”

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