"Many women don't have the opportunity and privilege to live and work in the United States. I thank God that I am able to be here and help my family back in Guatemala. My life is blessed because I am a mother. I am working here so that my son has the opportunity to go to school so he can succeed and achieve his goals. His father died while I was pregnant with him and I wanted him to have opportunities, so I came here to the United States. My son has lived with my parents, his grandparents since he was 5 years old. I haven't seen him since I left and I still think of him as my baby but he is 18. He is a young man now." - Martha Lopez lives in Los Angeles and is employed cleaning houses.
"I have one child and one on the way. I've had the opportunity to give birth and the opportunity to be a guide for them, to teach them to be good people and to help others." - Michel L. is originally from Guatemala and lives in Santa Fe, NM and sells clothing near the plaza.
"My parent's, who are community leaders, really cared for me when I was growing up. My father always said, "You are a girl and you need to be cared for and protected." - Sandra Elizabeth Lopez is a kindergarten teacher from Xacana, Guatemala.
"When I was a teenager and studying to become a teacher I got pregnant and dropped out of school. At the time I thought my work and the rest of my life would be in the house and in the kitchen. But after participating in some community women's groups and raising three children with my husband, I decided to become a health promoter so I could earn my own money and go back to school. I earned Q300 which was enough to pay for my school materials and my uniform. I only had one uniform for all three years I was in school. I had to borrow money from my family so that I could buy the clothing I needed for my graduation. But I kept pushing myself toward my goals. It was hard but I just kept going. While raising 5 children, I became a teacher and now I am the Director of the School." - Dominga Lukas Castro is an educator and business owner in Huitan, Guatemala. She also gives literacy classes to her mother-in-law (yesterday's EVE) and older women in her community.
note: This project is dedicated to Dominga and you can read a longer version of her story on meandeve.com. It is the very first story published.
"As a child I only attended school for two years. Back then the thought was, "Why send a girl to school when she only is going to wind up in the kitchen?" When I was 25 years old the Catholic Nuns came to my village and taught me the value of being a woman. The priest told us that men and women are equal. He said the only ones who say women aren't equal to men are men. The priest built the Colegio Asuncion here in Huitan so that the indigenous people here (the Mams) would be educated. All of my 10 children attended that school and 9 of them went on to become teachers. Now, I go to school every afternoon. My daughter-in-law, who is the director of the elementary school here, teaches a class for older women like me who didn't have the opportunity to go to school when we were young." - Dona Juana Diaz Velasquez lives in El Plan, Huitan, Guatemala and has been a community leader for many decades.
"During the Civil War, when I was 15 years old, I escaped with my parents into the mountains. We didn't have a house, we lived under a tarp for eight years. We planted corn and beans to survive, but we had no salt, we had nothing. When I was 19 years old and pregnant the army threw a grenade near me, and rocks flew and hit my head and I still have a scar. I was pregnant at the time. My brother was killed. After the war, we settled in Chel and we had to start over again with nothing. My husband left for the United States in January to look for work. He found part time work and hopes to find more work and not get deported." - Maria Raymundo Cruz lives in Chel, Guatemala and participates in The Coffee Trust food sovereignty program. In this photo she is pictured throwing worms to her chickens. Providing the chickens a source of protein will keep the chickens stronger and healthier.
"I am enjoy my life. I am a mother, grandmother and in charge of taking care of the house. I have my animals and I enjoy all the blessings that God has given me. I am content and I feel happy to be living my life here in Xacana." - Graciela Cabrera lives in Xacana, Guatemala.
When Dominga was 18 she and her boyfriend were both studying to become teachers. Her boyfriend became a teacher while Dominga became pregnant. In the Highlands of Guatemala when a woman becomes pregnant her education is over, if it wasn't over already.
I met Dominga in 1993 she was nearly 20 years old and I was a 25 year old Peace Corps Volunteer. She was vibrant, smart, funny and beautiful. She taught me how to speak a few words in Mam and how to bathe in a Chuj (a sweat lodge used for weekly bathing). I taught her how to make apple pie. I urged her to go back to school, that is wasn't too late. And then two years later, my stint in the Peace Corps was over and we returned to the United States and Dominga was pregnant again.
Then in 1999, I sat in her one room house that had plastic for windows and talked about life while she nursed her third baby. Her husband was drinking and beating her and she needed help. She had never asked me for money before, but that day she asked for $100 so she could buy a propane stove. I thought, "How is a stove going to help?"
In March I returned to Guatemala. Dominga's mother-in-law told us she was at the elementary school. I found her in an office, her office. Dominga was now the Director of the elementary school.
With $100 Dominga bought a stove and cooked faster in the morning and then could heat up the food in the evening. This gave her the time to go to school in the afternoons. When she graduated the government assigned her to a school that took hours to walk to. Her second year she protested. She insisted that a mother of 4 children should be able to teach closer to home. She got a position teaching in the school closest to her home and after 8 years of teaching she became the director of a brand new school even closer to her house.
She said she went back to school because I encouraged her and that kept her going. I asked her, "Why did you listen to me?" She said, "Because you were the only one who believed in me. You were the only one who acknowledged that I could learn more, do more and reach my goals."
Dominga knew what she needed - a propane stove to free her from the long hours of cooking over a wood stove and an open fire. There is of course the saying, "Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach a man to fish and he is set for life." I think there should be a different saying for women. "Listen to a woman and give her what she needs and then stand back and watch it happen."