Water a Seed, and It Will Grow

The MAIA and Girl Pioneers’ story

I am Marisol, a 17-year-old Indigenous girl from Sololá, one of the departments of Guatemala. I am proud to come from a family of hard-workers. In 2017 I began my studies at the MAIA Impact School and became involved in their initiatives, learning how to make changes in myself and to my surroundings. Thanks to the support of MAIA, I learned that anything is possible. Being a Girl Pioneer is a great responsibility and commitment. However, it is an opportunity to sow my own seed and in the future reap my own fruits. During my 4 years at the MAIA Impact School, I learned to dream big and that the obstacles I encounter are not limitations for me to achieve my dream of becoming a lawyer, a good leader, an entrepreneur, and especially, to be able to help vulnerable people. Young people of any ethnicity can achieve anything; they are dreamers and it does not matter how old they are. I am an example of many young women who have been agents of change.

The department of Sololá ranks fourth in the country to suffer from chronic malnutrition. This problem is compounded in rural areas where there are few opportunities, especially for the Indigenous population, to receive education, work, and access to health services. That is why I took the initiative to support my community and create positive change with them. I began a project to implement family gardens that help families take advantage of their lands, develop their knowledge in gardening, and develop healthier eating habits. But I am not alone in this journey. There are organizations, young leaders, and volunteers who are working on different projects to tackle different problems but share a similar goal of being able to help our society.

During my time at MAIA, I have participated in different activities and projects, and in 2019 I won first place in the Ella Impacta competition organized by Vital Voices Guatemala, receiving seed funding for my Family Gardens project. Vital Voices is an organization that seeks women who want to make changes in their society by organizing a competition in which young people from all over the country presented their social projects and the winners received seed capital for the projects. In this event, I met young people who inspired me and female leaders who filled me with motivation. 

As a 17-year-old, I founded the Family Gardens project in my community in a rural area, to support them in having a healthy life without chemicals. I started by providing five mothers from my community with workshops and support. It was difficult for me to lead the implementation of this project since I had no knowledge of how to start. A challenge I experienced was sexist beliefs because one of the parents I introduced the project to believed that men had better potential to work in agriculture than women. However, there were people who encouraged me, guided me, and allies who became my support network. Thanks to Senacri, an association that works with Creole and native seeds, preserving our agricultural history, I was able to give seeds to families and the project started.

On the day of the inauguration of my project, I was very nervous and very happy because it was my first time organizing such an important activity. The inauguration day was on August 15th at my house, where five families and Mayra, an educator from the MAIA Impact School, attended. It was a very hot day, and we spent a lot of time in the sun, where I was presenting a design of what the gardens would be like for the families. At the end of the workshop, I provided families with a snack, tools, compost, wood, and seeds. The mothers were very happy since in my community they do not usually receive that kind of support. At the end of the workshop, I was very tired but very proud. There was no “professional” leading the session. Instead, I designed and led the workshops, and my family was by my side motivating and helping me. I was also proud to lead the workshop in Kakchiquel, my mother tongue. The benefited families accompanied by their children were very content since they received everything they needed to start their own gardens. 

In each workshop, they learn new things; an example is the use of amaranth seeds since they are not common in Sololá, but they are very nutritious, contain many vitamins, and you can take advantage of the leaves and seeds in creating new dishes. They were able to cook new recipes with amaranth that helped them put into practice at home what they learned during the workshops. In addition, they received training on how to prepare biofermentation recipes, biofertilizers, and the extraction of seeds for their gardens. The mothers were very innovative and curious in each workshop where they asked questions and participated. On March 13th, the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Guatemala; families in rural areas were affected by an increase in unemployment, lack of economic activity, poor diets, and the double increase in malnutrition in the country. That is why the Family Gardens project impacted the families since they were able to take advantage of the land of their homes to grow some herbs and vegetables such as radish, peppers, cilantro, and others.

I was a very shy person and was embarrassed to speak in public. However, the Family Garden project helped me get out of my comfort zone; explore new things, interact with new people, and foster my independence. I thought that my age was my obstacle, I thought that I could not implement this project since it entailed so much responsibility. However, there were people who were by my side supporting and encouraging me. I was able to practice resilience, teamwork, and excellence, MAIA’s core competencies. The project taught me to face my fears and that as a young woman I am capable of achieving anything and that my age is not my limitation to becoming a leader in my community.

My goal for the future is to expand my project with other communities in my municipality and to provide opportunities for families so that they can develop new abilities, knowledge, and entrepreneurship skills to support their families and create a change in them. Being a young person is the seed that one sows; it is not easy for it to grow. But, with a little effort and opportunity, it grows and flourishes until it goes very far. Young people have the potential to be agents of change and create a sustainable environment. How do we do it? Uniting as a team, regardless of our ethnicity, we can inspire other young people and inspire ourselves. The seed that we sowed, the earth that sustained it, the sun that illuminated it grows our crops. They are the fruits of our efforts and those that believed in us.

To learn more about Marisol’s project, follow her on Instagram @proyectodehuertosfamiliares. Article written by: Marisol, 11th-Grade Girl Pioneer.

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