Leadership and Lifelong Learning
by Sophie Gajadhar-Smith (volunteer)
One of the most inspiring people I met on my July trip to El Salvador and Guatemala was Lorena, a recent member of the board of directors of the Asociación La Nueva Esperanza (ALNE). She got involved in ALNE a year ago, when she heard about the dressmaking classes from a friend. As a mother of four, Lorena initially felt that she was too old to learn something new; however, as the last of her four daughters recently moved to the US, Lorena felt something was missing in her life. In the dressmaking class, she learned various sewing skills that helped her save money on clothing repairs and become a community resource for neighbors who also needed mending. Lorena was excited to be participating in a class and getting more involved, so soon after she joined the board, explaining that she loved having responsibilities and helping others learn marketable skills.
Lorena explained to me that she soon realized that learning has no age limit and that one of the most beautiful parts of life itself is learning. This is empowerment and this is what Co-partners is all about. This lesson resonated with me, because I’m frequently humbled by the immense amount of knowledge other people have, much of which I’ll never know. Lorena’s mantra reminded me of a public policy class at the University of Virginia-- the final takeaway my professor emphasized was the need for policymakers to be lifelong learners. Lorena didn’t need to attend a prestigious American university to understand the value of being open to new knowledge, and her wisdom, wrought from life experience, is inspirational.
Students and Teachers: Aspiring Leaders and Entrepreneurs by Sophie Gajadhar-Smith
At Saturday’s ALNE (Asociación La Nueva Esperanza) classes students talked about their aspirations---the dream of opening their own business was a common theme. One student, Mirna Elizabeth Escobar de Flores, was the only woman in the electricity class.
Mirna fourth from left. Aquiles fifth from left.
Mirna is a 39 year old mother of two boys, ages 12 and 15, and hopes to learn the trade well enough to start a business with her two sons. While the boys and men in the electricity class showed no signs of negativity toward Mirna, learning a male-dominated trade is difficult in cultures where machismo heavily influences opportunities. Being the only woman in a male class requires grit and an innovative spirit.
Mirna has the idea of a mother-son electrician team as a means to spend quality time with her family, create positive habits for her sons while helping them learn valuable, marketable skills. Graduates of the electricity class plan to take an exam that will allow them to be licensed electricians.
The teacher of the electricity class, Aquiles Alexander Guerra Bonilla made a lasting impression. Aquiles is a retired electrician, who came back into the field for the opportunity to help train youth to be independent workers. Aquiles highly values being his own boss, so wants to see young people from his and surrounding communities do the same He also highlighted his connection to his roots, reflecting on when he was in the same position as the kids in his classes. Aquiles explained that discipline is the heart of success, and the key to self-employment, elaborating that even his wife says that, despite being self-employed, he acts like he works for the world’s strictest boss, getting up to work at 4AM, and grinding out long hours to make sure he gets a job done. As a self-made businessperson, who now is giving back to his community, Aquiles demonstrated lessons on discipline, perseverance, and humility.
The Pig Project by Jim Heinzen
The August trip was the first opportunity to visit a pig project funded by Nova Catholic Community for partner organization the Red de Mujeres in Guatemala. We visited five farms and observed two different business models. We learned you could buy and raise piglets costing $40 and selling them after 5-6 months at around 285 pounds for $130-$170. This does require vaccinations and concentrate feed resulting in a very tight margin. An option practiced by Tomasa Jeronimo in the community of Patzibal is to sell off the first production as meat but hold back several female pigs to produce piglets and then sell the piglets for $40 each rather than selling the pigs fully grown. This involves managing breeding sows weighing well over 300 pounds, as well as being able to produce enough food to feed them. Many of the small farmers have limited land so raising pigs appeared to be feasible for only the larger of the small farmers. Incorporating pig raising directly into family nutrition is challenging since individual farmers do not have the facilities to process and store 285 pounds of meat. In one case, the participant butchered a pig and then sold the excess meat to neighbors. Juana Chicoj in the community of Chijtinimit arranged the transaction ahead of time so the meat could be distributed right after butchering and was a successful way of providing meat to the farmer and neighbors and was economically favorable compared to taking the pig to the town market.
The mama pig doesn’t seem to trust the gringa with her baby.
Chickens for Chichi by Jim Heinzen
Co-partners has supported a chicken project in Chichi during the past two years but because of the pandemic Board members and volunteers had not been able to travel to Guatemala for an on-site field trip. In August, we were able to visit five beneficiaries and get some anecdotal information. Our partners are enthusiastic about the project and successful in managing their individual operations. The income stream raising chickens appears attractive even though most of the eggs are consumed by the families. After two years roosters and laying hens are consumed or sold. Participants report that eggs from their free-range chickens get a superior price, $3.12 dozen vs. $2.30 for commercially raised store-bough eggs. Free-range chickens also get a superior price when sold as meat. They are easy to handle and forage for food during the day so long as predators are not in the area. In some cases, family dogs have been trained not to bother the chickens offering protection from other animal intruders. The chickens forage for a wide variety of foliage and insects of their choosing while commercial feed is used as a supplement. The chickens reproduce easily and the flock can be maintained on a sustainable basis. Marta, (also the treasurer of the Red de Mujeres, and a whiz with numbers developed during only six years of formal education), having no previous experience raising chickens, made her operation a money-making venture. She hatches eggs and sells chicks for $3.25 each, fully grown laying hens are sold for $13, and eggs for .25 each. Current Co-partners planning calls for the introduction of a chicken project in El Salvador and an expansion of the Chichi project. These projects provide initial baby chicks, fencing and roofing for a coop, training, and an initial feed allotment.
The top chicken producer and some of her chicks.