“Beautiful land, beautiful people”. That was Jerry Brady’s response when I asked him his first impression of Guatemala. Though this was his first trip to Guatemala, Jerry is no stranger to international travel, first leaving the US to travel to Africa while in college. It was this trip that sparked an interest in international development that has played a role in his life ever since. As a member of Semilla Nueva’s Board of Directors, Jerry came to Guatemala to see the work first hand, to help plant alongside farmers, and hear their stories. He also brought his granddaughter, 14-year-old Julia, who lives in Washington DC.
Jerry and Julia plant madre cacao stalks at Semilla Nueva’s experimental farm
For a week, Jerry and Julia loaded into pick-ups in the early morning sun and bounced along dirt roads with Semilla Nueva field staff. Each day was something new: checking on the flourishing QPM corn with Bernabe in Santa Fe and discussing a harvesting schedule, sitting on Israel’s porch in La Montaña, listening to the story in the pounding afternoon rain of how no-till improved his yields, or learning to make tortillas while a group of chatty women tell how their families love eating nutrient-dense pigeon pea. One morning, yielding a machete and a plastic container of seeds slung around their waists, Jerry and Julia helped plant 5 farmers’ parcels with pigeon pea for the communal planting day called a kuchubal.
Bernabe and Jerry share a laugh while visiting Bernabe’s parcel of QPM
Of course, it wasn’t all work. There was also time to rest in the shade and share a meal with the farmers and their families and hear how Semilla Nueva’s programs are impacting their lives. Guatemala is the 4th most malnourished country in the world, and an estimated 75% of families live below the poverty line. As Jerry observed, seeing poor rural communities brings emotions that he can’t escape, “but then we go to the field and it all changes. All the larger concerns melt in the face of the lives of the people we’re able to enter – their fields, homes, kitchens, bedrooms, the whole thing puts a smile on my face. I am smiling and other people are smiling too. They are expressing gratitude to Semilla Nueva for the changes of their life”.
Jerry keeps the kids occupied while lunch is being prepared
Jerry wanted to visit Guatemala because he’s fascinated by what’s happening there. It brings his mind back to the questions in development; how do people succeed, and how to address the inequities of the world? He noticed that there are many organizations trying to address these problems in Guatemala, and that Semilla Nueva’s work is in the center of these issues. Dollar for dollar, studies show that improving agriculture is the best way to bring families out of poverty. Jerry explains how he saw this in action: “We passed massive sugar plantations to arrive at a small plot of land that is meant to feed 15 people. Semilla Nueva is helping farmers find the crops that can be grown intensively on small plots, and the technologies that make it sustainable. This allows farmers and families to make a living as they define it.”
Jerry, Julia and Rutilio share a word while visiting Rutilio’s no-till parcel
Serving on the board since 2011, Jerry wanted to support Semilla Nueva because he believes in the model. Co-founding one of the largest international micro-finance organizations, Accion International, Jerry knows what it takes to work towards sustainable development, and he sees that in Semilla Nueva. As he explains: “I’m impressed by what Semilla Nueva has done to listen to the communities, responding to the way things really are, listened to what the true needs are and moving in that direction. We need to come to the root of the problem: to make people healthier and with more money in their pocket. It starts with listening to the true problem; replacing wishful thinking for clear action with a chance to change people’s lives.”
If you would like to see the work of Semilla Nueva in person, please join one of our weeklong work trips, offered twice annually. Check our website for more information, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.