My name is Anne Barkett, and I am the newest addition to the Semilla Nueva team here in Guatemala. As I will be in charge of writing the forthcoming blog posts, the Semilla chavos and I thought it would be a good idea to introduce myself. Where do I begin?
I didn´t sit down one day and look at a map and say “Guatemala–I am going there.” It really all came about by accident. I had never thought about nor pictured myself in Guatemala before the fall of 2009, when I was a volunteer at Fundaninos orphanage in San Jose Pinula from October to December. But I fell in love. After spending a few months in Guatemala, I was hooked. I was back in the US for a mere 6 months before returning to Guatemala with an international aid organization. I worked as an English teacher and librarian at a Kekchi boarding school in San Juan Chamelco from August 2010-November 2011. During this time, I lived with an indigenous Kekchi family in a rural community in Alta Verapaz. I learned how to make tortillas (quite badly at first), carry objects on my head, wash my clothes by hand, fetch water from the river daily, use a letrina and much more. Instead of going out to a bar or a show with friends on the weekend, I spent them conviviendo with the women around the kitchen fire. It was truly an amazing experience, and these women became my family.
When friends and family ask me why I keep returning here, all I can say is, “I feel like I did not choose Guatemala, but it chose me.” I have been continually drawn back to this country with it’s striking landscape-endless mountains, cool cloud forests, thick jungles, Mayan ruins, cratered lakes and volcanoes. This diversity makes Guatemala one of the most beautiful countries I have seen. However, even more than the landscape and culture, it is the people that have captured my heart. Their tenacity, generosity and strength despite adversity are not only inspiring but also infectious.
Living with Guatemalans truly gave me a unique and honest perspective of their lives. I saw the malnutrition, food insecurity, and dependency upon the cropyields of degraded land. One highlight of my time in Alta Verapaz, was being able to participate in the rather sacred ritual of corn planting in May. I was also able to harvest the crop I planted come September. Unfortunately, I also saw their burning the land after each crop and misuse of chemical fertilizers. I continually heard my family discuss and worry about the prices of corn and their poor crop yields. This has enabled me, if only a little, to see some of the struggles that stem from non-sustainable farming practices.
So, even though I enjoyed my time working in an orphanage and boarding school, it has become evident that I want to learn and invest in agriculture in Latin America, more specifically Guatemala.
After investigating an array of non profits, I found Semilla Nueva and was immediately drawn into their model and focus in sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. I truly believe that if we want to address the roots of poverty, social and environmental justice, community development and empowerment for the Guatemalan people, it begins with la tierra.
So, how does Anne fit into all this? One goal is that I will continue to build a PR campaign through the medium of social media (think twitter, blog, facebook and email campaigns) and support their US based fundraising team. The second half of my work will be contributing to the development of their recently started nutrition project. I will be helping create a nutritional curriculum and a collaboratively recipe book for gandul, also known as pigeonpea. The idea behind the nutrition project is to connect knowledge and interest about gandul with our participant famers to food and nutrition with their families.
So, stay tuned as Semilla Nueva begins the new year with ganas!