“Maricella is an example to everyone,” we are told.
It’s true. An activist with an entrepreneurial streak, Maricella is a farmer, a community organizer who participates in her municipal government and a commission set up by Wendy Widman, the first lady of Guatemala, an advocate for children’s health, and a teacher who passes on her skills in farming and sewing to others.
Though she understands Spanish, she speaks to us in an indigenous Mayan language as she explains the process by which she farms the small plot, showing us how she prepares her garden for planting, adding compost made out of rabbit waste and processed by worms. It’s an elaborate set-up and quite a project. Especially for something kept secret.
“When I first started going to meetings and getting involved,” Maricella told us, tears in her eyes, “my grandmother forbid me from participating. But now she has gotten older, and I can sneak around.”
The payoff for sneaking around comes in the form of fresh vegetables—food that feeds Maricella’s family and allows them to save the money that they might spend in the marketplace. However, in this region of Guatemala, women typically do not own land. Maricella relies on the generosity of her uncle, who owns the land on which she lives and farms, and she fears that her grandmother could find out and force her to quit.
Maricella is at once quiet and strong, and despite her shyness, her eyes radiate joy as she talks about her work—work made possible through the innovative work of Week of Compassion ecumencial partners, Foods Resource Bank and Church World Service, and the development wing of the Conference of Evangelical Churches of Guatemala (CIEDEG), a local partner.
In their recent book, Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn share story after story of women who, given the opportunity to participate in small-scale development and entrepreneurship, are able to turn their talents and skills into ways to feed and generate income for their families. Women, Kristof and WuDunn argue, are the key to sustainable development—families, communities, and nations need the talent, effort, and full participation of women in order to break cycles of poverty.
Women like Maricella show us exactly what it means to live out Courageous Compassion. It was an honor to be in her presence and know that our churches have invested in her brilliance, her fearlessness, and her willingness to risk, giving rise to something truly special.
Maricella is what justice work looks like.
I pray a prayer of gratitude for your willingness to make such an investment. It is humbling to see what our partnerships make happen. Thank you for your Courageous Compassion.
- Brandon Gilvin