Photographers Without Borders- Entre Mundos- Part 1

I have been fortunate enough to be selected by Photographers without Borders to document the efforts of Entre Mundos in Guatemala. 

When I was first assigned to this project I went onto their website to find out what I would be documenting. Entre Mundos which was formed in 2001 supports organizations and groups that  are committed to the fight against poverty and the defense and promotion of human rights for the country’s most marginalized and vulnerable populations. 

EntreMundos firmly believes that it is possible to achieve positive change in Guatemala – principally in the most disadvantaged and vulnerable areas – through programs with a “bottom-up” focus on rural development, based on the needs, expectations, ideas, and initiatives of local populations, so that the communities themselves can fight to defend their civil, social, cultural, political, and economic rights and have a positive impact both at a local level(rural development) and at a national level (political advocacy). (From Entre Mundos Website)

It wasn't until I arrived and had my first conversation with Fabio the director of Entre Mundos that I realized exactly what that meant. Entre Mundos serves as an umbrella to smaller grassroots organizations. They provide assistance through funding with grants, finding volunteers, and promoting community tourism (amongst other areas). 

Day One: Small Grants Program

In 2013, Entre Mundos created the Small Grants Program, an initiative that offers economic support to local organizations that work in field of social development and human rights promotion in Guatemala and that otherwise would not receive any type of support for their projects. (From the Entre Mundos website)

With the assistance of Project Wheeler (one of the largest and prime donors) Entre Mundos is able to reach out and assist organizations all over the country. Every year these organizations put together a wish list of what they need and provide Entre Mundos with a grant proposal. Entre Mundos goes through the grants and with the money donated from Project Wheeler they disperse the money amongst these organizations by determining which projects fit their mission the greatest.

I started my visit with Entre Mundos by visiting two of the organizations that were recipients of grants this year. I was accompanied by Jessica the Coordinator of the program and Fabio the director of Entre Mundos. The first is a Woman’s Community Organic program and the second a School that is working of building a brighter future for the children of Quetzaltenango. 

Asoderam

Asoderam is a program created by the Minister of Agriculture in Quetzaltenango. The purpose is to teach Mayan woman how to grow organic crops. The purpose of this is so that they can feed their families with healthy chemical free vegetables and also sell their remaining crops. By selling the additional crops the Mayan Woman are able to bring home some money to help take care of their family.

There are 10 communities under the Asoderam program with approximately 75 woman participants.  

With the company of Eric, the minister of Agriculture, I was able to meet with three of the communities in the Valle de Palajunoj.

The first community was Llanos Del Pinal. This community was located in the valley of the volcano. Five woman shared a plot of land. They each had 2 lines to grow whatever crops they wanted. While we were there they had just started a new harvest that included lettuce, radish, broccoli, and Califlower.  The woman visit their crops once every week to clear the dirt of unwanted plants. The goal is to share the crops amongst their family and then sell the rest at the market. These woman travel to the market one time a week during harvest season. They typically make around $30/week.

Instead of using pesticides to keep bugs away from the crops they use Lavender and tea plants. One plant will keep the insects away from a whole row.

The next community we visited was Bella Vista which means good landscape. This community was located on the side of the volcano at a much higher elevation. Because of this they spent most of their season in the mist.

This community was similar to the first except that each woman had their own plot of land that was attached to their homes. Because the land was bigger they were able to grow more crops. Also in between seasons the woman grew flowers and sold them once a week at the market. Each of these woman had animals that also assisted with the organic soil fertilization process. They owned cows, chickens, and pigs which provided fertilizer. Chickens are said to be the best.

The last community we visited was Chuicaviol. This community was back at the bottom of the volcano and similar to the second was a much bigger space of land. The woman that we met worked with her sister to harvest the land. She grew a few crops that were different from the others. Potatoes and beans along with lettuce, radish, and broccoli. The potatoes were just for the family. The rest they would sell at harvest time. 

Semillas de Fe- Seeds of Faith

 

One of the ways people make money (small amounts of money) is to go to the dump and dig through the trash looking for recyclables to sell to trash plants. Although, this may sound easy it could take 2-3 days of digging through contaminated dirty garbage to find enough plastic to sell to the recycling plant. Of course the more hands to find what they need better so parents will often bring their your children with them. Day after day these young kids 10 and under will dig through the trash just to earn enough money for dinner.

 

Semillas de Fe was started to get children out of the trash and into school. To most this may sound like an easy thing to do. Wouldn’t a kid be happier in school then digging through trash everyday. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Parents need their kids help because two more hands helps gather the trash faster so they don’t encourage them going to school. That’s where Gaby and Carlos come in. They go out to the dump once a week in search of kids working. They then ask them a series of questions such as, what they want to do when they grow up, do they like digging in the garbage. They receive all sorts of answers to their questions including that the kids are happy in the dump and that they hope to be a garbage man when they grow up. Gaby has found that when the kids she meets really don't want to go to school she can win them over with love. She says to them... You know I love you don't you... Will you do me a favor and go to school with me. To which they usually answer yes. 

 

Semillas de Fe is a school run entirely on donations and volunteers. The parents of the students  donate what they can. That may be wood for a fire to cook lunch, eggs, or fruits and vegetables from their garden. They receive donations from local businesses of food and fruit drinks. All of the staff that works at the school are volunteers. 

Through their Small Grant with Entre Mundos Semillas de Fe received brand new tables and chairs for their school. They are hoping to get 10 new computers by the end of the year so that the kids can learn even more. 

The students receive free education and a warm meal for attending classes. They have one deal with the parents of the children. They can continue to attend the school for free as long as they keep their kids out of the dump. If they see the kids in the dump then they will no longer be able to attend the school. In order to encourage the parents to support their kids going to the school Gaby & Carlos go out to the Dump every other week with bread and drinks for the parents working at the dump showing that they care about them too. 

On top of bringing students to the school Gaby and Carlos also do checks on the students to make sure that they are keeping healthy. Many of the students that attend the school now are sponsored from families around the world. The sponsorship money is to ensure that these kids are able to live a healthy lifestyle. 

They currently have over 200 students enrolled in the school. However, they can't fit that many students in at the same time each group of kids meets on a different day or time. The program has officially graduated two of their students into high school with hopes of many more in the future.

Gaby has said that the same kids that use to want to work dump now want to be architects and doctors that help kids. Gaby & Carlos both share a genuine love for all the kids at the school. What they are doing is impacting so many young lives. Not just with an education but also with love.