For the past few months we’ve highlighted key moments, major accomplishments, and the work of development professionals to illustrate some of USAID’s efforts over the past 50 years. Through interviews, Q&A, personal narratives, and posts penned by guest bloggers, we’ve shared stories about USAID’s history from nearly every perspective and point of view. Today, we’d like to share the story of a young Maya woman who has survived atrocities difficult to imagine.
The story represents the pain and struggle of many more who find hope and opportunity through USAID programs. Her measured optimism stems from a common challenge in the developing world: working to balance deeply rooted cultural traditions and modernity. We thank her for sharing her tale.
Flowers Bloom Slowly
When we walked here did you notice that my mother walks paces behind my uncle? That is because he is the head of our family since my father disappeared in one of the massacres in 1984. Last year my father’s remains were recovered in a mass grave with the others during the exhumation that the Foundation did in our fields over there. Your government helped find my father. My mother had to identify his bones and his clothes. It was a time of many tears in our village. Now that his death is certain we registered him with the municipality. Now that my mother is legally his widow, she may marry or sell our property. She says the property rightfully belongs to my uncle who has watched over us all this time.
You say you have come to help us. There have been people who have come before you and they tell us what is good for us and how our life will improve if we do things differently. But, we know our land, we know our people. Perhaps when you understand us, then you can help us more. Would you like me to tell you how life is for us, how life was for our ancestors, and what we want for the children? Perhaps then you can see how to help us so that life will be better, as you promise.
My sisters and I are lucky that my mother bore my father no sons; this way we could go to school. My cousins were not so lucky. Our mother said that our only defense in life is to study. She refuses to go to the school because the teacher insults her when she cannot sign her name to collect the grades.
There is no work here for women like me. Many leave for the City or go to your country to find work—there is nothing here but the milpa agriculture or to wait for remittances from up North.
I am the oldest of my parents’ children and cannot leave my mother. If I could do anything I want I would become a legal secretary or translator to help a foundation like the one that found my father. There was such a person who came with the Foundation. He said that they help in many villages like ours where people are still too afraid to talk about what happened and especially the women who do not speak Spanish. I want to help them.
After the exhumation, we buried everyone’s remains in infants’ pine wood caskets in a ceremony in the church–all of us together. In the months after, it seemed the village was a flower blooming when the rains began; we were ready to go to school, to have doctors come to the clinic, to let the banks come with credit and loans. The Foundation man says that this is normal and that it is good. He told me that when other villages hear about the burial they get the courage to do the same; to show the old photos and the toys the children left behind when the death squads came, and to tell where their dead are buried.
Now I work in the new Program (Abriendo Oportunidades of Population Council | Guatemala, USAID – Alianzas) to teach and help the young girls of my village. At first my uncle said “no” because we had to go away to be trained. When he heard the testimonials of families who already belong to the Program I was allowed to accept. I was so happy that day! But, I was scared, too—I have never been away from my mother or my village. But now, I am trained and I have work! My mother says that my father must see me and he is proud because I am serving helping our people go forward.
My uncle worries that I will not marry and have children. What I learned with the Program and what I am helping the girls in my village know is that we can have the children we want when our bodies are ready for them and when we can feed them well and clothe them and pay for school books. It is our choice.
So you see, people like you have come to help us and we are learning and changing slowly. Thank you for listening to our story.