I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with Highland Support Project for all of my life. My parents are the directors. I was an infant when I was taken on my first trip to Guatemala. My earliest memories are images of the post civil war military state. Of driving through central Quetzaltenango, seeing Humvees drive by carrying men with automatic rifles. I also have vivid memories of my experiences in the indigenous communities. I remember feeling scared as I sat in the back seat of a little pick-up truck. On a narrow mountainside road, where any divergence would be fatal. In the middle of a thunderstorm. With my parents outside, pushing the truck from behind to keep the momentum moving forward. This effort was to reach even the most marginalized communities. From that same night, I remember the loud thuds of raindrops on their thin tin roofs and the black soot that covered their huts with flies stuck in it. I would later learn that the soot comes from cooking over open-pit fires. Throughout my life, I learned about various aspects of development from my experiences with Highland Support Project (HSP). From stove-building I learned about grassroots development, from reforestation I learned about sustainability, from weaving circles I learned about behavioral health. All this time, I had a general feeling that genuine good was being done. Not just because the directors were my parents; but also due to the sincere gratitude that was expressed by families in the communities we worked in. However, it wasn’t until my junior year of college, when I had a class called Development Economics, that I truly appreciated the amazing work that HSP has pioneered. The class, for me, validated everything that HSP does. Although it is impossible to summarize sustainable development in three points, there are at least three critical topics that I learned, which HSP has been enacting for over 22 years. These key points include a focus on women’s empowerment, acknowledging multidimensional poverty, and a spotlight on human and social capital. We learned about a focus on women’s empowerment as if it were a new concept. Something brand new that came along with the New Millennium Development Goals. This left me dumbfounded, considering that HSP has been focusing on women’s empowerment since 1993. HSP’s first women’s empowerment program was to provide indigenous mothers with ventilated cookstoves. It is seemingly simplistic; however, the ripple effect is amazingly intricate. For example, through community surveys, we found that the leading cause of death for Indigenous women was a upper-respiratory infection. This is easily prevented with ventilated stoves. Furthermore, the ventilated stoves are fuel efficient. It elevates the cooking from the floor to provide better sanitation. Regarding sustained development, it allows women to spend less time cooking because cooking a meal over an open-pit fire takes hours (Just think about that time you tried to cook anything while camping). This enables women to engage in their communities. To establish PTA’s. To help their children go to school. To make lunches for the children who are at school, so they children can learn and retain information better. To have time for women’s circles, so they can share their experiences and relate with other women in the community; and, ultimately, to endeavor in different income ventures and become successful businesswomen. From the chain of events, you can see how investing in women results in a greater social rate of return than investing in men. This is because investments in women more directly benefit their children and women are empirically more likely to spend increased incomes on their families. From the beginning, HSP has invested their efforts in addressing multidimensional poverty. This simply means that poverty entails more than just having low income. To address multidimensional poverty, organizations must consider the health, educational and productive aspects of individuals. HSP’s acknowledgment of multidimensional poverty is exemplified by their growth of different, yet interrelated, projects. For example, the Mayan Arts Project was initiated to address the dissipation of Maya philosophy in rural schools-- the educational dimension. The Association of Maya Women was started to provide indigenous women with behavioral health programming-- the health and productivity dimensions. Very early on HSP recognized the negative impact self-esteem could have on a community. The “Qanil” project was started to address nutritional deficiencies in indigenous communities-- the health dimension. Over 22 years, HSP’s attention to the dimensions of poverty has led to drastic increases in capital available for the indigenous communities we support. Remember that capital can take many forms. Capital can be financial, human, social, and the list goes on. HSP has enabled indigenous women to build their human capital through all the projects and programming provided to them. At every step of the way, the women and their families are involved in the process. For example, before even receiving a stove, women are trained in community engagement, and there is an understanding that the stove is not charity. The women are not dependent upon the stove. A stove is a tool for their economic independence. Furthermore, our volunteers understand they are not giving anything away. Our volunteers engage in partnership with the families. Where the families receive the support for their projects, and volunteers leave with a completely changed perspective on poverty and development. The partnerships formed is what builds the social capital. My favorite example of the social capital being built is with the reforestation project. Initially, HSP would buy samplings from a big company in the city. Now, however, a woman who once received a stove now started her tree nursery. Thus, HSP can source the saplings for reforestation from the women who once received a stove. This example illustrates social capital and HSP’s continuing relationships with the communities HSP engages in. From my earliest memories of post-civil war Guatemala to what it has become now, much of the change can be attributed to non-governmental organizations such as Highland Support Project. I could never express enough how proud I am of HSP, after learning the academics behind development economics. I am so proud that before implementing projects, HSP went to the communities and asked them what they think their most pressing problems were. I am proud of the relationships that have been created. I am proud of the gratitude that has been expressed towards my family and every volunteer that has worked with us. Lastly, I am proud to assure that anyone who spends just a week with HSP in Guatemala will feel this pride too.
I donated to the Highland Support Project, of which I work, to support a midwifery program. I never expected to have my own life changed. Over the course of a year stories emerged about the struggles that traditional midwives had in being treated with dignity by hospital staff. It was powerful to witness the accompaniment of the Association of Highland Women to guide these women to identify their objectives and begin to analyze what to do when encountering an obstacle. That message of resilience has proven to be a good tool in my own life.
Too often we abandon a goal when we encounter an obstacle.
Review from #MyGivingStory