Spring is a season of hope. As the ground beneath us begins to thaw, and the warm sunshine breathes new life into the soil, we look to our gardens with joyful anticipation for what lies ahead: lush exuberance bursting from the earth to decorate our landscapes and garnish our dinner plates.
For those who live in impoverished countries, however, a garden takes on a much greater significance. Take for example Guatemala, which has the highest level of chronic child malnutrition in the western hemisphere. Many of the county’s poorest children suffer from stunted growth and brain development. Recent statistics indicate that approximately 90% of the country's indigenous population in Guatemala lives on less than $1.25 a day. There is little to no aid available to improve the conditions of rural children and their families.
Adopt-A-Village in Guatemala (AAV), a non-profit organization I founded 25 years ago, partners with Mayan communities of northwest Guatemala to empower youth in the region through education and skills training so that they may improve social and economic conditions in their communities. Recently our organization introduced to Mayan communities a sustainable gardening program that provides indigenous women with basic training in sound gardening practices. This multi-village self-help program has given impoverished Mayan women the opportunity to learn the techniques of sustainable gardening to ensure ongoing food supply for their children. The goal of the sustainable gardening program is to produce highly nutritional plants that are suitable for local soil conditions and climate. Harvesting native vegetables that are resistant to plague and disease will provide food for the future. We teach Mayan women how to grow their own seedlings, and about the importance of retaining the seeds.
In addition to growing organic vegetables, we recently added amaranth to our gardening program. Amaranth is a grain that is easy to digest and rich in minerals and protein, nutrients deficient in the diets of the rural poor in countries like Guatemala. More than 100 of the country’s poorest families have benefited from this program that serves to both empower indigenous women, and improve the nutritional status of their children.
In 2009, AAV completed a residential educational center in a remote rainforest in northwestern Guatemala. The Mayan Center for Education and Development includes a middle and high school for some of the most impoverished indigenous youth in that region of Guatemala. Forty percent of the students are either orphaned, or come from single-parent families. In addition to an academic diploma, students graduate with a two-year diploma course in sustainable organic agriculture. Theory and hands-on practice at the campus gardens allow students to work with poor families in outlying villages to train them to grow their own organic vegetable gardens.
I am very proud of our organization, and the aid, training, and empowerment it has brought to impoverished Mayan youth and women to enrich their lives, and improve the health and wellbeing of their communities.
This spring as we celebrate our glorious gardens bursting with blooms, let us not forget those who look upon the earth’s soil for strength, hope, and food for their children.