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QUETZALTENANGO, Guatemala – I awoke this sparkling Mother’s Day to the sight of the Santa Maria volcano from my rooftop, rising green and conical over the mountains that surround this charming city in the highlands. Quetzaltenango, known to Guatemalans by its indigenous name, Xela, is quite literally a breath of fresh air.
The slap-slap-slap of the ladies in the kitchen next door “tortillando,” making tortillas, is punctuated by laughter and chitchat.
My beautiful mother and daughter are well – I’m grateful to them for all they’ve given to me, and I’m grateful to Skype, which allows me to stay connected from so far away. I’m grateful, too, for the capable and loving hands of all the mothers around me, who will be honored today with family dinners, special events and the spectacular bouquets being sold in the streets and markets.
But most of all, I am grateful to the Mother that sustains us all, the Madre Tierra whose fertile soil, abundant rivers, fruitful forests and vast oceans feed and shelter us, century upon century, and I am grateful to all of those who work to protect and nourish her. Since I have arrived in Guatemala, I have met so many.
My conversations with them have revealed the daily destruction of the environment on so many levels; people from taxi drivers to street vendors comment daily on the the increasingly intense heat, the rising floods, the contamination of rivers and lakes and air. The bad news is everywhere, and it can be overwhelming at times. But so is the good news: the fact that so many are dedicating their energy and talent to turning the tide.
To name just a few of those who have inspired me in their labors for Mother Earth in two short, interrupted weeks in Guatemala, and I wish them all a Happy Mother’s Day:
Magalí Rey Rosa, the beautiful and eloquent voice for the wildlands whose work over the past three decades has awakened so many, and her daughter, Alejandra Marroquín, who is carrying the torch;
Bayron Medina, a descendant of Maya farmers in Alta Verapaz who now works for the Ministry of the Environment and the United Nations, empowering farmers in the countryside to protect their watershed and understand the value of the natural resources that are entrusted to their care;
Maria Jose España, Mario Rodrigo Gonzalez and Karla Maldonado of the Mapaches, a vibrant group in the capital who started out to save a forested canyon and evolved to a much broader mission;
Manuel Gomez and the rest of Masa Critica Guatemala, a group of dedicated cyclists determined to establish a right-of-way on the capital’s busy streets;
Steve Dudenhofer and the rest of the crew at Ak Tenamit Maya School, where protecting the earth is an integral part of the curriculum, and graduates are making waves around the country in sustainable development, community health, women’s literacy and ecotourism projects;
Maite Rodriguez Blandón of Fundación Guatemala, whose work to empower Guatemalan women at the grassroots has taken many forms; lifting women out of poverty and giving them control of their land, she says, is one of the best ways to protect the environment;
Amanda and Mega at Rasta Mesa, working in Livingston to preserve the Garifuna culture and the land;
Eduardo Gularte, Gaby Diaz and others from the Center for Communication and Development (CECODE), a group of dedicated communicators working to empower people at the local level to use communications tools for social change;
Edith Panameño, a schoolteacher working to establish a network of eco-clubs in the Lake Izabal region;
The Reyes family of Hotel Ajau, and all the other Guatemalan businesses striving to make their businesses sustainable under the Green Deal and Great Green Deal programs;
Rodolfo Trinidad and Rai Aguirre
Rodolfo Trinidad of Campus Sustentable, Universidad Rafael Landivar, and Rai Aguirre of EcoCinergia, Universidad San Carlos, two groups working in a variety of imaginative ways to raise awareness on campus;
Sandra, Tino, Maribel and many others in a network of community radio activists, who have labored in the face of government repression to bring relevant news and analysis to the indigenous and campesino communities of Guatemala, in their native languages;
Alejandra Tiguila and a host of others with the Guatemala chapter of Movimiento Agua y Juventud (Water and Youth Movement), a dynamic group whose combined energy and commitment lit up the night – and my heart – at a Quetzaltenango retreat center recently.
The list could go on, and soon it will: my contact list has mushroomed, and I won’t be able to visit with a tenth of the worthy groups working on conservation issues around the country. Still, what I’ve seen in these two weeks gives many reasons for hope. Keep reading in the days and weeks ahead to meet these and many other world changers along the path of The Esperanza Project.