Changing Mentality to Change Lives
As the director of CHOICE Humanitarian in Guatemala, I've had the privilege of working with CHOICE for 7 years in the remote northeast region of Alta Verapaz.
People in this area suffer from the devastating effects of poverty, such as malnutrition, lack of education, and poor quality of life, and outside of CHOICE have very little support. We are in communities that no one has visited before; little government presence, no other NGOs, no one. And, as the population continues to grow, so does the pressure on critical resources. That leaves many people living in this region stuck with clear ideas of what they need or hope for, but without the resources, opportunities, or effective organization for them to achieve their dreams. Economic development plays an important role in helping people care for their needs.
The main problems of poverty and inequality that communities face in the Alta Verapaz region boil down to a lack of options and employment and income generation. However, it’s not JUST opportunities – it’s a change in mentality as well. In many ways, living in poverty simply becomes a way of life. As CHOICE strives to achieve a long-term impact, we’re helping to provide hope where there is very little right now so they can change the way they live.
One of the primary ways CHOICE can make a difference is to actively create space for new economic opportunities. In 2020, the CHOICE team in Guatemala launched a comprehensive social and economic development program called Guatemala LIFE, funded in large part by Pat and Florence King. This program is designed to lift approximately 100,000 people living in rural communities out of multi-dimensional poverty in two municipalities in Alta Verapaz. This area is one of the poorest in all of Guatemala, and there is virtually no economic activity besides subsistence farming.
To address some of these challenges, we are strengthening the agricultural ecosystem by establishing highly productive family gardens. This helps give them a head start towards building not only self-reliance, but paving the way towards small business development.
Another way we work to strengthen the local economy is by providing technical assistance and expanded markets for cardamom, a common cash crop in the region. By providing farmers with better education on how to cultivate cardamom more efficiently and productively, they can earn higher prices for their harvests. CHOICE sees the need to reactivate the economy through small scale first, helping the small producers to have more market power, improve the value chain, and find new ways to circulate money.
Through cooperation and synergy, we can maximize these effects. We have already seen strong indications of positive impacts, and are eager to continue forward.
So, why am I a part of CHOICE? I like to call myself a “seller of dreams”. I am fulfilled by helping others realize their dreams and accomplish their goals. They pay me with results, with achievements. They do more for me than I do for them. Everyone wants to leave footprints; I want to leave dinosaur footprints, not ant footprints.
I truly believe in what we do. CHOICE is not just 9 offices around the world; it’s all of the staff, volunteers, beneficiaries, and each of our supporters; everyone who believes in the work we do. We all must work together to make a bigger impact. The first step is to have the desire to help.