Hotel Barcelo, Guatemala City, Guatemala:As I write this, it is late Sunday night and I anxiously await our early morning departure for the communities I know and love here in Guatemala. Ironically, as I look forward to the morning it is two young women in Tamaula, Mexico who are on my mind. They have never been to Guatemala and probably never will, yet it is their lives that inspire me at this very moment.
I met Claudia and Anarosa in May of this year, during a similar expedition. Around twenty years of age, they are beautiful young ladies who you might expect to see giggling with friends, attending a dance or texting on a phone. However, these young ladies are actually entrepreneurs, the makers of some of the best goat cheese in all of Mexico. They and several of the families in their community have built a queseria (cheese factory) with CHOICE’s help. They raise the goats, milk them everyday, make several varieties of cheese and package them all on their own. Tamaula Cheese can be found in local markets in Guanajuato.
|Claudia and cheese.|
For some, this may not seem much of an accomplishment. But in a community where the majority of the men are in the United States working and where the community’s average income is less than $2 a day, this queseria is life changing. It is literally an option out of poverty for these families.
|Anarosa (center) and Claudia (right) making cheese.|
As a result, Anarosa and Claudia have found themselves in a unique situation. While I didn’t realize it at the time, a bumpy truck ride into San Cristobal to buy some more supplies was the catalyst for a powerful moment of realization. It was mid-week and Juan was busy helping with the project. He suggested that we three girls take the CHOICE truck and head down to get the much needed cement. So, away we went – bumping along a dusty mountain road, one gringa and two locals on a little adventure. You can imagine how it looked.
When we arrived at the hardware store, Anarosa at a petite 5’4″, very confidently explained to the store owner that we needed 20 bags of cement and we were only willing to pay a certain price. The store owner questioned her, but she stayed firm – 20 bags, no less. We got our cement, may have had a piece of cake and then returned back to the village and went on with the project. I had no idea how meaningful this small moment would become.
On the very last day of our expedition, Anarosa and Claudia pulled Juan Alducin, our in-country director aside and shared an epiphany: they were leaders. Starting with the moment in the hardware store when Anarosa negotiated for the cement and then throughout the week as they managed this group of Americans, they realized they were the ones who owned this project. Not only were they capable of doing things that they had been told only men could do, they were actual leaders. They had the knowledge, skill and confidence to do incredible things – like change their lives and take themselves out of poverty!
A thousand miles away, on this late night, ready to embark to another village, Anarosa and Claudia’s faces are in my mind. To me, they represent one half of the reason I do these trips (and sacrifice the time away from my family during the holidays). They are the physical embodiment of what CHOICE is doing – connecting people to opportunity so that they can end their own poverty. And the other half of the reason I am here? My experiences with CHOICE allow me to restore my impoverished soul by connecting me back to what is important and who I truly am. For that I am forever grateful to Anarosa, Claudia and the countless people who have touched my life through CHOICE.