08 March 2004
The Experimental Center for the Development of the Small and Medium Rural Companies is a non-governmental organization (NGO), formed by indigenous and non –indigenous women and men, with the objective to improve the quality of life for rural families of the Western Highlands of Guatemala.
The work of the organization is focused in the economic-productive sector facilitating sustainable processes in organizational aspects, production and commercialization, economic activation, formation and training and social investigation.
UN Volunteers from Finland are working in the two separate Micro regions of CEDEPEM – San Cristobal Totonicapán and San Juan Ostuncalco – in the Agricultural and Forestry Programme, as horticulture specialists. In these regions the UN Volunteers work with 28 different groups with a total of approximately 600 beneficiaries. The majority of the inhabitants in these areas belong to the population of Quiche and Mam.
The groups with which CEDEPEM and UNV are working with are mainly formed by indigenous women. Only 20% of the women have completed the primary school, with the majority not having any education at all. Among the main causes for not having education are gender and ethnical discrimination and poverty. Many times, women have difficulties to participate in training and other activities of organized groups, even if they have a lot of interest to participate. The reasons why vary; domestic tasks and responsibilities; husbands resist their participation, they lack conscience of their situation, do not now how to read or write or understand Spanish.
CEDEPEM has an Agricultural and Forest programme in each region, and is in charge of offering support for agricultural, cattle and forest productions to rural families. The objective is to provide the farmers of the area the necessary knowledge to utilize techniques, products and marketing, and in doing so contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of the population of the Western Highlands.
UN Volunteers work directly with organized groups and technicians of the programme, which assist commercial and family horticultural parcels, chicken, turkey and pig farms, forest nurseries and greenhouses. The UN Volunteers also participate in planning and implementing training and work shops in the handling of the horticultural species and other products. At the same time they work with gender issues; environment; equality and pursuing the sustainability of the implemented projects. The Agriculture and Forestry Program seeks to be able to improve the quality of life of the rural families through the diversification of production to help to increase the economic revenues of the families and to improve the alimentary diet. The program offers technical assistance through visits, workshops and through monitoring and evaluation.
Overall, the experience of working with “Pueblo Maya” – descendants of ancient Maya – has been very interesting. It has been curious to observe how their attitudes and the attitudes of the two Finnish horticulturalists have been changed since the first encounter.