March 2024 Visit to Sisbilhá: Surprising Experiences

My recent visit to Guatemala was exciting: there is much to share!

Our team of four arrived in Sisbilhá on Thursday, March 7 in Guatemala’s hot summer in Alta Verapaz with temps reaching 100°F (37.78°C).  Being that it was summer, the rainy season of May to November was a distant memory.  So, watering the crops was a challenge in this remote village where there is no nearby river.

Before we arrived, our social worker, Lety received several phone calls from the women in the families, asking if we were arriving soon.  Her connection to the women was evident as she interacted throughout the day, calling them by name (adding Doña (“Mrs.”) as a form of respect). 

Licenciada Lety, March 8, 2024

Federico, the expert agricultural engineer, started our day by showing us the attempt of the mostly women-led households.  Before we arrived in January, as a group, they had attempted to grow a community garden.  After two months, the cilantro was a fraction of the height of that grown for one month in the greenhouses.

Cilantro, community garden planted before we arrived, 2 months’ growth, March 7, 2024

We met with the entire group of women who listened attentively as several of the COCODE (village leaders) translated into their native Q’eqchi’ what Federico, Lety and I said in Spanish.  I shared with them that I had been to Guatemala many times since 2005 and that I loved the people of Guatemala and wanted to help.  I told them that it was a delight to see their success, and that it was an honor to be with them here.

Next, we went house to house and as we visited greenhouses, I noticed several distinctions from other communities: 

First, the women were extremely happy, relaxed, and seemed very connected as a community, despite the fact that many of their husbands and sons had left to try to get to the U.S. and they were left to care for their families.

Second, the generosity of the people was surprising.  Even though they have almost nothing, four women individually brought me meals with the vegetables that they were growing.  

Iris Nohemi X. gives Fern a hamburger she made, using vegetables from her greenhouse
Tamales given to Ricardo and Fern
Macuy cooking at the home of María Elena T.

Two women offered me their umbrellas where there was almost no shade from the hot sun.  I insisted we share the umbrella.

María Elena T. offers her umbrella to Fern in the beating hot sun

Third, the ingenuity and creativity of the women – using the techniques learned, growing seedlings in any container they might have, and applying what they learn to new plants that they might purchase in the market. 

Squash is not a plant that we gave them. This was their innovation.

I saw one home with a rustic picket fence, which I had not seen in other villages. 

Rustic fence around one of the homes
Rustic fence

Two groups are raising chickens – one for their eggs, and one to fatten to eat.

And, fourth, the height and healthiness of their plants – green leafy vegetables and corn – was very impressive – grown in the greenhouses with less soil, less time, and less water needed than in a field.

Ricardo and Fern visit the greenhouse of Alicia T. with her son, Erick

The growth of the vegetables is after only one month with minimal access to water (working into the night) because the first month was spent building the greenhouse tables, receiving and implementing supplies such as the iron arches and plastic for roofing, and receiving and planting seedlings.

Lettuce & macuy, growing

Macuy, cut

When we walked over ¾ of a mile

Long walk to the pozo

to their one source of water – what they call a well (un pozo), but is, in fact, a spring in the rocks, over 65 feet beneath the earth, using a bucket to pull it up (not a direct route because of the rocks) and then bring it back in vessels on their heads, over ¾ of a mile back to their homes, to use it for all their necessities, including watering their vegetables, was very impressive.  Collecting the water this way is an ancient Maya technique.  It confirmed to our project manager, Ricardo – as well as to me – that we must help them to gain water access and filtration. 

Gathering at the pozo

What was visible throughout the day was the joy of everyone – at their successes, at their ability to feed their families, at the fact that they were developing their leadership skills as well as an economy, and at the opportunity to meet me, a representative of all of you who have donated in order to make this possible.

Our team always thanks God for the gifts of food that we have, and we let the families in the villages know that we are grateful for the generosity of the donors.

It is your donations that allow this work to continue, and on behalf of the inhabitants of Sisbilhá , as well as the first village of Chajmaic and the second village of Salaguna, with whom we continue to work, I thank you for your continued generosity in making this all possible.