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Doña Marta: Getting Things Done Since 1968


When I arrived here in Guatemala to intern for the summer, one of the first things we dove into was interviewing the farmers with whom Semilla Nueva works. Doña Marta was one of the very first and it had a significant impact on me. Through her interview, I formed my earliest impressions of family life in Guatemala and the campesino struggle to support that family life. 

This is my recollection of the experience:


Doña Marta is currently Semilla Nueva’s single most active female farmer and one of the most enthusiastic anti-basura (generally referring to crop residue) burning participants. She proudly takes us around the back of the small house and shows us some of her garden’s tomato plants. She says she has never seen them so rich looking and credits it to the organic waste she left to protect the soil around them.
While we all sit talking to Marta in front of her home, the children run circles around her. At 43, Marta has eleven children, seven of which are still in her care. Her husband is away every day, earning Q.50 (less than $6.50) a day at a large banana plantation. One of the youngest boys settles on her lap and two others stand behind her, wrapping their arms around her and quietly listening in.
Marta feels that the campesino struggle is based on a lack of land, an unsupportive government, and the incredibly unstable and unpredictable prices of crops. When we ask her if she uses a system to record her finances, her gains and losses, she laughs and points out that there are no gains to record.
One of the older looking children, a girl of about nine, asks us shyly if we would like some mangoes. Two little boys carry us out mismatched glasses of cold Pepsi. Marta tells us about the lack of interest in education and how many Guatemalan children, including her own, often stop school after the sixth grade. When we wrap up our conversation, four children are standing around Marta’s chair, like sheep resting in the comfort of their shepherd.
            Marta serves as the heroine in the story of Guatemala’s rural farming communities. For lack of a more applicable expression, she’s got guts. Her position as head of the house, because of the near constant absence of her busy husband, has formed her into one of the least shy women we have come across. Watching Marta lead her household is like watching a clever conductor lead an orchestra. Head nods and carefully-formed looks cause her children to disappear and reappear, having completed whatever task her gesture signified. When I feel the need for a rest, I wonder if the idea of “taking a day off” is something she is even acquainted with. 

~ Caroline Craig

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