Being a small and young NGO, there are challenges that come to us every day. One of these challenges is the hurdle of experience. While all of us are experienced in some matter, none of us have been through the many ups and downs that the Campesino a Campesino movement has seen over the years. That is why it was so important to spend our weekend traveling deep into the mountains to meet with a man who does have the experiences that we need to learn from. In what felt like a trip to meet some sort of wise oracle, we arrived in the small town of San Martin Jilotepeque after a long day of bus trips.
Our oracle would be Cruz Cún Cún. Cruz, a man not big in physical stature but carrying around a vast amount of wisdom and knowledge, took us back to his house just down the street from the central park. There, he shared with us stories of his long and interesting past, his visions for Guatemala’s future, the Campesino a Campesino movement, and an array of other subjects. Cruz Cún Cún has seen everything with the Campesino a Campesino movement: he’s taught in the program throughout Mexico and Central America, spent 10 years in exile in Honduras because of connections to the movement, and finally returned to his hometown to pick up where he left off in the aftermath of the civil war.
Over the next two days, Cruz was able to give a ton of information that will be essential to the future success of Semilla Nueva. The most important concept that he stressed is something called “espiritu de lucha.” Translated as ‘the fighting spirit,’ the idea is this: there are a lot of organizations out there, trying to promote a greater quality of living amongst Guatemalans and other poorer countries. Most NGOs have good intentions and worthwhile practices that they are attempting to implement into their selected communities. However, no matter what kind of theories and technologies an organization is promoting, it doesn’t matter unless the communities involved truly care, believe in the philosophy, and feel deeply attached and inspired to work towards a common goal.
In our case, before we can get people to start using the technologies that we are promoting, we need the farmers we are working with to have an invested interest in the end goals of sustainable agriculture. For the movement to be sustainable, the participants should want change and take ownership of the change, not just assume that technologies and assistance from us will make their lives better.
As described by a close friend of Semilla Nueva, the campesino a campesino model will only work if it takes into account three things: the head, heart, and hands of the people involved. The head represents the knowledge; the techniques and ideas that must make logical sense to famers. The heart represents the ‘fighting spirit’, the passion and inspiration that is essential to true participation. Lastly, the calloused and strong hands are experience through action, representing the important step of learning by doing, applying the concepts and technologies and feeling the satisfaction of visible results.
Cruz Cún Cún can empathize that the road we are travelling is slow, and he gives us inspiration through his own example. His continued participation and passion confirms the principles that brought us down here, and his willingness to share backs up the mutuality of educational exchange. He offers his words: “The country is dying without agriculture. But, I have hope that sustainable agriculture can help people improve their situations.” It is the presence and persistence of people like Cruz that will inspire Semilla Nueva to overcome the challenges we face.
~ Douglas Franz