In rural Guatemala, an indigenous woman gets to learn—and lead

Zoila Esperanza Morán never learned how to read or write. As the eldest girl in a family of two sisters and a brother, she never had a chance to go to school. “Education is not important for women,” her mother would say. And so Zoila spent her childhood helping with chores at home, until the age of 15, when she was married off without her consent.

© Julio Juarez / FAO Guatemala

Today, however, Zoila is the leader of a successful women’s group that works with the joint programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE), to improve agricultural production and food and nutrition security throughout their community.

With training and support from the RWEE programme, the women have not only been able to increase their yields, but also to market their surplus and expand their activities. For example, by selling cooked corn, corn beverages, corn tamales, bean tamales, and more, the group has been able to generate enough profit to start a tomato plantation project.

Like all the women in the group, Zoila recognizes the tangible benefits of her active participation in the programme. She has been trained in topics that have enabled her to increase and enhance her production and income, diversify her family’s nutrition and improve their health and well-being. But she is particularly proud of her leadership role in the group, and of the example the group has set for women’s empowerment. “We have demonstrated in the community that women can succeed not only by being housewives.”

It takes a family

Zoila and her husband have three boys and two girls. When she thinks of her youth, Zoila remembers that at 15, she had no plans to become a wife and mother. But her children have turned out to be her main motivation to succeed, and she notes that it was her oldest son, Juan Cahuec, 17, who encouraged her to participate in the RWEE programme.

Her husband, too, has been enthusiastic. “My husband has been of great support; together we decided that my role in the community was important. He supports me when I have to go out of town to acquire new knowledge.”

“I am not the only one that learns...”

As someone who never went to school, Zoila treasures the opportunity to learn through the programme, and to pass on to others what she has learned. “The nice thing of being part of the programme is that I am not the only one that learns, but my family and fellow women learn too,” she says.

She notes that it is not just the women who participate in the RWEE programme who benefit, “but other neighbors because they ask us what we do to have orchards and other crops,” adding that “this makes me happy because now, I teach.”