I recently had the exciting opportunity to travel to Guatemala with an amazing partnering organization called SalaamGarage. SalaamGarage is a digital storytelling, citizen journalism organization that partners with international NGOs and local non-profits. Participants (amateur and professional photographers, writers, videographers, etc.) connect with international NGOs, like Agros, to create and share independent media projects that raise awareness and cause positive change in their online and offline social communities.
We started our journey with the six photographers from across the US in Antigua, Guatemala to get our bearings and introduce some to Central America for the first time. From there, we drove six hours to the Ixil region where several of our Agros Guatemala villages are located. We spent three amazing days visiting the inspiring families in Belén, La Esperanza and Cajixay, learning more about their history during the armed conflict and their journey afterwards with Agros, sharing food and exchanging smiles for the camera.
As the Agros trip leader and translator, I had the privilege of seeing Agros through the new eyes and lenses of these visiting photojournalists and facilitating a very special conversation across different cultures. Several times, I was asked by a member of the group to translate something like, “Please let her know that I’m changed forever. From our meeting, I am going to seriously rethink how I live my life.”
Amanda Koster, founder of SalaamGarage shared, “I’ve done a lot of traveling around the world and have worked with a lot of NGOs. Agros is the most effective and holistic development organization I’ve seen so far, with a powerful emphasis and successful model for long term self empowerment and sustainability. This was the most amazing trip so far we’ve taken with SalaamGarage.”
After interviews with 18 families in three villages, including time with La Esperanza pea farmers who are exporting to England through a secure regional contract, the elementary school students in Belén who told us their dreams to be teachers, farmers, police officers and lawyers, leaders of the women-run community bank in Cajixay, and a fabulous meal of homemade boxboles made and shared together with men, women and children on our last day, we came home both exhausted and exhilarated. I know that the stories and images of these courageous, hard-working people will not be forgotten, but shared with diverse networks through the group’s multi-media projects. Stories like Ana’s, who in La Esperanza proudly weaves each day in an Agros textile project to make enough money to send her daughter Petronila to high school. A few weeks ago, we saw her working on the most beautiful weaving of all, the one Petronila will wear at her graduation ceremony coming up in November.
The SalaamGarage photographers have returned full of energy and passion and ideas to share stories like Ana’s. Keep in touch with their work and SalaamGarage on Facebook and Twitter. You can share the Agros story to help cause social change, too. Check out how at http://onevillage.agros.org/.