Agros Blog

Agros + SalaamGarage = Social Change

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.

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SalaamGarage group with pea farmers in La Esperanza—photo credits: Patrick Lennox Wright

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.

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Ana weaving a huipil for her daughter’s high school graduation ceremony

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/.

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Elementary school in Belén—photo credits: Patrick Lennox Wright

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Agros Guatemala staff taking a turn with the big lenses! photo credits: Sam Lee

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Photo Credit: Sam Lee

Thank You Ira and Ana Lucia

We are back from Central America and as much as I want to complete the recent series of travel logs with a final report on our time in Guatemala, I am (alas) waiting for the hard-drive that stored all of the photos from the trip to be repaired. The drive unfortunately crashed on the last day.

In the meantime, however, I want to say thank you to both Ira Lippke (our photographer) and Ana Lucia (our translator). Like so many people involved in Agros, they are extraordinary people – gifted, generous, committed to making a difference in the world, and good friends. I cannot thank them enough for their work on this trip. Together – we walked, drove, rode, and flew across three countries and thousands of miles; met hundreds of miraculous, beautiful people in Agros communities; and shot over 12 hours of video and over 3,000 photos. You’ll be seeing the fruit of this work over the next year(s) to come. Ira and Ana Lucica – thank you.

Here are a few ‘behind the scenes’ photos from the trip:

Ana with RabbitIra in Futuro

Sean Shooting Goats

Ana and Gaspar

Sean and Ira

Ira and Papaya

And and Helen

Sean thinking

Ira w Kids

Facing the Land

(Continuing with the next trip report… we’re now in Guatemala, having arrived yesterday from Managua, Nicaragua. Arriving in Guatemala City we managed to avoid most of the protests and traffic jams vis-a-vis the Prez Bush visit, and had a surreal and glorious night drive to Panajachel, a lovely city on the shores of Lake Atitlan. We’re taking a day off here in Panajachel before heading up to the Ixil tomorrow morn. The following was written two nights ago in Managua. Photos, by Ira Lippke, are inserted in no particular order).

Ira, Ana Lucia, Sean

Sitting in Hotel Ritzo tonight, sunset directly in my eyes, dripping shower water, Ana Lucia is napping and Ira and I are chillin’ w/ our Macbooks and café negro’s… we’re just back from El Edén for the last night in Nicaragua before flying out to Guatemala tomorrow.

Cooking in El Eden

It’s hard to explain how draining this kind of work can be – to constantly be ‘on’ emotionally, thematically, technically, most every minute of the day, striving to capture the literal light and symphony of these painfully beautiful people. Nights – we sleep in a kind of stupor… but Days – each one has been a gift. We’ve choked on garbage; smelled the stupor of disease; hugged single mothers; ridden white horses; chased cows; nearly been stampeded by herds of goats trying to get back at us because one of their number had been slaughtered to feed us; swam in El Edén’s waterfall; slept in hammocks beneath the stars that shine on the village of Futuro del Mañana (”Future of Tomorrow”); eaten meals prepared with more humility and generosity than I can name; repeated “no mira a camera” at least 25,000 times; laughed with the Agros staff until we couldn’t breathe; taken close to 3,000 photos and 8 hours of video… and we’re just now half way through the trip.

Hammock Morning

I showed the people of El Edén the photos that Trevor took last month – of their children, homes, faces and fields. 30+ men, women, children, Agros staff, etc… all gathered in the village community center. Being the macho hombre that I am, I rather manfully kept my tears as discreet as possible as I listened to their laughter and sighs as I scrolled through each photo – you could cut the joy and emotion in the room with a machete.

Ashley in the Kitchen

I remain struck by how many layers there are that make up life in an Agros village… language and cultural barriers notwithstanding, there are simply more project technicalities, relationships, histories and stories than can be given the time they deserve. Staying in the villages is an enormous help and privilege, it allows us to enter into their rhythms and pace; their time and spaces – but we are still scratching at surfaces.

Don Pedro Watering Plantains

In the trip to Nicaragua last month I was struck by the range of technical detail that goes into an Agros village development project. On this trip I am discovering something that is so basic and essential that it may be easy to miss: these families are fundamentally connected to the earth and her elements and rhythms in ways that we are not.

Abran

While it is a difficult life (I can’t say I’d want to live it day in and day out – it’s crucial to not over-romanticize village life) it is nevertheless a beautiful life. Being with families who live at the bounty and mercy of the elements, I can only begin to see how the people of El Eden and Futuro experience life in more direct and primary way than I do. And it’s far more than just comparing our alarm clocks to their darkish blue dawns filled with the anthems of gallos.

Night in Futuro

So there are of course many layers of difference at play – but difference and contrast is really never quite as interesting as equivalence and resemblance. As all of you know, there are just so many places where you can break through and experience a bond with someone that surprises and leaves you both mutually grateful.

Ana Lucia with Girls in El Eden

Yesterday we interviewed Arcadio, the village president of El Eden. He told us that after the families first began living together and working the land they soon realized that many of them were on opposite sides during the war (Sandinistas v Contras). Arcadio went on to say that now… now they are fighting a different enemy – poverty – and they are fighting together this time. He said “we have now become brothers because of the land”.

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In my translated conversations with Arcadio, our walks across creeks, clambering into wells, hiking up hills of coffee trees, as he continued to describe the village I thought back to all of the different people laboring within Agros across so many countries and ways of life and vocational roles… it must simply be said that we too are brothers and sisters because of the land. And the land is an icon of not merely what we tangibly feel beneath our feet and between our hands. There is the land that we can see, and the ‘Land’ that we cannot see and yet hope for and struggle towards together.

Two Girls Swimming El Eden

I asked Arcadio to describe in one word what Agros means to him. He didn’t even pause to think – he looked straight at us and said: “To me, Agros is a mirror. Agros has helped us to see our face, and because of that we are now able to stand and see each other – face to face.

And so with an enormous sense of privilege and gratitude, tomorrow morning Ira and Ana Lucia and I will be heading to the villages of La Esperanza and El Paraiso in the Ixil. Just a few more shots…

Bath in Futuro
(a young boy, just finished with his bath)
Man in El Eden Fields
(a father of two beautiful girls, and an incredibly hard worker)
Swimming El Eden
(agua de vida!)

Los Bordos – Honduras

We’re currently in Nicaragua, on our way to the Agros village Futuro del Mañana. While in Honduras we spent two days with the people living in ‘Los Bordos’. Los Bordos is essentially a concentration of 6,000 families living on a series of water dikes on the borders of San Pedro Sula. Most of these families came from the rural areas of Honduras in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, which left tens of thousands of people displaced, homes destroyed, nowhere to go. They came to San Pedro Sula and began erecting temporary shelters on the water dikes, and these ‘temporary’ homes have now have become home to over 20,000 people.

The people of Los Bordos live in enormously difficult conditions. Open sewage, no plumbing, surrounded by contaminated water, mounds of trash, rampant disease, and yet with an unquenchable hope for a better life. These families also live under the threat of imminent eviction. The have been told by the Honduran government that the conditions are environmentally hazardous (which is an understatement) and that the various Los Bordos communities will be developed into roads and highways. The difficulty for the authorities is, of course, where do these families go? There are no good options for them. This is where Agros comes in.

Agros has partnered with a local Mennonite organization who has been working extensively in Los Bordos, with the goal of relocating groups of families into a future Agros village. There are many challenges in this effort, but even more possibilities. The families are driven by an overwhelming hope for a better life, the opportunity to own their own land, to start their own agricultural businesses, and ultimately to provide a better future for their children. It will take me some time to fully understand this contrast of human suffering and extraordinary, desperate, life-affirming hope. Land, Hope, and Life indeed.
Here are a few photos from our time there, shot by Ira Lippke.

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los bordos - dulcia

los bordos - 3 kids

los bordos - children in house

los bordos - sean

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