More than 95 percent of our worldwide team members are from the countries where they work, and as you might suspect, they’re amazing people. So every month, we’re inviting one of the many folks who make incredible change possible to give us a peek into their work and life.
This month, meet Carlos Aquino, who joined our Guatemala team nine years ago. His ardent belief that even the most marginalized should have a voice — that everyone has the ability to improve their lives when given the right support — brings Mercy Corps’ vision to life every day.
My position with Mercy Corps: I am the Manager for the Rural Development Program. The program’s goal is to support the most vulnerable population of the country through organization, training and developing their abilities and skills to solve their land conflicts and improve their nutrition levels, productive systems, access to market and their capacity to advocate and accomplish a better life.
On a typical day I visit the communities, I talk to people and ask them how they feel about the support they are receiving from Mercy Corps. I listen to their concerns and success stories and I take that to define new strategies and methodologies so we can provide a better service and create new projects to improve their lives.
Why I love what I do: My work is important because through it I can give hope to the poorest families, to those who feel that they do not have opportunities. From a very young age, I started working in agrarian activities in rural areas, and that has given me the opportunity to value the work that farmers do.
I enjoy when people believe in themselves and see that development is possible, when the most disadvantaged groups, such as women, share with me that they now feel valuable and confident. The most rewarding thing to me is to see a smile of satisfaction in people’s faces, when they realize that their life is changing for the better. Their faces expressing thanks, satisfaction and that something better will come is what makes my day and inspires me to keep doing what I do.
Keeping it local: We need to respect the importance of the communities’ culture and traditions. It is important to remember that we do not know everything and must listen to the wisdom of the women and men from the communities.
My favorite moment was when a group of women solved a land conflict that had lasted years and not even government leaders or specialists were able to solve. It was spectacular when I saw this group of women presenting the results of the solved conflict, impressing us and the local authorities.
I have seen a behavior and attitude change in the communities we work with, who now believe they are part of their own development — women feeling empowered, able to express what they think and that they are also part of the development of their communities, youth that are being included and men seeing the possibility of a change in their communities.
One of my favorite projects: I will always remember a story of a group of indigenous Q’eqchí women who dared to develop a beekeeping project. When the opportunity came to them, since it was something new, men rejected the opportunity. But a group of 20 women decided to do it. They got organized, received training and started with the project, showing that gender or position does not determine what you can do and that anyone is capable of developing a successful project. They became a role model for their community.
Life in Guatemala: Living in Guatemala is a wonderful experience. We have such a rich culture, with happy homes and hardworking people. But their development opportunities have been denied due to bad government policies and lack of interest from the different sectors of the country.
Some people think that Guatemala does not have the conditions to produce or cover their food and exportation needs, but that is not true. Guatemala has the agricultural, environmental and technical conditions to produce. What is missing are the right policies to promote production and development. The biggest challenge we face is that there isn’t an integral country vision, but a segmented one, where the rural population is being excluded or marginalized.
Hopes for my country: My hope is that Guatemala becomes a country where women and men, in spite of where they live, have opportunities for development. A country where education, health and families’ incomes are improved, where natural resources are managed in a responsible and sustainable way, and where people are happy.
I believe that people we work with can accomplish true development. All we have to do is promote their potential through our interventions. I hope that with the work we do people can say that they have grown, learned and have new skills to have a better life.