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Amanda's mission: Women helping women

Guatemala, July 17, 2012

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Amanda is one of eight mediators in Mercy Corps’ EMA program, which stands for “empowering women in agrarian dialogue.” At just 21, she is the second-youngest member of the team. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    In her effort to effect social change, she has two strikes against her: she is a woman in a society where decisions are made by men and a young person in a culture where older people are afforded greater respect. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Amanda often finds herself surrounded by men, as at this community meeting in San Antonio de Cuevas. "We see a lot of machismo, and also a lot of discrimination against indigenous women," she says. "This motivates me a lot because I am an indigenous woman." Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Amanda grew up in Raxhurá, a small community carved out of the dense forest in northern Alta Verapaz. Amanda lives with her parents, an older sister and four younger siblings in a modest house just off the main square. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Her father, Mario, was initially apprehensive about Amanda’s mediation role because of the potential for violence, but is now supportive. "We spent a lot of money on her education," he says. "This is what we hoped for her." Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Amanda's grandfather forbade her eldest sister, Yessica (at right), to go to school, saying it was not for girls. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    By the time Amanda reached school age, her parents relented. Still, she had to wake up at 3 a.m. each morning to prepare breakfast and do chores before school. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Amanda's salary helps cover school-related fees for her younger siblings, and for her own classes at a local university. The family supports themselves by operating several market stalls selling clothing, shoes and sundries, including this one in front of their home. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Amanda and her fellow mediadoras went through six months of training, which covered not only conflict-mediation methodology and strategies but also history and politics. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Indigenous communities can only sustain and grow their livelihoods if they secure legal title to their land. But the government will not issue titles until disputes are resolved. Mercy Corps’ EMA program focuses on empowering indigenous women in this agriculture-based economy with the skills and information they need to play a role in shaping their community, especially when it comes to land. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    During mediation meetings, Amanda makes a point to involve women in the discussion of how to resolve overlapping land boundaries with a neighboring community. Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    "I enjoy seeing how the women's roles are changing,” says Amanda. “They are giving their opinions, and they're taken into consideration." Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    "More than anything, what interests me is be at the mediation table. To learn the interests, the positions, and how to cool the conflict." Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps  </span>
    "My biggest dream is to one day be an important person for my community, for my municipality, and for my department," says Amanda. "I want to continue to empower women and have their opinions taken into account." Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Amanda Sacul’s job is twofold: to mediate disputes over land — disputes that prevent families from moving forward economically — and to train other indigenous women how to resolve these conflicts themselves.

Since 2003, Mercy Corps has worked in Amanda’s hometown of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala providing a peaceful alternative to settling land conflicts with guns or through courts. By and large, however, women have been absent from the process. Now Amanda and her fellow mediadoras are working to change that.