From War to Laughter, Trees to Bracelets, Despair to Hope…

alnus trees
The laughter of children, where once there was war. The strength in eyes that once looked defeated. The beauty where once there was devastation. These are the things that struck me the most when I attended the celebration of the expansion and growth of the Sacala Initiative, a sustainable timber initiative that I started incubating back in 1992.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with Wakami. Let me give you a hint – a timber initiative isn’t the only thing that started incubating back then.

A little background first.

Sacala is a village in the highlands of Guatemala, where the war killed many people and destroyed many families – a war in which over 200,000 people were killed (or forcibly “disappeared”) and over 1 million fled. I met the people of Sacala in 1990, after getting my masters from Cornell, when I had decided to start an organic farm. My goal at that time was that the farm would not only have commercial purposes, but that it would also serve as a training center for rural communities of Guatemala.

I thought that if I could not change the WHOLE world, I would start my own small piece of it. That is how I got the opportunity to start training farmers from the highlands that were looking into ways to create prosperity after the war had destroyed much of their livelihoods. One of the village leaders from Sacala, Patricio Coroy, was one of my first trainees.

Patricio and other founders
This is Patricio and the other founders who worked with me as we were starting our project back in 1992 now, 30 years later.

However, Patricio had a slightly different idea for his village.

“Maria, you have taught us how to grow organic vegetables.  But that won’t do in our village.  There are no good roads, no water for production of vegetables, no telephones for orders, no refrigerated trucks. However, we could do something else… we would love to start a forestry industry, from harvesting seeds, to starting nurseries to harvesting wood in a sustainable way, to a sawmill, carpentry, and finally our products in the markets.  This would not only bring income, we would start recovering ecosystems, recovering soils, water sources, forests.”

I had a dream of a world were both people and the Earth would be happy and prosperous, and living in harmony, so I and a few other people jumped right into Patricio’s dream with him. We worked together until 2008, when they then started to be on their own. We planned, we planted, we harvested. We taught others to do what we were doing. Patricio, and the villagers of Sacala, were making a dream come true.

I hadn’t been back there in 10 years.

Last December, I went back for the first time in ten years, and it is hard to describe the experience to you here. But I will try.

As I was riding toward the village for the celebration, I saw that some things were the same (not great roads, not great access to water, not many public services). In a way, it was as if they were stuck in time.

alnus trees
These are alnus trees, which are harvested many times because they regrow, with now beautiful coffee plantations in between.

But then, other things were now just like in the dream. The first 300 trees we had planted, with 10 farmers in one community in 1992, is now a system that works for over 1250 farmers in more than 12 communities in the territory. Under the first alnus trees (Andean alders) we planted, now there are lush coffee plants with beautiful green coffee beans. The initial sawmill we built back then is now a full commercial sawmill, and lots of workers are using their carpentry skills to supply products to great stores in Guatemala.

But what struck me the most on this day was the laughter of the kids and the smiles of the initial founders of this project as they proudly explained how it had evolved . . . how now they had dividends . . . how now there were celebrations in places that had once been clandestine cemeteries from the war. Happiness instead of sadness had taken over this area. Healthy children, happy adults,  prosperous, working farmers and craftsmen were what I saw. And I knew that our dreams had come true.

The gratefulness that I felt is an understatement. What we had dreamt of before, was in full bloom in front of my eyes . . . for me a reminder that dreams become reality if we are persistent, a reminder that individual dreams are strong and collective dreams are unstoppable, a reminder that great dreams take great time, but once that time goes by, it’s a pure shot of hope to the heart to see them unfold.

So… back to Wakami and how this all connects. You remember I told you that a timber initiative wasn’t the only thing that started incubating that day, back in 1992?

Celebrating with Patricio’s family.

Here’s what happened…

Working on this sustainable timber initiative with this small village taught me about the power of dreams, the power of markets, and the power of people who want to make a difference with their actions. As I went on to meet with women in small rural villages, I saw that they too had dreams, and skills that could allow them to become the owners of their own destiny – if only they had access to markets and business education. Today, at Wakami, we work with these rural women to create products that make dreams a reality – healthy children who grow up with an education and with power, and parents who walk with their heads high where once they hung with despair. We help people make possible things that, at one time, seemed impossible.

That is why every purchase makes a difference. Every action creates hope, dreams, and miracles. By working together, we change the world.

Maria Pacheco