This week’s “She’s Doing It” column features both a he and a she: a couple who have worked together throughout their adult lives in their Arizona-based business and now are devoting their skills to amazing community development work in rural Guatemala. First of a two-part series.
Suzanne and Earl de Berge founded the public opinion research firm Behavior Research Center in 1965, with Suzanne running the business end and Earl the research end. Politically independent, I met them when BRC began doing opinion research for Planned Parenthood in Arizona in the early 1980’s. They were usually correct in their recommendations, helping us win ballot initiatives and score some big wins in a tough political climate. Here’s Earl’s description of what they are doing now, why this is their dream, and how they are leading–not following–it.
Suzanne and I have been in love with Guatemala for 35 years and looking for opportunities where we could help people at a grass roots level. I guess we both have had enough of high flying politicians with cameras in their underwear. Around 2006 we worked in the community of Chocola as volunteers on an archaeology project and fell in love with the town and decided to see if we could help the community out of poverty in a sustainable way. Local leaders took us seriously and so we went to work.
Our role is that of organizers and facilitators, fund raisers, providing program and leadership training and helping them develop market connections. It has taken us some time to master the language and identify and learn to deal with cultural barriers, but we have made progress and enjoy sharing what we have learned with other Non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) trying to do good works in Guatemala.
About a year into our work we were invited to a large meeting under the trees (a important symbolic gesture of friendship – meetings indoors are considered formal and arms length) and thanked for “Helping us see that we are not nothing – that we can work together for common goals.” From there followed several hours of person after person standing up to tactfully apologize to one another for past deeds that might have inhibited friendship and teamwork.
But this may better tell the story of why we do this. When I met for the first time the newly elected leader of the family vegetable garden program and I asked her how the program had affected her and she answered…
“I love it! Every vegetable on our family table now is fresh and from my OWN HANDS. I do not have to spend money in the market for vegetables and the money I save will be used to start a small vegetable business so we can earn enough to get our children through school.”
The gardens program has been a powerful vehicle to help empower women in the community to start their own businesses, work together and become more independent of the macho male cultural milieu.