Making a Difference

The Future

A comment I received yesterday challenged me to write this post.

I am awed by the strength of so many women here. I am also angry that so much is expected and so little returned. It’s easy though to judge from my privileged life with an education, resources, work, and the choices I received…”

Several years ago I attended a lecture by a woman who broke the mold: Rigobeta Menchu.  She grew up during the Guatemalan civil war. As a K’iche Mayan girl, her life was as hard as it comes. Against great odds, she received an elementary school education and later worked with civil rights groups. Her activism caught the attention of the Guatemalan army and a price was put on her head. She managed to escape to Mexico, and here she narrated her experiences to a Venezuela journalist Elizabeth Burgos. Her book begins:

My Name is Rigoberta Menchu and this is how my Conscience was Born

When I heard her speak, the audience was largely rural Yucatecan women, she began:

My name is Rigobeta Menchu. I was born poor and expected nothing more from life than hard work and raising babies. But I saw too much – too much violence – too much pain and something snapped in me.                                    

Ms. Menchu urged the 3,000 women in the crowd to step out of the box, to think of alternatives… to resist in small ways, and then in larger ones. She urged them to educate their children – she stressed that education is the key.

In the developed world, education is a given – everyone goes to school. We take this for granted. I worked as an educator in Mexico for more than three decades and over time, I saw firsthand the huge difference that education makes. Many of my first students now have excellent positions. Their degrees paved the way to new experiences and opportunities.

When just one person in a family has access to higher education, a better life is possible for the whole family. I am not referring to just material advantages but also inner growth and development. An educated person receives respect, and their perception of themselves changes – they pass this on.

There are many issues to be resolved in our world. But to me, number one is education. It is not so easy for tyrants to abuse an educated woman. She has an inner fortitude and stands up for herself. Mexico’s educational system is not perfect but it is firmly in place. Even in very remote areas, boys and girls receive, at a minimum, a basic education. (Once I met a teacher from the rural school network who would travel to far-away ranchitos, on horseback and convince parents to send their children to school…)

With increased educational opportunities, we will see less of the inequality that is foisted on underprivileged women (and men too) If you are looking for a way to really ease the marginalization in society… give financial support one of the many organizations that provide scholarships to needy young people. Or if you can, volunteer your skills, your mentorship, your example. You could help your young neighbor practice English, teach a housewife how to bake cakes she can sell to earn extra income, buy locally from home-based businesses, encourage education on ALL levels.

We cannot save the world. We cannot interfere in cultural dynamics. But we can make a difference by becoming involved in the solution… small as we may see our contribution, we can make a huge difference.


Filed under Vida Latina

10 responses to “Making a Difference

  1. Since all the solutions so far in this area have been produced by men, I think it is high time for women to be heard. The Lesbian or Whore label that is thrown on women who speak out is powerful and effective at silencing many. Until women truly can choose to be educated, have a career and be successful on their own talents, nothing will change. You are right that education is a key in many ways, educated women are more likely to speak out, they are more likely to have fewer children and to have them in their 20’s rather than in their teens. If they have access to an independent living, they are less likely to tolerate abuse from their partners. All of this is threatening to men and that is a huge obstacle to overcome. I may be biased but I seriously doubt that any solution that results in this kind of independence will be offered up by men.

    • At our college the young women far outnumber the men. I think this new generation of women is a lot quicker to enrol in higher education. Our students come from working class familes who understand how important their education is . But you are right, women need to take more control over their lives. This happened when the ejido – the state run agricultural co-ops closed. The men could not adapt but the women had children to support. They got jobs. Today many maintain them to the present and have a larger voice because it is they who bring home the bacon.

  2. Benjamin Ramirez

    “Impulso Universitario, A.C.” is a local non-profit organization that raises funds for scholarships for university level students who are highly talented and are from underprivileged rural areas.
    Their purpose is “the academic and professional advancement of young students, through scholarships for higher education; as well as personal development with the objective of qualifying them as agents of change and promoters of the common good.”

    Their address is Calle 62 #383 (45×47), 928-8998. Visit the director (Pilar Ibarra) and meet some of the scholarship recipients, their stories will move you.

    They have an annual fundraiser, ARTE POR LA EDUCACION, local artists donate their creations and there is a silent auction. One hundred percent of the money raised go to the scholarships. Benjamin

    • Thank you Benjamin, Impulso Universitario A.C. is one of the best scholarship organizations that I know of. Several of their recipients have been students at our school. Impulso doesn’t just give the students money, vounteers mentor them every step of the way and it is amazing to see the loyalty the graduates feel towards Impulso. The art auction has just happended but if you contact Pilar, she will inform you of the many ways you can help the scholarship students. I guarantee you’ll be impressed with the commitment of everyone st Enlaces.

  3. Thanks for the nudge, Joanna. I’ve been meaning to read Menchu’s book for some time, so I finally started. I particularly like her reluctance to form groups for “women only”, and her recognition of the effects that such groupings can have in reinforcing “machismo.” Sure, her book was written many years ago, and she does write that this aversion may be only temporary. But I do agree with her–solutions built upon input only from one gender are probably shortsighted.

    • Very true Alinde. We live together on this planet and our solutions should be arrived at together. When I heard Rigoberta Menchu speak in 2008, she stressed this still. She believes that the ying and yang perspective is important. I’m glad you’re reading her book. It is powerful.

  4. norm

    Rigoberta Menchu is a sore point with much of the middle class in Guatemala, I found a great many who had an intense dislike for her and her politics. You can see the results of this dislike in the last national election there. It points to the power of the media, local media in Guatemala has made Menchu out to be a carpetbagger at best.

    • When Rigoberta Menchu won the Nobel Peace prize, the Guatemalan government went crazy. In 1999 David Stoll claimed that Rigoberta Menchu had falsified facts about herself in her 1983 testimony, A collection of essays by established experts on Guatemala seriously challenged Stoll’s data, inferences, and conclusions. Stoll never interviewed Menchu herself but I believe he “shot himself in the foot” because his research actually affirms the truth of Menchu’s story in all of its major points, certainly those points that are most relevant to her testimonial. It is also important to keep in mind that David Stoll is a professional anthropologist who undertook research focused on identifying errors, exaggerations, shortcomings, and bias in Menchu’s testimony. In contrast, Menchu gave her testimony without notes in twenty-four hours of taped conversation over an eight-day period when she was twenty-three years old, not long after the murder of her father, mother, and brother and her escape to Mexico. I believe Stoll’s report was a direct attempt by “the powers that be” to discredit Rigoberta Menchu and to hide the truth.

      • norm

        You’ll get no argument from me on any of your points. I was talking to a nice lady in a highland town who made me supper one evening, she said that when a track hoe was spotted coming up the road, it was time to beat it out into the hills or you would be in the hole the next day. Guatemala’s civil war was a nasty dirty war and its history has been distorted out of any bit of reality by Guatemala’s media. As I said, the last election is proof that voters in Guatemala have been hoodwinked by their media.

      • Yes it is very sad. I went to Canada two weeks ago and spoke to a man who lives in Guatemala City. He says it is still very sketchy. Let’s hope that Latin America soon has some peace. It’s about time…

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