SALQUIL GRANDE, Guatemala --- María Raymundo had always helped her father in his corn fields in the Mayan Highlands of Guatemala. But as a single mother of two young children, she had a dream.

 “I wanted my own piece of land,” she says. “I always thought that a parcel of land could give us much more, if we grew more than just corn.”

Raymundo’s dream reflects more than 2000 years of culture and history in her community.  It also conflicts with many of the current practices on land ownership in Guatemala.

She was born in the Mayan Ixil territory in northern Guatemala.  Her parents and grandparents taught her the traditions of growing corn and beans, and how to collectively govern communal pasture lands. 

Maria Raymundo, a single mother of two in the Mayan Highlands of Guatemala. Her parents and grandparents taught her the traditions of growing corn and beans, and how to collectively govern communal pasture lands.MCC Photo by Crystal Zook

But in the 1980’s, the Guatemalan Armed Conflict destroyed the traditional agrarian livelihoods of the Ixil people. After the war there was a shortage of land, prices soared and land speculation increased.

Some young people who have lost interest in farming have sold land inherited from their parents. Parents who have land to pass on are distrustful and suspicious about what will be done with their property.

A program run by Fundamaya, a partner of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), is addressing those barriers. It helps young people and their parents restore the mutual trust needed to negotiate land inheritance.

With the assistance of Fundamaya, Raymundo and her father developed a plan. She would have access to 1 cuerda of land (about 1/5th of an acre), to work on her own for two years. By doing this, Raymundo could prove her commitment to the land and her family.

She immediately planted over 30 fruit trees, filling the space underneath with vegetables.  She purchased sheep, ducks and chickens. 

With the help of MCC partner, Fundamaya, Maria Raymundo and her father worked out a plan for Maria's use of family land. She began developing the property, by planting fruit trees and buying livestock.MCC Photo by Crystal Zook

After only six months, the land was transformed from a simple corn field to a diverse and productive landscape. Since then, Raymundo’s father has given her more land.

“My father works part time as a tailor, and since he´s getting older, he says doesn´t have enough time to work on the corn fields,” she says.  

Now she’s farming almost an acre of land and has several sheep.  

Maria Raymundo tends her sheep on family land - some of which she's hoping to inherit from her father. She is hoping to complete her high school education and eventually build a house for her children on additional land she's purchased with profits earned from selling textiles and produce.MCC Photo by Crystal Zook

In the evenings Raymundo weaves traditional Mayan Ixil textiles that she sells in the local market along with vegetables, eggs and other products from her land.  

She’s saved enough money to buy a piece of land near the village where her children go to school. 

“I bought my land because I want to build a house for my children and myself someday,” Raymundo says.

She’s also challenging traditional inheritance practices, where male children are given priority.

 “I think that my father and mother are convinced now that I want to continue to farm, even though I am a woman,” Raymundo says.  “I think they´ll give me a good piece of land for my inheritance.” 

Not long ago, she started studying on the weekends and is hoping to get the equivalent of a high school education.

 “Many young people think that there are only two choices: work on the land or go to school to try and get a job that takes you off the land,” says Raymundo.  “But I want to continue to study and farm at the same time.”  

Tobias Roberts and his wife, Yasmin Mendez, worked with MCC in Guatemala and El Salvador for nine years – the last four in the Ixil region of Guatemala.  During their time there, they came to know, and admire, María Raymundo. 

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