“When you plant a tree, life follows.”

As a young mother, Irene knows that healing the land is the best legacy for her daughter.

Raising a family is not easy in a place that no longer offers a chance to earn a living. Irene and Reydi Sagastume know this too well. They have called San Jose La Arada home their entire lives.
Years ago, this small town of less than 10,000 tucked in the Chiquimula Department in southern Guatemala was a bustling agricultural spot. But in recent times, the bounty of its fields has been decreasing steadily. Such is life for every town in Guatemala’s Dry Corridor, a strip of land that is vulnerable to extreme weather events, such as persistent drought followed by torrential rains. Little by little, the erosion this cycle causes has wreaked havoc on the soil, putting livelihoods at risk, and exposing the farmers to hunger and their children to malnutrition.

Life is nice here. We’re surrounded by nature, but it’s a lot of hard work. We don’t have as many opportunities as we once did. No longer can we provide for our families through the harvest. It’s been years of failure for us as farmworkers.

rene and Reydi are both in their late twenties and can clearly remember how, through hard work, their families could reap the benefits of the harvest. They still have memories of a time when their relatives were able to sell their part of their crops of beans and corn, and when they could prepare most of their meals with vegetables from their garden. At the time, their farms supported and nourished their families in more ways than one.
“Now, we have to save all the time. Food is very expensive. We have to work and save to be able to buy a pound of corn or beans. If you have corn or beans, you can feed your family. Without money to buy them, we’re hopeless,” says Irene.
Indeed, their lives have changed greatly since childhood. The fields are no longer the generous providers they once were, and they must live apart so the family can stay together. Reydi now travels regularly to Canada as a seasonal worker in the apple orchards. It is a back-breaking labor made harder by the thousands of miles of separation from his wife and child.
“Life is hard there. We work long hours and it’s very cold. You pick apples when there’s ice on the fields. The fruit is covered with ice. My hands get numb, and when lunchtime comes around, we can’t have tortillas. We eat bowls of cold cereal instead. There’s no place to heat our meals. I think of my family all the time,” Reydi shares.
Back in Guatemala, Irene works just as hard taking care of their twelve-year-old daughter Natalia. Irene sells beauty products online and is studying to get her high school diploma. She is always on the lookout for temporary jobs, no matter how big or small. Even though her dream is to be able to live off the land once again, she knows this can only come true if immediate action is taken to remediate the damage to the land.

Our lives would change because we wouldn’t have to worry about our daily needs. We wouldn’t have to wander looking for jobs. We would be able to live from our harvest again. That’s what we know. That’s what we long for.

Reydi agrees: “If there were jobs here, I wouldn’t have to travel north because it’s really difficult to be so far away and leave your family behind, even for a little while at a time.”
Reforestation is one way to rehabilitate the land. When pieces of vegetation, be it branches or whole trees, fall to the ground and decompose, they turn into critical nutrients that fertilize the soil. It is a proven way to heal the land, and a process Irene knows by intuition. She volunteers part-time at a reforestation project in Cerro Huexque near her hometown. Her main motivation is to leave behind a legacy for her daughter Natalia.

When you plant a tree, life follows. And I want to make sure that Natalia will not go through the same hardship we have… I want her to understand that her life will change for the better if we plant more trees.