Monday, September 2, 2013

Famine Here, Famine There

Irish Mother of 7 Making Fringe in 1914 (photo credit: Marguerite Mespoulet)

 Because of my family heritage, Ireland is one of my favorite places to travel. Fellow Finding Freedom board member Mike McNevin is my brother, and we share a mutual interest in the Emerald Isle. I put a lot of thought into my recent trip there, because it involved ancestral research and I wanted to be prepared. Mike and his wife Wendy did the background work on finding our Irish ancestors and I wished to honor their commitment by being ready to carry the research further.

  We know that our great-great-grandfather lived in Sligo, Ireland. The generations that followed him left Ireland, and immigrated to the United States. After studying the history of this part of Ireland, I now understand why.The period of mass immigration from Ireland was unprecedented in Irish history, and there is nothing comparable to it in living memory of such death by starvation, disease and immigration which literally broke down the population in Ireland.
 In 1870 over 80 per cent of the land in Ireland was held by less than 1% of the population; by 1916, nearly 65% of the country was still in the hands of owner (mostly absentee) occupiers.

Before the donation of new housing, Manuela paid rent here.
Our board members realize that the strikingly similar correlation between the history of Ireland, and that of Guatemala. The World Health Organization reports that 68% of indigenous children in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition. (
Without land ownership, the people of ancient Ireland had no way to improve their lives. Income earned from farming went directly to the land owner's pockets. Little was left to feed Irish children, educate them or even purchase basic clothing. For all of the women in our program, over 100 years later and in a different continent, the same holds true.
 The lack of land ownership available to original inhabitants changed the face and politics of countries then and continues to do so now. The impact of governmental policies and big business concerns have pushed those without a political voice to the very margins of existence. The end result is famine.
Catarina (left, holding deed to new land) understands that kind of universal history.
Until FFF purchased land for her, she was living with her father, and 14 relatives. She and her 5 children slept on the floor. Without a formal income after her husband died, she lost the land they owned together. The Mayan women in our program rented shacks like the one above before FFF purchased land and built new homes for them.
Famine forced our relatives to leave Ireland to seek a better life. Over one hundred years later, three of our FFF clients have lost relatives who died trying to do the same. We can't change history, but Finding Freedom through Friendship board members are working hard to create a new reality for a few special women in our program. 

Maria, on site of her newly donated land and house during construction in Guatemala. She now harvests fruit and is in a FFF sponsored microbusiness.