Maria Rebeca holding a workshop attended by many members of the local community.

Women Climate Leaders: María Rebeca

María Rebeca Perez de Nebaj grew up as a shy girl in the Ixil Indigenous community in the Quiché department of Guatemala. This region has been prone to armed conflict and violence in recent years, which has usurped opportunities for Indigenous people, especially women.

Sewing for survival

Having two children at a young age and needing to support her parents financially, María Rebeca had to learn to be self-supporting to sustain her family’s needs. Although she initially started working on a small farm, she purchased a sewing machine.

She became proficient in making huipiles, traditional garments worn by the Indigenous women in Guatemala. This income was vital to her family’s survival.

As general prices rose and María Rebeca’s sewing started not bringing enough money to keep her family well-fed, barely covering three meals a day, she became concerned that her children’s diets were lacking nutrition. She then heard that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was leading an Ixil Joint Rural Development Program in her area.

Maria Rebeca now grows enough food to give her family three meals a day – and before COVID-19, supply a local school too. Image credit: ©FAO/José Itzep

Learning to sustainably farm

The FAO program aims to improve livelihoods and nutrition and end hunger in Indigenous communities. María Rebeca was given the tools to produce food in her home garden.

First, she learned how to build small greenhouses and grow tomatoes. Taking her education further, she participated in poultry farming, beginning with just one rooster and one hen who laid three eggs weekly. She then attended all the training courses offered by FAO and Guatemala’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food.

Initially, it was just María Rebeca’s family that received the benefits of her work. She noticed vast improvements in her children’s health as she could now guarantee three meals a day for all of her family.

Expanding to the community

When she increased her coop to almost 1,000 hens, she was able to start a business, which thrived under her care, and is renowned for its good quality. Now, she is a local expert on egg and tomato production.

The whole community has started to benefit as Maria Rebeca became a supplier to the school food program, providing local schools with 600 eggs per week and selling them directly to her community and regional markets.

Leading the way

Not only was María Rebeca able to help her family and community, but also herself. This work has replaced her shyness with self-confidence and given her self-esteem in a way she never knew. At first, people didn’t take her seriously because she was young and lacked experience, but now she is a leader in her community, and her capacity to teach and share her skills is an inspiration.

Now a trusted and respected community member, this Daughter has eradicated the stigma that many people in her town felt toward women. Grateful for this opportunity, María Rebeca hopes to continue to expand sustainable agriculture practices throughout the region.