“I am still here.”
Chacraseca is a poor farming area outside of Léon, approximately 50 miles wide and self-organized into 12 sectors. A part of the history here is that a Catholic sister named Joan came here to serve, and helped the people to organize themselves and discover their own capacities for leadership so that they could care for one another and improve life in their community.
Joan left eight years ago, and Alzheimer’s has stolen her memory of this place, but she is still here in spirit. Presenté. The work, the struggle, continues — and that is seen so clearly in the women of Chacraseca.
We witnessed many of these women today, after Mass. They gathered for the annual meeting of Mujeres Unidades (Women United), the microcredit organization that has created a women’s bank in most of the sectors of Chacraseca. In this meeting, women from each sector came together to decide an important question: could women who have already received and repaid loans of $250 reapply and receive loans of up to $800 for larger projects or business improvements?
$800 might not seem like much, but in Chacraseca it means that a woman who usually plants 1/2 an acre of crops could install an irrigation system and plant 4 acres of crops — AND grow things during both the rainy season and the summer. That means more food to feed her family, more food to sell at the market, and more money to pay for things like the bus rides her children need in order to get to school.
While children played around the room, the women discussed the question from multiple angles: interest rates, repayment deadlines, collateral required, etc. Ultimately, they decided to approve the increased loans with 1% interest and individualized repayment deadlines. With the question answered and the annual report completed, we moved on to a potluck lunch. (Note: this program had existed since 2009 and has maintained a 100% repayment rate throughout their 5 year history.)
In the afternoon, we gathered with a smaller group of those same women so that we could listen to their stories of what it means to them to be leaders in Chacraseca. Many expressed that “to be a leader is a beautiful thing.” One woman noted that while at first she had no idea what it would mean to be a leader (when she was chosen by her community), “I am still here.”
I am still here. That statement points to the resiliency, resourcefulness, determination and hope of these women. They struggle, they strive, and they are still here, improving the lives of their children…and improving life for themselves as well.
Tonight, as the much-needed and prayed-for rain comes down outside, I give thanks for the women of Chacraseca. Thanks be to God for the spirit of resiliency and hope, and thanks be to God for those words said with quiet pride: “I’m still here.”