With determination and self-belief, you can lift yourself out of poverty and support others along the way. This is the story of Sandra.
30-year-old Sandra Xiquín is from Santiago Sacatepéquez in Guatemala. Sandra’s start in life was never certain, even before she was born. When her mother was pregnant, Sandra’s father threatened to kill her mother if she had a daughter. He wanted a son - a man to take over the land.
When Sandra was born her mother almost died of fear and she suffered a heart attack. Her father started drinking heavily and died when Sandra was only three years old. Sandra grew up in poverty and only attended school for a few years. To make ends meet she started farming as a child, working as a day labourer.
After marrying, Sandra moved in with her in-laws, living in a cramped room. Her in-laws weren’t happy with her as they’d hoped their son would marry an educated woman.
Sandra’s chance to prove herself came when her mother gave them a small plot of land. Sandra was sure they would be able to make it work, but her husband doubted her. She went to the bank for a loan, but they refused, because she was a farmer and a woman at that.
Sandra then joined the local farmer’s Cooperative and they gave her the starting capital she so desperately needed. Through the Cooperative she was also able to continue her basic studies. It was at this point that Sandra’s perseverance began to pay off and her enterprise began.
CARE, funded by H&M Foundation, has worked closely with the farmer’s Cooperative since 2015 offering business training support and technical assistance to its members. In addition, CARE has provided seed capital to the Cooperative for its packaging plant.
Together with her husband, Sandra rented additional land to generate more produce and with their earnings bought more land. The business expanded from a few square metres of land to nine acres. Half of the plots are in her name and half in her husband’s name, she says: “because it shouldn’t be all in his name”.
However, being a farmer is never without its challenges and following a major drought, Sandra lost 40% of her production. Despite these setbacks she picked herself and persevered. She says: “When I lost my harvest, I thought about not continuing with this work, but I reflect and I tell myself, that in this work you win or you lose. Because my work has given me more benefits than failures.”
Sandra’s successful farming export business is now thriving and she produces a wide variety of vegetables including carrots, green beans and Creole peas. Through the Cooperative she sells in a fixed market with safe prices and secure payments.
Sandra has now been voted President of the Cooperative with 450 female farmer members, including three of her sisters. Her day includes attending to Presidential duties, supervising the workers, but best of all she still loves to work the land: “My favourite task is harvesting because I am excited to have in my hands the fruits of my work.”
Thanks to the success of her business, Sandra can provide for her children and she has built her own house. She also helps other women, providing jobs for them to work the land. She knows what it’s like to have children and worry about not being able to pay for their school fees: “Not being able to put your children through school is like blindfolding them when all they need is to see.”
Despite his early doubts, Sandra’s husband now recognises her work and supports her one hundred per cent. And Sandra has finally made her father’s dream come true, but with a difference. It wasn’t a son who took over the land. It was Sandra, his daughter, a woman.