This Mother’s Day we celebrate three women who find the courage to overcome the great adversity they face as they work to improve the lives of their families and of their communities. Juslene, Esperanza and Samiha are three inspiring mothers who, working with Grassroots International’s partners in Haiti, Honduras and Palestine, are key leaders within their communities.
Making a Better World for Our Daughters
“My daughter is the reason I’m in the MPP. She’s the reason I am a political activist in the movement – to keep on with the struggle. If not my daughter’s life will be very difficult,” says Juslene Tyresias, from the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP). As a Program Coordinator and Co-Director of the MPP, Juslene is helping to improve the living conditions in the rural areas of Haiti. On our recent site visit, Juslene proudly showed us the eco-villages the MPP created for survivors of the 2010 earthquake. There survivors collectively grow food using agroecological methods taught by the MPP, and are able to reside free of charge if they agree not to sell their homes if they leave. These thriving eco-villages are filled, housing 60 families, while the government houses (some built with USAID and other development agency funding) are virtually empty. The success of the eco-village results in part because the MPP also addresses other important issues through groundbreaking initiatives like the water management program that includes purification and re-use of greywater for irrigation and raising fish. The MPP also created a manmade lake that provides critical water for irrigation, livestock and washing clothes. And, the MPP has created and installed an underground, piped water system bringing potable water throughout the rural countryside. They are also working to create alternative energy sources and reduce deforestation as well as innovative farming techniques like implementing tire gardens in drought stricken areas to grow food with minimal amounts of water. With all these accomplishments and ongoing activism, Juslene’s impact on her daughter’s future goes far beyond improving the lives of rural Haitians. Juslene is a pioneer who is paving the way for women in Haiti and in the MPP. With both pride and determination, Juslene explains “We went from having 15 women in the MPP to 20,000 women today… And today women make up the leadership of the MPP.” One day, her daughter may be among the nation’s powerful leaders.
Women Leading the Way for Agrarian Reform
Esperanza Cardona is a leader with the National Peasant Association of Honduras (ANACH) and is the coordinator of the Central America Regional Women’s Commission of the Via Campesina.
When her husband, who was involved in a farming co-op, was killed by a police officer, Esperanza was determined to provide for her family of five. As she started farming and becoming more involved in her community, she also started taking on local leadership and spearheading campaigns to change agrarian reform in Honduras. The core of Esperanza’s work is directed towards women. Only 11% of governmental funds destined to agriculture go to rural women leaving nearly 90% of rural women without land. This structural violence is coupled with the systematic, targeted killing of women in Honduras (which has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 women in the last five years including the recent murder of internationally known environmental activist Berta Caceres). The ongoing structural and physical violence women face prompted Esperanza’s work with the Campaign to End Violence Against Women. The campaign, a program supported by Grassroots International, works to stop the femicide and empowers rural women by providing the technical and legal support to women in order to claim their land rights. “We peasant women have launched campaigns against violence and also campaigns to harvest justice for the women of the countryside to demand our right to land…Food sovereignty for us peasant women is to have our rights respected. Those rights are the rights to land, the right to credit, to the market, to housing, to health care and education,” says Esperanza.
Resisting Occupation Through Farming
Samiha Jeihan is one of the mothers of the Palestinian village of Susya, situated in the Jordan Valley on the West Bank. Since 1986 Samiha and her community has been under attack. The Israeli government has repeatedly destroyed their homes, burned their crops and even deemed their land a national park as a way to take away Palestinian ownership. However, years later the very same “national park” now accommodates an Israeli settlement that has grown to surround the Palestinian village. For years, families like Samiha’s have cultivated the land on which they live as a means of resistance against the occupation with the help of our partner the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC). Living on a land that is under Israeli civil and military control, with a pending threat of expulsion and home demolitions, this mother of two is what we can consider to be an everyday heroine. Simply existing and providing for her family can be a daily challenge. There are no public utilities like electricity or water for Samiha and her family. In fact, they purchase a single tank of water a week that is used for drinking, cooking, bathing, irrigation and for their livestock. And as they herd their sheep in the lands between Susya and the Israeli settlement they are routinely threated as well as verbally and physically assaulted. Yet Samiha stands in strength determined to provide for her two children and to remain on her ancestral lands.
Johanna Kougbeadjo has been volunteering at Grassroots International since February 2016. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Rennes 1 University in France and will start to work on her Master’s degree in Political Science next fall.