Anne Barkett advocates for disempowered groups in Guatemala.
I first came to Guatemala by accident. After graduating from Seattle Pacific University with a degree in psychology, I planned to volunteer on an organic farm in Argentina. When I was told that the farm could no longer host me, I headed to an orphanage in Guatemala, where my aunt had a contact. I immediately fell in love with the people.
The idea of sitting in a cubicle from 9 to 5 had never appealed to me. Ever since going to Togo in eighth grade with my dad [a surgeon who volunteers each year in a Togolese hospital], I’ve been drawn to international work. At Seattle Pacific, I volunteered and interned with an array of non-profits and schools, including the Seattle Bilingual Orientation Center and Agros International. I also participated in SPU SPRINT trips and the Refugee Project. The SPU community really fostered my love for international justice and development work.
During my senior year, I took a cultural communications class and attended a lecture on the emerging field of international peace psychology, which applies the methods of psychology to the prevention of violence and destructive conflict. This combination of interests pointed to moving abroad.
After my initial visit to the country, I found a position with the Mennonite Central Committee working with the Kekchi youth in central Guatemala. Then I got a job with Semilla Nueva, which means “new seed,” an organization that brings technology from the world’s leading agricultural research institutions to rural communities. Farmers try out new growing technologies and share the techniques with neighboring farmers — a “farmer-to-farmer approach.”
We are all about people-centered development. We’re not ‘gods’ or ‘saints’ coming to help the ‘poor’; we’re facilitating their own process of helping themselves. Right now, we’re spreading the word about pigeon peas, a legume that enriches the soil through nitrogen fixation, acting as a cost-saving natural fertilizer.
I find my degree in psychology beneficial as I interact with Guatemalan families: I feel better prepared as an advocate for disempowered groups and have an understanding of the psychological dimensions of family systems, gender roles, and gender-typed behavior. In Guatemala, especially among the indigenous people, there’s a very machismo culture.
I see changes taking place already as a result of Semilla Nueva’s work. Communities and farmers, especially women, are being empowered. The soil is healthier. There are lower rates of malnutrition. Local leadership and community organization are flourishing.
Currently, I’m creating a nutrition curriculum in the communities where Semilla Nueva has sustainable agriculture programs. I’m also helping to form women’s groups. We get together and cook and have nutrition discussions.
I don’t envision leaving Guatemala anytime soon. I resonate with the idea of living a simple lifestyle and being immersed in a community. I’ve found that here in Guatemala. It feels like home.
—Anne Barkett '09