Maria pacheco is still haunted by the experience that defined her destiny. She was sixteen, working among the rural people of her country, Guatemala, and charged with the terrible task of handing mothers their own babies to bury, the tiniest victims of unforgiving poverty. In that moment, Maria’s passionate commitment to easing the plight of her people was born, along with a profound connection to Guatemala’s rich cultural past and its land. Her deeply compelling story reminds us that we are all connected to the earth and to its people.
The largest country in central america, Guatemala has a history of political turmoil. In 1996 peace accords were signed, ending thirty-six years of a bloody civil war in which 200,000 men, women, and children lost their lives and one million became refugees. Guatemala is also a very poor country; extreme poverty is common among the indigenous people.
The country has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. It is also a very young country—38 percent of the population is under fourteen, and the median age is twenty.
Born in 1964, Maria has seen firsthand what war does. To cope with the destruction she saw around her, she turned to the warm abundance of nature and became an organic farmer. After working in the mountains of eastern Guatemala for nearly ten years, in 2004 Maria founded Kiej de los Bosques (Friends of the Trees), where she is general manager and co-owner. Its purpose is first to incubate businesses, starting them from a small seed and nurturing them into sustainable livelihoods, then to strengthen rural economic initiatives, design and develop new products, and provide access to markets.
In 2006 Maria and her partners established the Wakami Value Chain with the mission of “seeing the beauty in the world now!” The business model of Wakami is to create a network of rural communities where the fashion products of local women can be sold through an international export chain. Today, Wakami is exporting fashion accessories to more than fifteen countries, including Europe, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. Wakami products are sold by such outlets as Club Monaco, Brandy Melville, Ralph Lauren, and Natura. Maria believes that a few simple acts of entrepreneurship can create prosperity chains that can lift the very poor out of poverty. Like an ancient Mayan fable full of mysteries and surprises, Maria’s life work evolved in partnership with the people she loves and serves.