Maria de León Santiago lives with her children and grandchildren in a small community in Guatemala’s Western Highlands, an agricultural region characterized by underdevelopment, malnutrition, poverty and a lack of opportunity. She says the needs are immense here — water, sanitation, shelter, food, jobs, etc. — and she often struggles to support her family with farming and weaving. Because of this, migration is a fact of life for Maria — her husband leaves every year to work in a sugarcane plantation to earn money. It’s not what they want, she says, but it’s the only way they can feed their children.
Maria has recently started saving for the first time ever through the “Communities Leading Development” program, which is implemented by local partners with technical support from Mercy Corps. The program aims to improve quality of life for families in 200 communities in the Western Highlands, in part by installing community savings and loans groups to build financial stability. Maria is the president of her savings and loan group, and she says she is focused solely on saving right now, so she can give her family a better life than she had growing up.