Growing up, Fidelina Ramos learned two things; that the rocky soil in her village was too barren to grow nourishing crops, and that she, as a woman, had just as little potential.
In Cantón San Lucas, El Salvador people scrape by. They grow the only food they know, corn and sorghum. They’ve come to rely on these crops, as the Irish once did on the potato. But this bland combination yields a meagre diet and virtually no earnings.
Until recently Fidelina accepted these problems. As a woman she was powerless to do anything about them. In rural El Salvador it’s unusual for men to allow their wives to work. Fidelina’s husband would leave for six months at a time to earn money on a sugar plantation, while she cared for their children.
Fidelina Ramos tending her crops
Everything changed when Fidelina and a group of women from the village joined a Trócaire-funded project run by local organisation, Balsamo. They not only learned how to farm, but were reassured about their valuable place in society.
“We learned how to add nutrients to the soil by making organic compost,” she says. “We planted seeds and trekked to the mountains twice a day to get water for irrigation. After two months we had our first cucumbers.”
At first Fidelina’s husband was hesitant. “He said if you start working outside the house it will be complicated. I told him I would manage, so he started helping me with the housework.”
After that it became a team effort. Together the couple began pickling Fidelina’s vegetables and her husband started selling them to local shops.
“I’ve learned about self-esteem, gender and commitment,” she says. “As women it was the first time we had done anything like this. Before we were housewives. But we realised that we could produce for our family; cucumber, squash, green beans, mango… It’s all here.”
Knowing that she is any man’s equal has helped Fidelina find her voice, self-worth and sense of freedom. “It’s not just the men that can do this work, we can do it to. Woman don’t have to be under the control of men,” she says.
And in Cantón San Lucas, they no longer are.