“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.”
― Muriel Rukeyser
In January 2011, 25 young women arrived in Ecuador ready not only to make a difference but also to learn and participate in a worldwide movement. After two months of fundraising and workshops where we learned about international human/women rights, Ecuador’s history, and the global eco-agriculture movement, we were giddy with excitement and ready for action. With Columbia’s Women’s Way of Leading Program, we assisted in eco-agriculture and reforestation efforts, met with local women to hear their stories of community activism, and explored issues related to responsible and sustainable agricultural development and policy. Over the course of ten days, we explored the abundance that Picalquí and saw both what Ecuador had to offer to the world and the problems they faced.
The most striking and humbling moment was the time we spent with a woman who candidly and graciously shared her story of abuse and struggle from both the hands of society and the transnational corporations. Married at 16 in order to get away from an abusive household permitted by a strong patriarchical society, she had no other option but to work in the transnational corporation’s vast flowers fields. Separating herself from her young children for 12-hour workdays, she and her co-workers were exposed to pesticides that made them dangerously ill. When complaints were made, the companies intimidated their workers and fired those who caused any trouble. Fortunately Susanna was able to escape the flower plantation and organize a non-profit, which focuses on women enterprise, community childcare, and warning others of the flower plantation’s dangers. Unfortunately her story is shared by millions of other women in the U.S. and other countries in the world.
With this information we had to question our roles in the global situation, when was the last time we bought flowers and contributed to our new friend’s misery? Is our visit to Ecuador in vain? Were we just another round of Americans practicing ecotourism who don’t really understand the problem? Susanna told us that her abuses at the hands of both the factory she worked for and the patricarchical system were experiences that had to be shared in order to be avoided. She made us promise to share her story, not to forget that she is just one of many, and together with our voices we can be one.
It wasn’t just about what we did while we were in Ecuador, but what we did when we came back. We shared our stories with our families and friends, started new initiatives and supported old, and most importantly in our future lives and careers, we won’t forget about whose rights we need to stand up for and protect.