Who is Melissa Gómez?
Melissa is a 22 years old girl who was born and grown up in the center of San Juan Ostuncalco, in a house built by her parents where she lived with them and her seven brothers and sisters waking up early every morning to go to school, escorted by her father or her brothers.
In the afternoon she spent her time in the family shop, playing when she was younger and helping her parents when she started to grow up. When she was 12 years old she started to work in the field with her grandmother, later than planned because she fractured her ankle, hit by a pick-up truck while she was riding her bicycle. She spent her childhood being really happy, starting early to get money thanks to the paid work in the field and speaking Spanish both at home and at school as well as Mayan language Mam.
An important aspect that has influenced her and, in a certain way, has diversified her growth from one of her peers was the relationship with her parents: first of all her mother has studied and this fact was rare at that time, second of all they were both no conservatives, with an open mind and be willing to hold a dialogue. There was only one moment in which she wanted to go to Xela to study and her mother told her that it wasn’t possible because she had lost a course at school and so she deserved punishment: actually Melissa, who thought too much about other people, gave her work to a schoolmate who was in difficulty and, because of her shyness, she didn’t say anything. Luckily, in the end, she got it with good marks and when she was 15 years old, her mother let her go to Xela to study craft teacher’s career.
The first impact with the city was very strong: it was big and getting lost was really easy since her father didn’t drive her but she had to take the bus, trying to know all the stops. Furthermore, living together with the sexual harassment’s barrier was traumatic: she walked pretty scared in the streets, sometimes men made unpleasant comments aloud and once time a man followed her sister to the place where they had to meet. Melissa knew that everywhere similar episodes can happen but she wasn’t in her well-known city where she could be safe simply going in a friend’s shop: everything was new in Xela and she decided that it was worth knowing it more.
She started to participate in training programs and debates about various topics and little
by little she lost her fear of talking: in addition, in the school, it was rumored that there was a
communitarian leader course where she registered in and she was elected as treasurer. Sometimes
it was necessary to spend all the night outside and she got to talk to her parents, explaining them
motivations and obtaining permission in the end. In the first months of this year, an advertisement on the radio has drawn her attention: AMA was giving
work opportunities and Melissa, social work’s student, joined the occasion and call the
organization to know more details. Some days after, she was in front of its door (the right one, not the one that she had tried to knock at, finding out in a second moment that it was the garage’s door!), she did the first of a series of interviews finished in April with her recruitment.
She has the role of the social promoter to work in the area Mam thanks to her knowledge of the Mayan language, to participate in women’s circle helping them when necessary and trying to find different ways to translate because of the Spanish literal translation’s inexistence of many Mayan words. In the beginning of her work, Melissa was really afraid because she has never worked in this role before and furthermore she didn’t know how the women could react to her intervention; actually it wasn’t necessary too much time to be accepted successfully and to be appreciated. Her expectations were satisfied soon not only in the working environment but also in her private life: she made her family think it was normal that, coming back from the job, both she and her brother had to wash their food bags used for their lunch and that it wasn’t only her task because she was a woman.
The same thing happened when Melissa had to go out with a boy because before they didn’t let her do it but, over time, they used to debate together about the fact that it was only a friendship and she could do it. There was also a parallel improving process with friends and neighbors in San Juan: before, lots of them were envious because her parents let her study but they didn’t know that, in return, she had to help them with the work and get good marks; over
time, thanks to her work in AMA, she became a point of reference for her friends, who always ask
her lots of things because they consider her a humble person, able to explain things with patience, reporting to them everything she learns in the communities in order to put it into practice and obtaining a twice helpful work.
Nowadays Melissa is responsible of planning, coordinating, convening and monitoring projects and give talks around San Juan trying to satisfy women’s desires in terms of what they want to learn; her job enrich her a lot, she feels that AMA is contributing more to women’s lives and this is possible thanks to the task force that, since the beginning, helped her to solve her doubts giving her a comprehensive picture about the meaning
of working in AMA and also giving her the opportunity of working next to the beneficiaries that was her desire. Furthermore, she got used also to Xela where she doesn’t listen unpleasantly
comments about her Mayan origin anymore but sometimes she listens to these comments with reference to other people in public places and, now, she has the courage of intervening by pointing out that it’s necessary to show respect to the others.
Melissa wants to continue working with AMA helping vulnerable people but she has also lots of dreams for her future: to get her
degree in social work, to stay in the ‘youth group’ of the church, to built her own house with her gained money, be a traveler in Guatemala and all the Centre America and, especially, to create her
own organization to help all the women, both the indigenous one and the no indigenous.
You can support young women like Melissa to have more access to opportunities. Donate and help Melissa and more women to make their dreams come true! ♡
Written by Laura De Benedictis.