When Dominga was 18 she and her boyfriend were both studying to become teachers. Her boyfriend became a teacher while Dominga became pregnant. In the Highlands of Guatemala when a woman becomes pregnant her education is over, if it wasn’t over already.
I met Dominga in 1993 she was nearly 20 years old and I was a 25 year old Peace Corps Volunteer. She was vibrant, smart, funny and beautiful. She taught me how to speak a few words in Mam and how to bathe in a Chuj (a sweat lodge used for weekly bathing). I taught her how to make apple pie. I urged her to go back to school, that is wasn’t too late. And then two years later, my stint in the Peace Corps was over and we returned to the United States and Dominga was pregnant again.
Then in 1999, I sat in her one room house that had plastic for windows and talked about life while she nursed her third baby. Her husband was drinking and beating her and she needed help. She had never asked me for money before, but that day she asked for $100 so she could buy a propane stove. I thought, “How is a stove going to help?”
In March I returned to Guatemala. Dominga’s mother-in-law told us she was at the elementary school. I found her in an office, her office. Dominga was now the Director of the elementary school.
With $100 Dominga bought a stove and cooked faster in the morning and then could heat up the food in the evening. This gave her the time to go to school in the afternoons. When she graduated the government assigned her to a school that took hours to walk to. Her second year she protested. She insisted that a mother of 4 children should be able to teach closer to home. She got a position teaching in the school closest to her home and after 8 years of teaching she became the director of a brand new school even closer to her house.
She said she went back to school because I encouraged her and that kept her going. I asked her, “Why did you listen to me?” She said, “Because you were the only one who believed in me. You were the only one who acknowledged that I could learn more, do more and reach my goals.”
Dominga knew what she needed – a propane stove to free her from the long hours of cooking over a wood stove and an open fire. There is of course the saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for one day. Teach a man to fish and he is set for life.” I think there should be a different saying for women. “Listen to a woman and give her what she needs and then stand back and watch it happen.”