CARMELINA XOL TOC
Update from February 28, 2018:
After the previous visit, Trickle Up and the municipality were able to organize medical visits to Cobán for both Edgar Amilcar and Hugo Cesar.
Accompanied by their mother and two partner staff, Edgar and Hugo consulted an epilepsy expert, underwent examinations, and received the right medications. The municipality and local firefighters provided transportation for these three appointments, and the program covered the costs of food, consultation fees, exams, and purchasing the first prescriptions.
Six months later, Hugo is having epileptic episodes every few weeks rather than daily. When we had last visited, he was bed-ridden, but this time he was up and about, helping out around the house. Meanwhile, Edgar had just returned from a week of working in another region harvesting coffee. He reported that he hadn’t had a seizure in the last month, while before he had them every two weeks. Carmelina is happy her children are in better health.
Before, the family didn’t have the resources to pay for these health examinations, but now "with the income from selling cabbage and corn and my savings, we are prioritizing the costs of traveling to the city to buy medicine," Carmelina says.
The family now has several income-generating activities. Edgar continues to repair shoes and is gradually becoming a well-known cobbler in the community. Carmelina and her daughter invested in more yarn to weave güipiles, and now they have chickens and a pig.
Their working capital has also grown from $146 (Q1,111), including $132 in seed capital and $14 of the family’s own contributions. A year later, they have $365 (Q2,775) in working capital – a 150% increase over their initial investment. Their businesses include raising chickens and pigs, growing corn and beans, and making güipiles. Carmelina explains, "I have learned that it is better when I have the opportunity to have more supplies. As I sell my guipiles, I buy more supplies."
In the first year, Carmelina had saved $132 (Q1,000), which she used to buy medicine, food, soap, and more weaving thread. In the second cycle, Carmelina’s daughter joined the savings group as well. In two months, they had already saved $26 (Q200) together. They can’t always both attend the savings group meetings, as they are still afraid to leave Hugo home alone because of his health, so they asked the group to allow them to take turns.
Since the beginning of this project, Carmelina’s family has seen considerable changes in their lives. Hugo and Edgar’s roles in the community continue to grow as their parents support them to leave the home and work more often. Hugo emphasized how important it is for him to have the power to generate his own income and contribute to the family.
The brothers want to continue their studies, but the nearest school has refused to admit them because of fears related to their epilepsy. As an alternative in the short term, the family learned about a school that teaches remotely, which could be a good compromise so Edgar and Hugo can continue their education.
As we left, Edgar thanked us for the visit and the program’s investment in the family. He said: "I am very grateful that the program has been interested in us. The last time you came, I did not recognize my own brother because of the disease. Now we can see the improvements, and I hope to be able to study in the future."
Update from August 15, 2017:
With their $132 (Q1000) seed capital and $14 (Q111) of their own money, Carmelina’s family started several businesses: vegetable growing, shoe repair, and chicken farming.
They also invested in fertilizer, coriander seeds, cabbage, beans, and 10 chickens. They used some of the money to rent land for growing crops. First, Carmelina sowed vegetables with the support of her husband and children. They had planned to plant cilantro and cabbage, but ended up starting with only beans since most of their cabbage seeds didn’t germinate. Nevertheless, they managed to grow 50 plants. Carmelina tells us her strategy: “When we harvest the beans, we will sow the coriander. We didn’t plant it now because cilantro is at a low price in the market; I preferred to buy chickens first.” A major difficulty for the family has been finding land to grow their crops, since they don’t own any land.
At the same time, Edgar Amilcar began a new shoe repair business at home. Initially, he thought about becoming a barber, but the family thought it might be dangerous to cut hair as he might have a seizure. He decided to concentrate on shoe repair instead because it’s an activity he likes to do already. He taught himself how to repair shoes, and has been sewing his own shoes ever since. With no money to invest in supplies, he hadn’t been able to turn his passion into a vocation. Now he has the opportunity, and thinks it’s well adapted to his disability.
At the beginning, Edgar Amilcar went house to house to spread the word. He began repairing shoes with tools his brother borrowed. During a home visit, their coach stressed to Carmelina the importance of investing in Edgar’s business, and she bought him the necessary supplies. He has already repaired three pairs of shoes. When the harvest season arrived, he decided to work in Honduras for a month harvesting coffee. He’ll continue repairing shoes when he gets back home next month.
Today, Hugo Cesar’s health is in critical condition; his seizures have gotten worse, which has made him weaker. The family is anxious, but Carmelina doesn’t know what do to since the local health center told her that Hugo should be put in a psychiatric hospital. Carmelina disagrees, as the hospital doesn’t have a good reputation and she doesn’t want to hurt her son.
Her children’s health is one of Carmelina’s greatest challenges. Worried, she thinks it’s better for her children to not leave the house, so she can take care of them and prevent their health from getting worse. One day Edgar Amilcar had an epileptic attack when he was out with his dad helping with their crops. Since the terrain is very steep, he fell down the mountainside during the seizure. As the program continues, we hope to connect Carmelina’s family with reliable healthcare services to improve her children’s health and alleviate her constant worry.
The project staff are encouraging both Carmelina and her sons with disabilities to participate in savings group activities. Edgar accompanied his mother at the first meeting of the savings group. He believes that she should keep saving in the group, since this money will serve them both to buy food for the family and to invest in their businesses. Edgar tells us: “I would like to enlarge the business or diversify.” They note that they would have a hard time saving on their own, since the money would be quickly spent on immediate needs. The savings group encourages them to save for the future and think about long-term returns.
Hugo Cesar has attended trainings on the social fund, and Edgar Amilcar came to the savings group meeting the day that we visited. The family took advantage of his attendance to introduce him again to the group and combat prejudice in the community by teaching the members about epilepsy. In addition, Edgar Amilcar told the savings group members about his new business repairing shoes, so now they don’t have to go to the city to get shoes repaired.
Just five months in, Carmelina already has $29 (Q220) in savings. She has taken small loans, mainly to cover food expenses. The family already notices a difference in their lives; previously, they lacked the funds to invest in productive work, but now they have supplies and can occupy their time building diversified livelihoods. “We can use the profits to buy family members things they like and medicine. We bought Hugo Cesar pants,” Carmelina says.
We can’t wait to see how Carmelina and her entire family build their businesses, increase their savings, and access much needed healthcare services. Check back here in January to see their successes!
Update from March 22, 2017:
Carmelina Xol Toc, 48, was selected to participate in Trickle Up’s project in Jolomche because her family lives in extreme poverty and two of her sons have disabilities. She lives with her husband, six children, and two granddaughters, caring for the family and weaving clothing to supplement their meager income.
Carmelina’s sons Edgar Amilcar, 19, and Hugo Cesar, 22, have suffered from untreated epilepsy their entire lives. Hugo Cesar has had seizures every day for the last four years, while Edgar Amilcar has seizures once every two weeks or so. Because of their epilepsy, Edgar Amilcar and Hugo Cesar don’t often leave the house or interact with their neighbors. The other members of the community are frightened of them and do not visit the house, due to a lack of understanding of epilepsy which is culturally associated with witchcraft and other beliefs.
When we visited Carmelina’s home, Hugo Cesar was removing corn from its cobs. Because of the frequency his seizures, Hugo Cesar is very weak and can’t work outside the home. Edgar Amilcar also helps around the house, but always with someone else around so he isn’t alone in case he needs help. When he feels well, Edgar Amilcar will accompany his father to work outside the home planting vegetables. One of his brothers migrates to nearby farms to harvest coffee beans and do other agricultural wage labor to support the household’s income.
Even with those meager incomes combined, Carmelina’s family doesn’t have enough resources to cover their needs. Lacking a diverse diet, they only eat rice, beans, macuy (greens), and chayote. To make ends meet, they look for wage employment nearby or buy on credit in the nearest store. When they manage to rent land for farming, the family is able to grow enough corn to feed themselves for 4 months. The rest of the year they are forced to buy corn. For them, the most difficult months are June through September, a season of scarcity in the region that comes just before crops are harvested, including the coffee harvest that generates employment.
Carmelina can’t afford anti-seizure medicine for her two sons, so the family waits to see if the seizures become less frequent. Not long ago, Hugo Cesar was hospitalized for three months at Hospital San Juan de Dios in Guatemala City and was seizure-free for an entire month after his return home. However, his seizures have worsened again because they can’t afford the medicine.
Edgar Amilcar and Hugo Cesar tell us that they would like to continue studying. They have both graduated from sixth grade, but didn’t continue school because of their seizures. They would like to enter junior high once the family has enough money to cover their basic needs. We can’t wait to update you on Carmelina’s journey. Check back in July to learn more about her businesses and the progress of Edgar Amilcar and Hugo Cesar.