Healing From the Ground Up: In Guatemala, Family Grows, Teaches Use of Plant Remedies

 

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Joel Sicajau manages the production of medicine on his family’s farm. The farm’s mission is to cultivate plants that people in the community can purchase in order to make their own medicines. Brenda Leticia Saloj Chiyal, GPJ Guatemala
Guatemala

A family of farmers in southwestern Guatemala grows and sells natural medicine in an effort to connect people to their ancestors’ practices and provide them with affordable health treatments. The family also offers training on how to use medicinal plants.

SOLOLÁ, GUATEMALA ─ From 4 in the morning until 5 p.m., Joel Sicajau works in his family’s 4-acre field. He holds a hoe in his dirt-caked hands as the sun’s rays cover him.

“My place is here in the field,” he says. “It’s where I have to be.”

Sicajau manages production on the farm, El Milagro de las Plantas, which means The Miracle of the Plants. The farm, in the Caserío Xibalbay, an area within the Cantón Chaquijyá hamlet in the southwestern department of Sololá, has produced medicinal plants since 2009.

Forty types of plants are grown here, all of which are used to produce medicine that is sold to the community.

People in the region need affordable health care, Sicajau says. Commercial medicine is expensive, so this farm aims to create natural medicine that can be sold at a reasonable price, he says.

The natural medicine also helps people return to the ways their ancestors lived, he says.

“The belief is important,” Sicajau says. “If one has faith, confidence in the plants, of their curative powers, the person gets cured.”

Sicajau and his family also offer training on how to use plants medicinally.

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At the farm in southwestern Guatemala, people from the community can attend training workshops and learn how to harvest their own plants to use as medicines.

Brenda Leticia Saloj Chiyal, GPJ Guatemala

Joel Sicajau’s father, Luis, 48, started the farm. He previously worked as a guard at a community health center, where he saw many ill people who could not afford health care.

“That’s why we have begun this work, to bring medicine,” says Luis Sicajau, the farm’s general manager. “What better way to use the resources nature has provided us?”

Two of Luis Sicajau’s daughters are in charge of sales and product development, and two other children are assistants. Five local people also work at the farm.

Many people in this community know how to use plants medicinally, Luis Sicajau says. And those who don’t come to this farm to learn, he adds.

Training takes place four days a week on average, and each session lasts between five and six hours, Joel Sicajau says. Children don’t pay, but adults pay up to 500 Guatemalan quetzales ($65) per day, depending on which course they take. Adults can take samples of the medicines they prepare.

says Armando Cáceres, the director and owner of Farmaya, a research, development and production company that makes plant-based medicines. The company is based in Guatemala City, the capital.

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Petronila Sicajau, 83, and the grandmother of Joel Sicajau and others who work on the farm, says her family used plants alone as medicines when she was growing up.

Brenda Leticia Saloj Chiyal, GPJ Guatemala

Farmaya’s research confirms that the Sicajau family members are the only ones in Sololá who train people from different places and plant for conservation purposes, Cáceres says. He sometimes recommends the Sicajaus’ farm to clients who want to learn how to make their own medicines.

“Some people prefer plants, others pills. But it’s free [to decide], and I appreciate that this family is looking after people with scarce resources, and their offering of this service is good,” Guinea says.

Now, Joel Sicajau says, the family is focused on bringing in more clients, particularly younger people.

“We aren’t used to natural medicine,” he says. “I want to recover the past, attract young people to this practice, and that they get to know the importance of plants and be able to pass on the riches of our country.”

 

Brenda Leticia Saloj Chiyal, GPJ, translated interviews from Kaqchikel to Spanish.
Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.

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