Elizabeth Veizaga, a young farmer from Cochabamba, lives in Toncoli with her husband and three children: María Claret, 9 years old, Yani, 7, and Neimar, 3 years old.
Elizabeth Veizaga, a native of the community of Toncoli in the municipality of Colomi in Cochabamba, is 30 years old and at her age has travelled a long road marked by leadership and commitment to her peers. Before the sun rises, she begins her many tasks, which undoubtedly demand a great deal of effort. Especially at harvest time, her day starts very early. "I get up at 4:30 in the morning to cook. It's not close to where we harvest, it's far away on the hill and sometimes in the pampas. Then I've to cook lunch to take with us. After cooking, I give breakfast to my children, change them, wrap them up and take them with me. When we get there, we dig with the labourers, sometimes with the family itself, and my in-laws still help me. After noon we have lunch, bring coke, have som, chew and go back to work until five o'clock in the afternoon. Then I go home, prepare dinner, help my children with their homework. When it gets dark I put my wawas to bed, and while everyone is asleep I put my kitchen in the corner.
For her, the countryside and agriculture are part of her life and her history. "Since I was a child, since my grandparents and parents, my family has always planted potatoes year after year. When we were children, we were told to pile up the potatoes. I used to see how the potato was planted, putting the seed in small piles. And when the seed was bigger, we would playfully stomp from one side to the other.
Time has passed and now she grows not only potatoes, but also oca, broad beans, papalisa, onions, radishes, carrots, cabbage and lettuce in smaller quantities. She does this on land that is in the name of her parents and in-laws.
Leadership with passion
Elizabeth is a born leader who, as part of the Primera Toncoli Association of Women Agricultural Producers, mobilised to obtain legal status for the organisation. Her efforts were recognised by the grassroots, who quickly asked her to preside over the institution and achieve the desired goal of having a legal status.
"I remember that they raised their hands indicating that they agreed that I should chair the organisation. I didn't want to because it's a bit difficult to walk around, with my children who were small, and I had to leave them. But I also knew that it was a felt need, so I told them that I would accept as long as we all agreed and supported each other; for me, unity among women is the key to moving forward and achieving common goals.
For Elizabeth, being President of the organisation meant facing difficulties because the process of obtaining legal status often involved going back and forth with documents and folders that were rejected due to errors that had to be corrected on the spot, and a number of exhausting processes. However, in the face of adversity and with a passion for leadership, she kept going. "The women gave me strength, supported me and encouraged me, telling me that we have to get things done, we have to process things to move forward, more united so that we can have something. So we knew that having a Personería would ensure that our organisation would be in order. This isn't for a while, it'll remain for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and more, they told me. So with that impulse I have been strong enough to go ahead with the paperwork and now we are finally an organisation with everything in order"
Planning to know where we are going
For the young leader, the training and updating processes aimed at women are fundamental in order to move forward and meet the objectives. She recognises that PROINPA's support in developing skills for agricultural work has been very important. She also points out: "The business model that HELVETAS Bolivia has taught us to make has been very useful for planning and knowing how we have to do things, how to take our products, where to take them. With this business model we now know how much our production costs are, how much we spend, or how much capital we have put in and if there are profits".
Like all leaders, she knows that women are strengthened by sisterhood, and for this reason she affirms with total conviction: "if another organisation asks us or asks me about business plans, I can help them with that. With my own business model, I can teach them, I can help other sisters, other organisations". In addition to being an empowered woman, she is a leader who affirms that the success of one woman is the success of all, and that working together is the key to prosperity. She hopes that the dream of joining as an Association to provide school breakfast will become a reality. In the meantime, she does not stop and continues to develop actions to forge the achievement of her dreams and those of her colleagues in the community of Toncoli.
Susana Mejillones, Project Coordinator Papas Nativas, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation - Bolivia
Rigliana Portugal, Knowledge Management and Communication Specialist, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation - Bolivia
Photos: Simon Opladen, Juan Ruiz, HELVETAS Bolivia.
This document was elaborated in the framework of the project Papas Nativas of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation - Bolivia.