By Helen Hernández Hormilla
From difficult moments he drew the sap of entrepreneurship. When she became widowed 12 years ago and was left alone in the care of her teenage daughter, she drew on what she learned from her Galician grandmother - who kept all kinds of food - and made it her way of life. "Since I was seven years old, she stopped me in front of a stove to cook and that has helped me a lot. At home there was always a pickle or a chorizo and there was a tradition of preserving", the master in Pedagogical Sciences and professor of the Universidad de Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba, more than 700 kilometers from Havana. In the difficult years of the economic crisis, Nildita, as she is known among her colleagues, succeeded in combining state work with nail grooming, hairdressing, sewing and handicrafts, another skill inherited from her family. "One has to grow up and know that everything is possible without anyone manipulating, humiliating or saying that you can't, because you're a woman. Just because I'm a woman, I can do what I do," she reflects. In 2003 she found new motivations as a teacher in the Nutrition and Food Conservation courses offered in the eastern region of the country by the Christian Service and Training Center "Bartolomé G. Lavastida" (CCSC-BG Lavastida), in Santiago de Cuba. "First, I taught what I knew from my grandmother, but then I got better with Vilda and Pepe's project, in Marianao, Havana, where I learned new techniques that we extend in the courses," says the facilitator of the non-governmental organization. As part of its intention to promote community development, food sovereignty, ecology, and the empowerment of vulnerable populations, CCSC-BG Lavastida disseminates a healthy nutritional culture through practical workshops. Nildita has helped them to socialize, among people from different communities, especially rural ones, conservation methods by solar drying, acid, dehydration, pausterization and in honey, as well as making vinegar and wine. She believes that conserving is a great advantage in Cuba, because on the island it is harvested seasonally and with these techniques it is possible to maintain a varied diet throughout the year. Furthermore, "this is how productive peaks are used when food is cheaper." Looking for supplies for her preserves, the 48-year-old woman decided to implement a permaculture system on the half a hectare of land behind her house, where she produces much of what her family and close neighbors consume. "I began in 2010, when the passage of Hurricane Sandy through Santiago de Cuba caused devastating damage and we feared that food would become more expensive. Two years ago my father, who used to work the land, had died, and I was motivated to cultivate it with the knowledge of agroecology and permaculture that I received at the Centro Lavastida workshops, "he recalls. Following the ethic of equally protecting people and their environment, permaculture promotes food production, energy supply and the ecological use of goods. This type of design responds to principles of sustainability and harmoniously integrates the home and the landscape, producing less waste and conserving natural resources. Nildita harvests lettuce, tomato, multiplier onion, chili pepper, sweet potato, black beans, yucca, peanut, avocado and lemon, among other vegetable products, and also raises two pigs, four turkeys, 12 ducks, 15 rabbits, three dogs and various birds. With the help of the CCSC-BG Lavastida and the Swedish Ecumenical Action agency (DIAKONIA), it recently installed a biodigester that transforms animal feces into natural gas and an ecological dry toilet that does not use water and takes advantage of human waste in fertilization.
"The trainings have made me grow as a human being and change my lifestyle. Now we get used to going to the fields and taking fresh and organic products," he says.
This permaculture system is clearly feminine, as Nildita cares for it with her mother and daughter.
When you need more strenuous tasks like plowing the land, weeding or chopping a large tree, ask a neighbor for help. In general, it distributes the surplus of its harvest among people in the community, to the point of directly benefiting 10 families and more than 60 people indirectly, because it supplies condiments and vegetables to a nearby work center. So far, it has not decided to commercialize what it produces because first it prefers to create a stable base in the cultivation of spices and concentrate on that branch.
With her imposing stature and the security of eyes that look exactly like the accounts she draws on the blackboard, she claims to be accomplished by finding the links between her profession and productive work.
"Mathematics is the most exact thing that exists. Everything in life is calculable and that science offers you the ability to open your mind to life's endeavors, it helps to assess what you can do or not," he reflects.
In any unit of measure, be it time, space, or seemingly incalculable firmness, Nildita weighs her subsistence needs. His day begins at five in the morning, when he waters the plot, tends to the animals, and then gets ready to go to classes. In the afternoons he dedicates himself to the activities of the Lavastida Center and the workshops in distant communities are reserved for the weekends.
"The strategy to reconcile what I do is to have a safe rear.
At the time of sowing we all go to the fields and even my students have come to help us, "he describes. Now he plans to finish his doctorate in pedagogical sciences and extend his permaculture system with the construction of a well." With this philosophy, I try to close circles and live in harmony with the environment, "he maintains." Some people think that someone else has to do things to me because I don't have the image of someone who works in the fields. But everything requires sacrifice, and I have had to fight against that resentment when someone denies that I can be a mathematics teacher and, at the same time, an agroecologist, "she explains.
The same happens to other women associated with these practices.
"In the conservation workshops I try to insert gender issues because, when there are women talking about cooking, their life situation always comes out.
Many tell me that they have not been able to find work because they have to take care of the children or the husband does not let them leave, "she says.
Nildita encourages them to trust in their abilities to get ahead as women and to gain knowledge, the same thing that she transmits to her daughter, who has just graduated from psychology, and intends to instill the one-year-old granddaughter that she holds in her arms while the interview takes place.
"For her I would like a clean world, where you can breathe pure air. I wish that she is not afraid of anything, make her own decisions without being limited by society and fight for what she wants, as I did," she summarizes before starting the lullaby that calms the crying of the little girl.
Latin American and Caribbean Women's News Service-SEMlac