Guatemala: For Leland Fellows, a Chance to Lead Anew
Published on 3 April 2012

Working in the field with the P4P Team

Peruvian native Luis Cabrera, who is finishing the first year of his Mickey Leland fellowship in WFP's Guatemala office, talked about growing up during Peru's civil war, and the challenges Guatemala faces today.

Mickey Leland was a US congressman famous for his leadership on world hunger. In 1989, his plane crashed while on a mission to an Ethiopian refugee camp, killing him and everyone aboard. A fellowship was created in his name, and every year it sends young people around the world to help in the fight against hunger.

Last July, 28-year-old Luis Cabrera arrived in Guatemala and began working with the WFP country office there. But WFP doesn't pay his salary — instead, Luis came as a Leland Fellow, a sponsored program from the US that sends young people around the world to help in the fight against hunger.
The fellowship is named after former US congressman Mickey Leland, who during his 11 years in office authored legislation on hunger and became a powerful leader and advocate on the issue. In 1989, while leading a relief mission to the Fugnido refugee camp in Ethiopia, Leland's plane crashed into the mountains near Gambela, killing all 15 on board. The Leland International Hunger Fellows Program was created in his name, and any country office can apply to host a fellow.
The fellowship is split into two parts — one year is spent getting direct field experience, and the next is dedicated to policy. Public Information Officer Elizabeth Sagastume talked with Peruvian-born Luis, who is currently finishing his first year in the field, to learn about his time with WFP so far.

Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Callao, Peru, during a time of turmoil. The government was on the brink of losing the war against the Shining Path (the Maoist insurgent group that started Peru's internal conflict in 1980). It was especially hard for my family since we are from humble origins. I still remember the daily blackouts, the noise of car bombs going off in random places, and the fear on my mother's face. The hardest thing during that period was not the political situation of the country, but seeing the sacrifices my mother had to make so that my sister and I could go to school or have food in the table.

Later in my life, I graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor's degree in economics and finance. I have always been motivated in working internationally so in 2007 I became a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua, where I lived for two years. After that experience I saw that I needed more skills and knowledge so I went to graduate school and obtained a Masters in urban and regional planning. After I finished my degree I decided to apply for the fellowship so that I can contribute in the fight against hunger.

Why did you choose to work at WFP?
It has a lot to do with my upbringing. My family was one of the few lucky ones that migrated to the United States. I was able to escape poverty, had unique opportunities to study and most importantly I was given the opportunity to help others. All of these opportunities were due to the sacrifices my mother made. I was not able to help my mother then, but I believe it is now my duty to ensure others have the same and even more opportunities than I had.
I have seen the face of hunger not in strangers, but in the face of friends, family and even my own mother. All I want in life is to be part of the fight against hunger. It's maybe the idealism of youth, but I truly believe that with the World Food Programme I can help accomplish my goal.

What are you doing in Guatemala?
As a Leland Fellow I was appointed to work at WFP Guatemala for two years until July 2013. At the moment, I work in the Monitoring and Evaluation unit.. Part of its responsibilities is to contribute to strengthening the tools and models used in this unit, so as to ensure that WFP is able to measure the impact of its programmes and constantly improve the quality of its interventions based on the lessons learned.

What is the most challenging thing you have found working for WFP in Guatemala?
When the Tropical Depression 12-E hit Guatemala, the whole office was mobilized to deal with the emergency. It was a challenge being part of this process. Everyone worked hard to provide aid to those in need, write daily situation reports, and ensure proper coordination with others. It was truly unique being part of the operations. I felt proud to be part of the team. That was the moment I understood the impact WFP has on the population. WFP acted quickly and responded to the needs of those affected. Some people had lost everything and it was remarkable to see WFP lend those affected a hand at their time of need.
Guatemala is a beautiful country, yet it faces many difficulties. In addition to the recurrent natural disasters, it maintains one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, a central challenge that WFP seeks to address with its interventions in this country.

Tell us about your best experience so far.
One of the best or unique experiences so far happened in a security training. The training was a three-day simulation of different events that can occur, such as fire drills, kidnappings and social unrest. The training ended with a large simulation where armed men kidnap us and takes us hostage. Everything was going as planned until an unexpected beehive was hit by mistake. All of a sudden there were bees everywhere, and everyone started running away, others jumped in the river. Thankfully everyone was all right at the end.

What are your plans for 2012?
I want to continue working in the Monitoring & Evaluation Unit and help in the implementation of the COMET system later this year, which is a WFP tool to design, plan, monitor, evaluate and report on the performance of operations from the project's inception and throughout its life-cycle. On a personal note, I want to explore more of Guatemala and perhaps climb a volcano or two.
How do you feel working with WFP?
It is a great opportunity to learn first-hand from such an experienced team. I have met some of the most amazing people working at WFP Guatemala.

WFP Offices
About the author

Elizabeth Sagastume

Public Information Officer

Elizabeth Sagastume worked as a Public Information Officer for the WFP Office in Guatemala.