She was a member of the jury from 2000 to 2003, representing indigenous childen, children in war and child refugees. Maria is now an Honorary Adult Friend.
These are excerpts from the story about Maria when she was a jury member:
Maria from Guatemala cannot imagine herself frightening or being cruel to a dove. Doves alerted her and others to soldiers during the time they were on the run in the forest. Maria spent her first eight years in secret villages.
When peace came to Guatemala the refugees in the secret villages moved out of the deep forest. They named their new village Primavera. Spring. Maria shares a bed with her older sister Sara and her little sister Magdalena. Her doves live under her bed. – I talk with the doves and play with them every day, says Maria. Now one of the doves has laid eggs. That is funny. I go and look all of the time to see whether the eggs have cracked. I am always nice to the doves. – My big sister Sara often says that we have to be nice to the doves because wild doves saved our lives several times when we were on the run in the rain forest. They were a kind of grey dove which live in the jungle. Several times we heard their warning cries: Ai, ai, ai! Then we knew that the soldiers were nearby and ran and hid ourselves.
I left my doll... Maria´s big brother Pedro was one year old when the soldiers came to the village where their family lived. – They began to kill our neighbors so that we and the other Indians escaped into the jungle while the soldiers shot after us. When my mother waded through a river I became wet and began to cry. Then she held her hand over my mouth so that the soldiers wouldn´t discover us, explains Pedro.
Children in the secret villages knew everything about how one survived in the jungle, but they had never seen a car and had no idea that there existed such things as ice cream, Barbie dolls or Coca Cola. But they knew a lot about helicopters, airplanes, soldiers and bombs. Maria´s big sister Sara relates: – One boy, Domingo, who guarded a trail came running and screamed: Soldiers are coming! – We grabbed the most important; corn, pots and pans and matches. We children cried. I had just been given a doll. But I forgot it. Pedro, Maria and I each carried a sack on our backs. We ran through the mud and balanced on logs to cross the river. The adults cried out the whole time: Hurry up...run faster! – That night I remembered my doll. Why hadn´t I taken it with me? Mamma cried when she saw the smoke from the village as the soldiers burned it. Thoughts spun around in my head. Where would we sleep? What would we eat? A puma had just taken our pig and the hens were left in the village. But most of all I thought about my doll. After several days we crept back into the village. Everything was burned up. The soldiers had also burned my doll.
Carrying their desks Today is the last day of school in Primavera. All the children must clean the school. Earlier, when they lived in the rain forest the school was hidden under the trees. There were no walls and the roof was made of palm leaves. Today Maria goes to a real schoolhouse and every class has its own classroom. Maria carries her desk on her head down to the stream and scrubs it with sand. When they have washed their desks, Maria and her friend drink Incaparina, a drink made from a nutritious powder. During the war the Catholic Church gave it to the Indians whose children were undernourished. It happened that indians were killed by soldiers because they had a bag of Incaparina at home because this was seen as proof that they had contact with the outside world. All children in the Primavera school have written their names on the school´s application to participate in the World´s Children´s Prize.
Text ©: Monika Zak Photo ©: Bo Öhlén