Before he got a job at the Marlin Mine near his hometown in Guatemala, Fernando Perez would travel two days by foot into Mexico to find work picking corn and coffee. The long journey meant being away from his family for months at a time, a sacrifice he made for years to put food on the table.
Life has changed considerably for Perez since he began working at Marlin almost 10 years ago. Not only has his commute been cut to just a 15-minute walk to work, but Perez has created a number of spin-off businesses over the years using money he earned at the mine.
Aside from his planting job at the Marlin nursery, Perez owns two water trucks used to mitigate dust on the nearby roads, as well as two 40-seater buses to take mine employees to and from work. He also built a house that he rents out to the mine to be use by students from the local universities that come to Marlin to study the operation as part of their schooling.
Perez also employs other people in and around his hometown of Nueva Esperanza, which translated to English means “New Hope.” He has hired 10 local community members to look after his crop full-time and manages more than 80 full-and-part-time employees during peak season. Perez also has a manager who handles the accounting of these businesses.
“If it weren’t for the mine none of this would have been possible,” says Perez, a 35-year-old married father of six children that range in age from a newborn to 14 years old.
“Now I can support my family and also leave something for my children. I can help build a future for them,” he says.
There are more than a dozen entrepreneurs with businesses that are similar to what Perez has, says Peter Hughes, Environmental Manager at the Marlin Mine.
“These are local people – some who work at the mine and some who don’t – that saw an opportunity and went for it. Now they are doing well,” Hughes says.
Still, there are critics who argue this new prosperity has moved the community away from the subsistence culture that was prevalent prior to the mine. There are also concerns that land prices will rise and become out of reach for some in the community.
Perez says the critics are few and far between among those who live and work around the mine. Most see the mine as helping to build a better future for the people who live in the community, including a greater ability to live off the land.
“Ever since the mine came and gave us work the people here have their own income and are able to start working their own land again,” he says. “People are better off because they have work.”
What’s more, the work is close to home. That means fathers such as Perez can provide for their families financially and be there for the experiences that money can’t buy, such as first words, steps and other milestones.