There are those who accuse Pedro Tzunun of "selling out to the gringos" - of endangering his life and land.
"There are many people who are afraid of working with the gringos because they fear they'll get information to steal their land," he said one evening as dusk fell over his village. The majority of people here are that way.
"I tell them that isn't true, and they should seek technical assistance so they can advance themselves," he continued, choosing his words carefully.
Pedro Tzunun is a small, intense man, who by his own account, has done much to advance himself. A half dozen certificates of one sort or another hang on the wall of his adobe home about 20 miles outside of Quezaltenango.
He has learned to speak and read Spanish, a rare accomplishment among Mayan Indians here who cling to their traditional language.
He's taken classes in farming methods, and sought help from CARE and Peace Corps volunteers. In his view, it has paid off. He has obtained a job that pays $60 a month, a princely sum by local standards. He has bought a bicycle which he hasn't yet learned how to ride. And he has improved his maize production.
You find people like him in every country, no matter how poor or backward. People who despite tremendous odds, are trying to rise above near-hopeless situations.
Individually, their stories are not particularly dramatic. Most often, they have more to do with struggle than success. But they give an insight into the life of the world's poorest people, and the obstacles they face.
Some are well on the road to whatever they consider the good life; others, like Pedro Tzunun, are just beginning what may prove an impossible journey.
By American standards, Pedro Tzunun is desperately poor. He has six children (a seventh died of malnutrition at age 5), and inflation has hit him hard in recent years. A 100-pound bag of corn, which five years ago sold for $3, now goes for $9. "Inflation hits the poor man in the stomach," he says.
Yet, he is prosperous by local standards. He owns a bicycle, and his cluster of mud and adobe huts is better looking than any of his neighbors. He also is saving $30 of the $60 he earns each month to buy more land.
The land is for his sons. He wants them to stay in the mountains. He intends to build each of them a house, and to divide his land among them.
"To me, the most important thing is they get an education and learn to read Spanish," he says. "Then maybe they can get a government job."
A government job.That's the golden hope of the parents of the Third World poor. It means security, respect, a regular wage. Above all, it means not having to work from dawn to dust scratching a bare living from a tiny plot of soil.
Government is the biggest thing going in much of the Third World. If an ambitious young man from a poor family wants to get ahead, he frequently has only two choices: the army or the bureaucracy.
Government in the developing countries watches after itself. For executives, there are perquisites like chauffeur-driven cars and low-cost homes. For clerks, there is security unknown in other parts of society. For the young, there is opportunity that isn't available elsewhere.
This is especially true in the newer independent states like Tanzania.
Lazaro Prakipany is a young man on the rise. With a masters degree in agriculture from the University of Dar es Salaam, he holds a job overseeing a $3 million road construction project and an $300,000 livestock program.
Yet he's just one step away from the thatched roof huts of the desolate plains of northern Tanzania. He is the eighth of 10 children of a Masai tribesman, a proud, colorful group of herdsmen who still carry fierce-looking spears.
The ranks of Tanzania's bureaucracy are full of men in their mid to late 30s with backgrounds much like Lazaro Prakipuny.
"This may be the last place in the world where the old American Dream works," a U.S. anthropologist remarked. "A kid here can literally grow up in a mud hut, and have a legitimate chance of becoming president."