11/19: Engaging with the community and learning from the past

It’s been another learning and adventure packed week!

In our class, “Colonialism, Cultural Imperialism and Hegemony in Central America”, we’ve been studying how a long period of civil unrest leading eventually to a civil war has changed the political and socioeconomic environment here in Guatemala. This week we’ve had the chance to meet with, learn from, and work beside a number of organizations working to improve the quality of life for different subsets of the Guatemalan population who are still recovering from the effects of this tumultuous period.

Some of the stops along our journey this week have included:

Artisan Workshops Working alongside artisans in the San Miguel Escobar area who are partnered with De La Gente, students had the chance to learn about local crafts and value added processes that help coffee farmer’s families earn extra income for their households. We divided into smaller groups and learned how peanut butter is made, made art with a metalsmith, and to sew bags from using old burlap coffee sacks!

The School and Garden of Hope Founded through the dream of a UK teenager who came to Guatemala to work with a local school for a Gap Year in 2003, the School of Hope now serves more than 600 of the area’s most disadvantaged children – providing meals and family services alongside a quality education. The Garden of Hope, a side project of the school, was conceived by an American woman who came to Guatemala to teach Kindergarten. She soon found herself drawn to the land surrounding the school – a large scale coffee farm and approached the owner about acquiring a piece of it for a school garden for the students to learn from and enjoy. Today the garden serves students from a variety of area schools, helping them to connect with nature and develop life skills, and has grown to encompass several acres. The Gap students will be volunteering with the garden a few times a week for the remainder of our stay, helping with upkeep, and assisting with projects that further the garden’s mission. So far our work in the garden, an oasis within the surrounding city, has proven to be a meditative respite and we can see why the organization is so valued by the community.

Itza Wood Devised as a social enterprise to help sustain the Jungle School of Peten, Itza Wood creates products from local hardwoods harvested sustainably from the Guatemalan Jungle while providing skills training and jobs for community members. We were able to tour the workshop and meet with the director of the business.

Tikal National Park One of the largest sites of the 2000 year span of the Mayan civilization, Tikal is an archeological and natural wonder where we saw towering 20 story temples emerging from a dense and diverse jungle landscape. The frequent appearances of monkeys and rare birds kept us on our toes as we explored the grounds in awe, wondering what life must have been like for the nearly one million people who once called this area home.

We’re now heading back from Tikal by van and will rejoin our host families this evening for dinner. Tomorrow we have the day off to catch up on class work and reading before another full week of new and engaging experiences.

Hasta Luego!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.