Hope in Guatemala
It’s hard to believe that over a year has passed, that when I last wrote a newsletter I had only been here one month and had just begun to scratch the surface of experiences, adventures, and reflections that would characterize my life in Guatemala. I have become, in many ways, so used to the life that I lead here.
It’s hard to believe that over a year has passed, that when I last wrote a newsletter I had only been here one month and had just begun to scratch the surface of experiences, adventures, and reflections that would characterize my life in Guatemala. I have become, in many ways, so used to the life that I lead here.Everything seems perfectly normal as I open the door to my home and am engulfed by the sounds, smells, colors, and life in the market. Where having to duck my head under the countless tarps placed usually about 5 and a half feet above the ground to provide the a little protection for the vendors from the elements or weave my among the throngs of people out on the streets is an everyday occurrence. Where bouncing up and down on the racing chicken bus through the mountains or sitting in the small mountains huts of friends to share a cup of coffee sounds like an ideal thing to do each day. I have thought long and hard about how I would write anything to reflect or report upon my first year in Guatemala. I have written so many reflections, stories, and reports in the last year. It’s as if, the mountains of Guatemala, its people, the life here has opened up a world in words to me and allowed my voice to break free. In a way, I believe that sometimes I have just been used as a “spokesperson” for this country that needs its messages and pleas to be heard by the international community.
The message has been two-fold. On one side there is the message of the reality here in Guatemala, of the pain and suffering still experienced by its war ravaged lands, of the corruption that rakes the upper tier of the population and government, of the children still starving in the streets. But then there is also the message of hope. Again, even beneath these conditions the people struggle on and fight for their present but also for their future and the future of their children. My stories, reflections, etc. have sought to bring each of these messages into the minds of those whom my words reach.
Current reality in Guatemala is difficult to discuss. We have a mining company entering the poor rural community and exploiting the people and the lands. Violence has increased this past year, especially violence against women and while the government offers promises of solutions, we have yet to see anything implemented. People sink further into poverty as the prices of basic needs rises and wages stay the same. Lack of rain and a number of strange cold fronts killed crops and sunk those who specifically depend on their own harvest for food into despair. These are just a few of the realities facing Guatemalans as we enter 2005.
Yet again, it’s easy to focus on the negative since we see it everyday in the newspaper and feel it in the air around us at the dawning of each day. But life still goes on and there is still hope. Here at Acción Cultural Guatemalteca (our name changed in August of 2004 as we moved from a Civil Society to an Association, this did not change the purpose or vision of the organization just the “tax status”) we continue to struggle and fight for development in our communities. This last year we saw the first of our scholarship students to graduate, many with degrees in bilingual teaching (Spanish and their native Mayan language.) This possibility to teach in their native Mayan language was made possible by the Peace Accords and represents a great advance in the possibility of maintaining the Mayan language and culture among today’s children. We installed 5 new HAM radios in our remote communities and trained their members in the operation of these radios. These radios provide a means of communication for many communities that are cut off from conventional telephone lines, etc. and allows them to get news, call someone in the case of an emergency, etc. We saw our organic farm become a productive entity as it now teems with ducks, geese, chickens, rabbits, and even a lamb and her kid. The farm continues to develop little by little and now can help us provide trainings in animal care and/or the actual animals for our “Animales de Patio” project. Our women’s Micro-Credit program benefited approximately 130 women who started their own small businesses to better their family incomes. Out Better Stoves program placed 50+ new stoves in homes that will provide for more efficient wood use and decrease the smoke that clogs up the air in the kitchens affecting the health of families. I could most likely go on and on about the problems facing Guatemalans and I can also speak volumes about the advances that we have made in this last year among our communities. But, once more, the real message of all these events, both good and bad, is that in the midst of the poverty, the corruption, and the hard times, the people are still struggling on, they are still fighting, and they still have hope.
It has been an honor and privilege for me to work side by side with my co-workers here at ACG, with what has become a family to me here. With Luis, Jóse Luis, Juan Carlos, Francisca, Mateo, Lucia, Sandra, Catarina, Fermina, and Andrés just to name a few. In addition, the opportunity to walk together with my brothers and sisters here in Guatemala has been a blessing that cannot be explained in any amount of words. I have been welcomed into homes, into families, onto lands, and into the hearts of people here where each day as I walk the streets, walk out into the mountains, or travel out into the communities I hear my name (Pablo) called with a certain familiarity and warmth.
I look forward eagerly to this next year, a year where new adventures will captivate my attention and send me rolling out into the mountains and jungles, a year where my experiences from this past year will aid me in, step by step, being of assistance to the communities, to the families, and to the people that I am lucky enough to get to meet and work with everyday.
Paul Pitcher is a missionary with the Christian Action of Guatemala (ACG). He serves as a communication and youth worker with ACG.