ACG Community Development and Microcredit Projects
Guatemalan Cultural Action (ACG) was established in 1989 as groupings of Mayan Guatemalans affected by the civil war in that country, who were formerly refugees living in Mexico or had been internally displaced during the conflict, were able to return to their rural lands and rebuild their lives. Global Ministries has partnered with ACG since its beginnings. ACG has four main objectives: 1) to promote community projects in the area of education, culture, economics, and ecology; 2) to promote Mayan and Christian spirituality as inspiring and encouraging sources of meaning for community work; 3) to promote ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue in promotion of a climate of harmony, peace, and solidarity within the rural, indigenous communities; and 4) to provide training for the communities on their human rights and how to defend them.
Examples of ACG programs include:
Communication: ACG works diligently in the area of communications in order for the isolated communities with which it works to have a means by which to be in touch. With the partnership of Global Ministries and DARF/UCAN (the joint association of amateur short wave radio operators of the Christian Church [Disciples of Christ] and the United Church of Christ), ACG has installed a short wave radio in many of the more remote communities with which they relate, and has trained community members to use them. Moreover, ACG has a weekly radio program on Radio Quiche, which belongs to the Catholic Dioceses of El Quiche.
Income-generation projects: ACG has invested major energy in the coordination of a livestock-raising and community development project, carried out by local women in 20 communities in the Guatemalan departments of El Quiche, Alta Verapaz, and Huehuetenango. More than 600 women have been trained either by ACG staff or the first 50 women to be trained by trainers, in the care, management, and commercialization of rabbits, hens, goats, and sheep. The management and sale of this livestock has proceeded successfully. The participating women also are implementing efforts in the diversification of crops (vegetables, fruit and nut trees, medicinal herbs) as well in reforestation and bee keeping.
ACG also organizes skills-building courses such training in techniques for traditional Guatemalan weaving. An instructor will work with men and women in an area, through classes and looms based in one local community, for a period of months as students learn how to or improve their abilities to produce beautiful woven pieces for local use and sale at market.
Scholarships: ACG works with youth groups in the local communities to which they relate. ACG provides a holistic scholarship program to support local young people who pursue studies in higher education and, at the same time, maintain their links to their local home communities. ACG supports an equal number of women and men with scholarships. Most scholarships are for three years and the students pay back at least a portion of their scholarship support once they have graduated and secured employment, in order to help additional students in the future.
Thrifty Stoves: ACG provides ecological and health-promoting stoves in local rural communities. Families in the program participate in a four-part training session and also put a financial contribution toward their family’s stove, which has a total cost of approximately $212. The stoves are made from local materials and use much less wood to heat for cooking than the typical open fire cooking arrangements in most Guatemalan rural homes. Feedback from the first 50 or so families receiving stoves point to a reduction of firewood needed and healthier kitchens in general. ACG works with approximately 35 new thrifty stoves each year, seeking to provide at least 500 total.
Reflection/Celebration: ACG carries out bible study workshops on an ongoing basis, and organizes celebrations and ceremonies with Mayan families who practice traditional Mayan spirituality. These inter-religious events have the purpose of promoting joint action around justice, peace, and community harmony.
|Update: March 2015|
During 2014 at a meeting of the Board of Directors of ACG, each program presented to all about their activities, presenting the positive results and the difficulties encountered in the implementation process. Twelve sessions were held throughout the year to ensure compliance with all agreed upon activities according to the operational and strategic plan of the Association for the benefit of the communities where ACG has an impact.
The 25th Anniversary of ACG was marked with a spiritual activity in which all men and women leaders recalled their commitment to peace, which is a value that encourages the continuing work of ACG. The Anniversary was also commemorated in the area of Ixcán by an invocation to God and a reflection on the work of ACG and the progress that has been made.
There were 195 recipients of micro-credit loans in the Altiplano area as well as a group from the micro-credit and savings projects in Las Abejas. Also, this year a visit to the farm in El Quiché was made in order to monitor the maintenance of the property and plan for the care communities in Ixcán. The “Las Abejas” Micro Credit and Savings Project reported that 638 people have taken part in the program. ACG also reports that they are currently working with 70 women’s groups and have been coordinating activities with other local organizations.
Funds and logistics continue to be a challenge for the ministries of ACG. According to ACG’s vision and mission there continues to be a lot of work to do. Evictions, kidnapping, and persecution of communities and their social leaders have convinced ACG to provide a support team to hold at least three meetings and three workshops a year for young men and women to tell their stories.
ACG shares the following story:
Celebrating 25 years of the life of ACG, we in the area of Ixcán took advantage of the support that was sent by the Board of ACG and were able to meet 22 adults and four children from seven communities to remember the creation of ACG, its vision and mission. As we came together we realized how deeply all were affected by the internal armed conflict of the early years (1980-1990). This was a very important meeting of all the members of ACG and our activity began with a prayer and by lighting a candle with the picture of our recently deceased sister, Elizabeth, in Holland, and with remembrances of Marcos Ortiz Jimenez, Ixtahuacàn Chiquito, Ixcán, Quiché, who died in Rio in December as well as other important ACG people. Our reflection was inspired by Isaiah 1:16-20 and Mark 13:33-37.
|Update: March 2016|
In December of 2015, the Guatemalan Cultural Action Group (ACG) celebrated the accomplishments and the bounty of activities of the year. The leadership and community of ACG are deeply invested in the success and continuation of life-giving activities through the organization. Through holding monthly meetings to share on the activities, successes, and areas to grow of each area of focus, the ACG leadership and community are working regularly to improve the services and programs offered. In 2015, ACG focused on the areas of (1) community development, communications and spiritual support; and (2) women’s microcredit projects.
Community Development, Communications, and Spiritual Support
In 2015, ACG made many improvements and installations to a community center in Ixcán, Quiche to be used in community development initiatives as well as a place to hold trainings. One of the first developments on the training center’s property was the implementation of a chicken coop, which started with 20 hens and has now grown to 40 hens and 20 chicks to be used and maintained by participants in ACG trainings. In addition to the hens at the training center, ACG built a fence and installed latrines, electricity, and an electrical water pump.
This past year, ACG provided scholarships for several young adults in the community studying at university for various degree programs including early childhood education, enterprise management, as well as an automotive technician certification.
In August 2015, ACG commemorated its 26th anniversary with a spiritual celebration coordinated by a team of community members from the area of Ixcán. The celebration included prayers for the organization and leaders in the community, a reflection on the work and progress of ACG, and a reminder of the values that encourage the continuing work of ACG.
Women’s Microcredit Projects
ACG hosted several new training workshops for women’s microcredit projects in 2015. The topics for workshops were selected through the suggestions of women in the community with innovative strategies for new small businesses in rural Guatemala. The new areas of microcredit programs through ACG include the production and sale of natural chocolates, and the production and sale of honey and local handmade candies. These projects are in addition to the established microcredit initiatives such as the production and sales of traditional woven fabric made into backpacks and tablecloths.
ACG is working with 72 microcredit groups of women, with a total of over 600 participants, who now have businesses and are contributing to an improved quality of life of their families.
Silvia, an entrepreneur through the ACG microcredit program, shares:
We, the women in my ACG microcredit group, feel supported and grateful to ACG, because it has supported us by providing initial business loans, and ongoing trainings as we improve our family and local economy. We are now able to improve the nutrition and financial situation of our families. We ask for God’s blessings for each donor that has been supporting the work of ACG.
|Update: December 2019|
ACG celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019. On August 4, 2019 ACG held a celebration with members and participants of the organization. There were 160 people at the celebration including some of the founders of ACG. The history and memories of ACG were celebrated and current board members communicated the trajectory and plans for the future. Many participants and beneficiaries of ACG’s programs shared their stories about the ways ACG had been present with their families and communities. Following this, there was a Mayan ceremony which was directed by the spiritual guide of the community, Elvira Morales. The ceremony was emotional as all of the martyrs, and deceased founders and leaders of ACG, were remembered in accordance with Mayan rituals. Additionally, ACG also held a similar celebration in the Ixcán area on August 8, 2019.
Two students have been supported by scholarships from ACG during 2019 – one from the community of Ixtahuacán Chiquito, municipality of Playa Grande Ixcán, Quiché, and one from Cucabaj Community, Santa Cruz del Quiché. They are studying accounting and general studies.
In 2019 ACG worked with 45 microcredit communities in the three Guatemalan Departments of Quiché, Alta Verapaz, and Huehuetenango. There were 84 new participants who received loans this year making 555 total participants in the microcredit program to date. As part of the 30th anniversary celebration, ACG delivered baskets of food to the 388 families who are currently participating in the microcredit project.
ACG shares the following stories of several women from the department of Quiché who participate in the microcredit program:
Isabel is from the village of Lemoa in the municipality of Santa Cruz del Quiché. She received a loan of $390.00 and utilized the funds to purchase a cow. She uses the milk to sell as well as feed her family.
Josefina from the community of Cucabaj was lent $390.00. Josefina used the funds to purchase livestock such as pigs, turkeys, and chickens. She uses the eggs from the turkeys and chickens to feed her family and to sell at the market. Josefina and her husband now feel they are able to send their children to school, something they are very happy about. Josefina is very excited to continue with the microcredit program.
María is from the village of Caserío La Antena. María received a loan of $390.00 which she used to purchase materials and equipment for weaving. She has used the equipment to weave blouses, aprons, and güipiles (a traditional embroidered top). María also purchased a cow that she plans to raise and sell later. María is excited about how this all has aided her in keeping her to children in school.
|Update: December 2020|
Even amidst the many challenges of the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020, ACG doubled the number of young people receiving scholarships this year. Junior high school students from across the department of Quiché continued their studies even amidst the challenges of distance learning. One young woman, Beatriz, wrote a letter of thanks to all those who made it possible to attend school this year. Tragically, Beatriz shared that her science teacher passed away from Covid-19 during the school year. She writes that amid the challenges and sadness brought about by the pandemic, she was able to finish out the school year strong thanks to the support of her family.
Additionally, sixty-three new participants joined ACG Women’s Microcredit and Savings program, named ‘The Bees’ in 2020. With a pandemic and the two tropical storms that hit Guatemala in 2020, this microcredit program was essential for keeping women and their families afloat. Juana, for example, was able to purchase turkeys and chickens with the support provided to her through the ACG microcredit program. The eggs provided sustenance for her family, and what they did not eat, she was able to sell at the market. She kept working with ACG throughout the course of the year and began selling bananas as well. Over 500 women participated in the ACG microcredit program in 2020, and every participant received household supplies as an extra support while the pandemic shut down many small business operations.
While ACG was able to hold its annual Anniversary Celebration and Mayan Ceremony, it significantly pared down and included Covid-19 safety measures. Thanks was offered “for another opportunity for life and for work in the Association”.
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