“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
From december 2013 till February 2014 I was changing the life of a tiny village in rural Guatemala, Communities of the Population in Resistance, Primavera Del Ixcan. I was apart of a volunteer group formed by a teacher at my school and filled with many of my friends.
For visitors and tourists to Guatemala it seems a stereotypical sight- indigenous Mayan women in brightly-coloured, traditional clothing, babies slung across their back and bundles balanced on their heads, bold against beautiful misty jungle surrounds. However Primavera isn’t just the stereotypical vision of Mayan Culture, it is filled with a rich history that begins in 1960, with the start of the Guatemalan Civil War.
The civil war was full blown genocide of counterinsurgency, heightened by increased government repression in the form of abductions, tortures, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Many rural villages especially in the Ixcan area were tortured and massacred by the military leaving many fleeing to the near by Mexico or to the Ixcan jungles. For years these people wandered the jungle constantly moving in fear of the military catching up, by meeting up with more that had fleed, a new community was formed. Although all spoke their own native languages as a community they learnt Spanish to communicate between each other, in a time of great repression these people called on their shared Mayan values: living and producing together as a community. In 1996 at the end of the war, with the signing of the peace accord, the community finally came out of the jungle and settled on empty land on the edge of the jungle. This village soon evolved a way of life that could be considered an evolutionary view on community especially in areas unable to reach and afford proper technology and communication.
We arrived to this village at 8pm, after a 13 hour bus ride, from what we could see it was in the middle of no where, something we were well aware of expecting. In the morning our group of fourteen 16-18 year olds were separated as we were invited into these families homes for breakfast. In small houses made up of 2 to 3 rooms, made out of cement and the kitchen outside surrounded by wooden walls and tin roofs, the kitchen and eating area was small with the women cooking over the wood fire stoves, working hard to create a meal as a thank you for us, to show their gratitude. It was in this moment i felt completely grateful for these people were allowing me into their homes, providing me with a meal with the little they have and although we couldn’t speak due to the language barrier we had this mutual level of respect and thankfulness. Over this time here i did learn spanish, by the time i left I could speak mildly and non fluently and yet i could have conversations with these people, learn the nature of their lives and their beliefs.
When we weren’t eating with the families, playing games with the kids, and being taught the history of the land we were actually doing what we went to do. We were building a school, working all day from 8.30am till 4pm with a morning tea and lunch break. By the end of our time their it was finished, we had built a three room high school for this village, allowing everyone to get the education they deserve. Aside from raising the money for the school materials we also raised money so the school could have cheaper fee’s for the first few years to help get more students in the doors.
Over this time i made so many friends, learnt so much more about the world in which we live in and increased my interest in the culture of south and central america. Theres so much more i could say about the trip. About the touristy things we did, the many iconic places we went to and my trip to the hospital but for now this seems to be the most important part to talk about. I urge everyone to step out of their comfort zones every once and awhile, do something to improve the lives of others and explore something new.
Welcome to the world of Central America.