Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women

by Highland Support Project
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Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
Opportunities & Hope for Guatemalan Maya Women
The Tzamyuyub women's circle leadership
The Tzamyuyub women's circle leadership

The Highland Support Project (HSP) and the Association of Highland Women (AMA) have been the primary organizations supporting the relocation of two communities forced to migrate because of land and water access conflicts. Last November, the friction produced a dozen fatalities and necessitated over 1500 people to flee the region to relocate with other members of their kinship grouping three hours away. The families had experienced repeated armed attacks on their villages, the destruction of their livestock and field, and other forms of harassment. 

HSP and AMA partnered to provide the nearly 200 families of Tzanjuyub and Pasquach behavioral health services through the circle programming and critical health infrastructure. We are networking with other organizations to construct homes, a new school, and water and sanitation projects. During the last three months, the partnership has built 50 stoves to evacuate smoke from the temporary shelters. We have obtained a commitment from Otterbein United Methodist Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to fund the installation of critical water and hygiene infrastructure. 

Background of the situation

The typically quiet and isolated region of Santa Catarina Ixthueacan and Nahualá has found its way into international newspapers over the last month. An explosion of violence includes the December massacre of thirteen people, including four children between the ages of 5 and 16, from Santa Catarina that were visiting the village of Chiquix in Nahualá to harvest corn. The latest episodes of civil unrest have roots in the past, aggravated by the inequalities of colonialism, migration, international drug trafficking, and the pandemic. 

The two communities have centuries of shared history originating from a shared amaq'. Amaq' is the intermediary level of K'iche' social organization, comprising various calpul - extended family networks -controlling specific territory. The confederation of different amaq' in the period before the Spanish conquest formed the K'iche' winaq - state or empire - of Q'umarkaj (Diego Vásquez Moterrose, 2019). Chronicles of the region demonstrate a complex relationship between the groups, with outsiders typically viewing the communities as a unified group. At the same time, there is a clear differentiation and refusal to be subordinated internally.  

The Roots of Conflict

Weisshaar and Hostnig's (1995) compilation of local oral traditions chronicles hostilities between Ixthueacan and Nahula following the reducción - the Spanish colonial policy of concentrating Indigenous populations dispersed throughout a region into new colonial centers developed to conform with European standards. The Spanish combined the communities of Sija - later named Santa Katarina Ixthueacan - and Mutzula, identified in The Annals of the Kaqchiqueles - an Indigenous document from the XVI century - as the people identified as Nahualá. 

In 1876, Miguel Salquill rose to be the governor of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan. According to the oral stories of Nahualá, he instituted the practice of having marimba -dance music - every Sunday and Thursday and introduced many vices such as heavy drinking and obligating women to dance. Because of this behavior, Manuel Tzoc, a leader of the Nahualá families, relocated to Xepatuj - the current location of Nahualá - and was named Manuel Tzoc as the community leader. Mr. Tzoc began to criticize publicly and privately Miguel Salqui. These conflicts developed into a prolonged enmity (Carrillo, 2011). Informants from Santa Katarina offer an opposing version of events suggesting that the families related to Tzoc utilized economic power and political relations with the state at their expense without the noble motives indicated in the accounts of Nahualá.

The conflict between Salquill and Tzoc continued to intensify when a tremor visibly damaged the primary church of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan. Salquill wished to repair the parish, while Tzoc wanted to demolish the building and construct a new one. After a series of confrontations, Salquill summed Manuel Tzoc to a meeting with the elders concerning the church (Carrillo, 2011). Oral traditions recount how Miguel Salquill and other elders interrogated Manuel Tzoc about the willingness of his people to assist in the church reparations. Tzoc responded that he would not accept help if it was only to be repaired and said, "Are we not men enough to do a job well done?" (Carrillo, 2011).

After the response of Tzoc to the elders of Santa Katrina, the people opposed him and said that because he had become wealthy from the wheat mill, he wished to order people around, but they would not accept his ideas. When the town leaders called for him to be exiled, and after there was no resolution, the conflict intensified into armed conflict. The confrontations became so bloody and intense that the government of General Barrios intervened to declare the separation between Nahualá and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán.

While other communities in Guatemala left the reduction period as unified communities with a vague memory of different origins, Nahualá and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán clearly remember their long history. " "Unlike others, these were very large, densely populated, and relatively wealthy communities, which had more trade and were unwilling to give up power" (Brooks, para 10, 2021).

The buffer zone between the two communities continued to shrink over the last century with a dramatic increase in the population of both communities. Then, in 2009 Hurricane Mitch necessitated the relocation of Santa Catarina to the area Chwi Pataa - nicknamed "Alaska" by a North American Catholic priest who worked in Nahualá during the 1960s - located in the middle of Nahualá. A rather simplistic description of the context is that the land once belonged to Santa Catarina and the government of Justo Barrios ceded the territory to Nahualá. Then in 2009, the Guatemalan government decided to return the land to Santa Catarina. In both instances, the boundaries and the land registry have been incomplete, leading to conflict. 

The Role of Migration in the Conflict

The current rate charged by human smugglers to bring people to the United States is $16,000.00. With limited employment opportunities, weak domestic markets, and the lack of water and quality topsoil for farming, migration to earn dollars is viewed by many as the only option for survival. Families are mortgaging land to obtain the funds, creating a series of conflicts because these lands are communal lands that cannot be sold or transferred. A family belonging to the community may have the right to farm or occupy a specific parcel of land. They can exchange it with others in the community, but they cannot sell it to outsiders. Therefore, the ability to have rights to a particular parcel of land depends on which community claims that land. This arrangement is provoking armed conflict between money lenders and indebted families. The salient issue is that the tapestry of intermingled land settlements and conflicting land titles has created a volatile situation pitting communities against each other.  

HSP's Response

The Highland Support Project has provided material and housing assistance to community members forced to relocate during the conflict. HSP's sister organization, the Association of Highland Women, has continued to organize circle meetings, uniting women across identity boundaries and providing counseling and shared market access through the Pixan social enterprise. 

If you wish to collaborate in the efforts to assist these communities to rebuild lives of dignity, security and hope, we can networking to assist with the construction of homes, a school, clinic, and wash projects.  

 References

Carrillo, C. 2011. Costos y rentabilidad de unidades agroindustriales (beneficiado húmedo de café) (en línea). Informe EPS. Guatemala, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, Facultad de Ciencias Económicas. Consultado 8 mar. 2016. Disponible en http://biblioteca.usac.edu.gt/EPS/03/03_0762_v3.pdf 

 Weisshaar, Emmerich and Hostnig, Rainer. 1995 Erzählungen der Maya-Indianer Guatemala's vom Stamme der Quiché. Versión en alemán

Tzanjuyub community planning meeting
Tzanjuyub community planning meeting
Temporary water harvesting
Temporary water harvesting
Community relocated to higher elevation
Community relocated to higher elevation
One of 50 stoves to prevent respiratory infections
One of 50 stoves to prevent respiratory infections
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Community organizing is about building personal-psychological power and competencies, building organizational strength through networking and resources, and building community power by developing the capacity to meet member needs and aspirations. There are many different types of power. We like to focus on the power of together and gain access to opportunity.

John Gavantes introduced the powercube as a training tool for International Development in 2003. The powercube assists us in understanding how power is developed and distributed. The cube helps us analyze power internationally, national, local, and community level. A critical aspect of the powercube is the differentiation between closed, invited, and claimed spaces. Closed spaces are places like congress or a corporate board meeting where one has to be elected or have sufficient financial resources to be included. Invited spaces are places like press conferences or community consultations. Claimed Spaces are spaces in which relatively powerless or excluded groups create a space for themselves.

AMA began nearly thirty years ago as a claimed space for Indigenous women excluded from professional opportunities and social organizations. AMA is more than the "development" projects realized in a year. AMA is a growing regional organization that provides authentic participation and voice to women on the margins of society. It serves as a viable community organizing model, projecting hopes, visions, and concerns to the local, national, and international communities.

 

On March 8th, to commemorate International Women's Day, more than 35 women of our community partners joined the assembly for the first time since COVID. During this assembly, we elected new board members were Caty from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán was selected as the president and Felipa from Llanos del Pinal as Vice-President. All who participated expressed how grateful they were for receiving support during the pandemic. They also brought ideas for needed educational, health, and organizational projects in their communities. We hope to start working on these projects as soon as possible to keep improving lives and empowering communities in the Higlands of Guatemala.

If you'd like to learn more about our projects and where your funding goes, please reach out, and I'd be happy to set up a time to talk!

Thank you again for your dedication and continued support of Highland Support Project!

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On the way to Women's health clinic
On the way to Women's health clinic

Carol Aneshensel studied the social distribution of stress and social variation in response to stress. Aneshensel demonstrated the cumulative impact of stress as well as the unequal distribution of stress across society. Research indicates that repeated exposure to stressors negatively impacts psychological and physiological health. A key takeaway from Aneshensel's analysis is that social variations in response to stress are related to economic conditions and the ability to exercise agency in addressing sources of stress.

HSP's community partners identify that COVID 19 represents another stressor in a very long line of incidents impacting rural communities. Families have experienced a decades-long civil war, centuries of injustice, the collapse of corn prices, and the drain of migration on families and communities. Leonard Pearlin wrote extensively about the concept of the locus of control and individual agency. The locus of control is a concept that refers to how strongly people believe they have control over the situations and experiences that affect their lives. Research demonstrates that when individuals experience a sense of powerlessness over their own lives, the typical response is hopelessness or anger.

Our community partners have registered many indicators demonstrating that COVID 19 has dramatically increased the level of stress in rural communities, as well as expressions of hopelessness and anger. The community center and the AMA house have hosted members fleeing conflict in their homes and villages over the last year. School teachers in partners schools report that they have to close because most students feel that their only hope is to migrate to the United States illegally.

AMA has organized ambulatory women's health clinics in coordination with local Red Cross chapters. While clinical care is an integral part of public health programming, the primary motivation for organizing the clinics is to involve grassroots members in the planning and implementing activities and provide a means of checking in on circle members' psychological and spiritual well-being. Guadalupe Ramirez, a founder of AMA and HSP's director, participated this week in an inaugural women's clinic in the department of San Marcos.

In the last three months, AMA has constructed over 200 stoves in rural communities and distributed 2000 trees purchased from the women's tree nursery of Espumpuja. Similar to the motivations for the clinics, the stoves are an essential component of a public health initiative to address the chronic issue of upper respiratory infections. But, we build stoves because it is a project with a scope appropriate for engaging grassroots members in the design and implementation of campaigns. The work of researcher Marc Zimmerman demonstrates the powerful benefit of individuals engaging in decision-making for their overall health. Zimmerman's research indicates that simple participation in a knitting group can provide significant benefits.

We believe that the way we achieve outcomes is as important as the outcomes themselves. By this, we mean that it is possible to design a very efficient means of providing services or distributing relief materials; but, if communities are not engaged and involved in the process, there is a slight improvement in the agency or locus of control that community members experience.

We have uploaded videos of recent community visits conducted during the last week of November to our Facebook page.  This includes a visit to the inauguration of a new computer lab, a women's ambulatory health clinic, a couple of stove building sites.   We wish we could share the love and appreciation expressed by partners who benefit from your generisoty.  

New Computer Lab in Twiniwitz
New Computer Lab in Twiniwitz
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We are excited to write to you with two encouraging updates about our work in Guatemala!

First, our tree nursery & reforestation project has been thriving and growing. The program's goals are twofold. It plants trees to combat years of deforestation in rural regions and creates an opportunity for the women running the nursery to earn their own income and develop professional skills. The tree nursery program is also linked to our women's circles through AMA, which creates an empowering community for the women involved. Pictured above is one of the women who work at the tree nursery, Yoli. She is from Espumpuja and sells the saplings at the local market.

Second, we are beginning 2022 travel plans to Guatemala! There is a full informational packet attached below. Please send an email to madison@highlandpartners.org with any questions and to begin planning your trip!

Links:


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Thank you so much for your support of Highland Support Project through GlobalGiving. 

We are so hopeful about what is to come in 2021!

In Guatemala, our full-time AMA staff is still hard at work promoting the Pixan weaving cooperative, building clean-burning stoves, and providing women with peer-to-peer counseling. The economic, social, and health effects of the pandemic have only made these projects even more critical within Indigenous communities. Additionally, we are excited to be launching a new reforestation project this summer...more information coming soon!

Although we have decided it is not yet in the best interest of the communities we work with for us to return to Guatemala, we will be returning to Arizona this summer to work alongside Cheryl Pailzote, the head hydrologist of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. We continue to be encouraged and inspired by the ways in which our work with Indigenous communities across the Americas, from Arizona to Guatemala to Ecuador, intersect and build upon each other. 

Warmly,

 

Madison Sweitzer

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Highland Support Project

Location: Richmond, VA - USA
Website:
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Twitter: @HighlandPartnrs
Project Leader:
Diana Alvarado
Quetzaltenango, Quetzaltenango Guatemala
$42,338 raised of $90,000 goal
 
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