EMU Intercultural Learning

Guatemala: Community Service

We recently spent 10 days living in communities around Guatemala and serving with organizations in those  communities. Keep reading to hear about where each group went. 

We (Marie & Sophia) spent the week in Santiago, Atitlan working with Amanecer Nueva de Santiago Atitlan (ANADESA). This organization focuses on helping empower indigenous women, as well as supporting children with their educational needs. Something that stood out to us were home visits. They were check-ins to assess what the children’s needs were & how they could help. This truly demonstrated how this organization & these kind people are helping & caring for their community. We truly enjoyed working with Jessica, Víctor, Chonita & the many students with whom we had the opportunity to work. Gracias por todo! 

– Sophia Armato

We (Miranda and Maria) spent the week living in Santiago Atitlan working with ADISA, an organization that works primarily with individuals with disabilities and their families, though their reach extends far beyond that. They have four main arms of work: social empowerment, economic empowerment, education, and health services. I (Maria) spent the week in the health clinic, doing home visits and appointments with the physical therapist. It shed a light on the realities of Guatemalan healthcare especially in rural areas. The work ADISA is doing fills some of the gaps, but they can only do so much and ultimately change must be systemic. I (Miranda) spent the week working with education, specially with “grupos inclusivos” (inclusive groups) that work to build social connections between kids and reinforce what they’re learning in school. We took the classes to different communities and it was super impactful for me to see the reality of these communities. A main theme that dominated the week was seeing a very different Guatemalan reality than we had seen in the city. We were able to experience firsthand the differences between rural and urban Guatemala. 

– Miranda Beidler 

For community learning, Leah, Josh, and I volunteered with AMI, an organization located in San Juan Laguna. AMI is a multifaceted organization that includes a medical clinical, agricultural education, and various other community programs. For the majority of the time, our work was focused on the clinic. At the clinic, we did inventory for many medicines and other products. We also helped build office items. We were grateful to aid the clinic as it was starting up, and to contribute to the broader mission of AMI. We also spent two days in neighboring communities, recording information for a socioeconomic study of one of the programs for women, as well as observing a worker educating families on farming and composting. This person-to-person interaction was very meaningful, as we were able to see how AMI has and continues to positively impact the nearby communities. Overall, it was impactful to serve the community in the area we hope to work with in the future.

 – Marianne Short

For community learning Nate and I were living and volunteering in Alta Verapaz at Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC). As a group, we visited CCFC earlier this semester and learned about the conservation work that they do. Nate and I were excited to return for community learning! We arrived on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning we participated in the large team meeting with the team of Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conservation (WALC) teachers. During our time at CCFC earlier this semester we had been paired with the WALC teachers, and I was grateful that we were able to work with familiar faces and continued to deepen our relationships with the teachers. 

Our days began early at 7:00 am, and we pitched in wherever they needed us, some days this meant picking blackberries or clearing fields with machetes, other days this was helping in the kitchen preparing jams and breads. We had the afternoons and evenings to explore the CCFC property and took advantage of the trails and river that run through the land. 

We had the opportunity to hike up to a local village with a small group of teachers to learn about rotational grazing. We hiked  on the mountainside and had the opportunity to experience the vast biodiversity of the cloud forest. We learned about the local flora and birds, we spotted the emerald toucanet which, when flying, looks like a banana followed by a green bird. In the village, we had a tour of the land, and felt the temperature difference between the land that was completely cleared for monoculture crops, and the land that implemented rotational grazing. We have learned about rotational grazing in our environmental science classes at EMU, and we enjoyed seeing it in practice.

On our last day of work a group from Lanquín came to perform a Mayan ceremony in the cave. We had the privilege of joining the group. The ceremony was a celebration of the relationship between the land and the people. During the hike to the cave, we stopped at various points where members of the group stopped to feel the moss and kiss the rocks, this intentionally reminded me just how intertwined humans and the land are. Once we arrived at the cave we were offered tamales and welcomed to observe the ceremony, which included music and prayers. We were thankful to be welcomed into a sacred space and ceremony.

As I write we are on our way back via bus through the Guatemalan countryside. We are physically tired from our work, but a week and a half of living, working, and learning in the cloud forest has recharged us spiritually and mentally for the last few weeks of this semester.

-Ally Welty Peachey

Eli Ours and I spent out community engagement week with an organization called Utz K’aslimmal, which is focused on community development and preserving traditional practices for farming and construction. We also spent a portion of our time assisting with and learning from a local community school geared towards reinforcing what the children learn in the national school system and working with local women. Our main learning from our ten days there in Santiago was to remember that all grand measures of progress must begin with small-scale change, and that the work we do on an individual level absolutely does matter. The other highlight of our trip was the opportunity to see a quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. Quetzales are rare birds, symbolic of freedom and hope for the Guatemalan people because it is impossible to keep them in captivity. The gorgeous birds absolutely lived up to their reputation as the jewels of the Guatemalan highlands, and we could not have been more excited to have the opportunity to see one in person. 

– Lane Burkholder 

Ella a
nd I spent our 10 days in Colotenango with Association Pop No’j. Pop No’j has four programs: migration, women, youth, and land. We worked most with the migration team. We spent about half our days in the office and the other half visiting nearby villages. When we were in the office, we helped prepare materials for future activities, observed visits with families, and sat in on meetings. When we were out of the office, we saw Pop No’j’s outreach process, met with another organization that does similar work with women, and helped with one of their workshops at a nearby school. One of the biggest learnings from our time here was how much migration impacts every person here. 


– Kate Krabill 

Arelys and I spent time in Jacaltenango working with Pop Noj. Pop Noj works with people who have returned from the US after migrating, providing psycho-social support as they adapt to Guatemalan culture. We spent time educating schools, groups of women, and visiting homes in the highland neighborhoods handing out pamphlets about the organization. Some important learnings that we took away were the complexities of immigrating as people of indigenous communities and reconciling with how common the migration conversation is for kids. 

– Hollyn Miller 

Mana and Naomi spent a week in Carchá
working with ODIGUA and the families they saw,
Every morning they arrived at work at eight,
sorting seeds and visiting villages—work they appreciate!
After a long day at work and needing a break,
they went home to their big family and danced, played, and ate.
They learned some Q’eqchi and about their family’s past,
especially about what gave them enough strength to last.
That family death and poverty pushed them away,
but steady job offers and a strong community made them stay
They got to see a lot of chickens and babies too,
but other days they counted seeds the whole day through!
And although they got tired of locked bathrooms at night,
the fun kids and banter kept them feeling alright.
Thank you Carchá for such a fun week—
We wish you the best, and ‘till next time, Quan Chic!

-Mariana Acosta



Guatemala: Holy Week

Holy Week in Guatemala 

The past week we traveled out to Chichicastenango and around Lago Atitlan. We left on the tails of our goodbyes to host families and the end of Spanish classes, so the week was a real change of pace. Throughout the week we saw examples of hope being held with pain, a contradiction that has commonly come up throughout the semester. 

In Chichicastenango, we visited an organization called Ruth and Noemi. The founder, Diego, explained to us that it began during the internal war after the area was bombed. Diego returned to Chichi after the bombings, once the military was allowing people in, and found that many of his friends had lost family members. The violence in the area combined with the disappearances by military forces had left many women as widowed single mothers. He saw an urgent need in his community and decided to go to Quetzaltenango, a nearby city, to find help. He returned with some bolts of string and a plan: if the women would weave using the string he brought them, he could take it and sell it for them. Slowly this plan came into action and more women joined in. It was and continues to be an avenue for women’s empowerment through economic independence. Now, Ruth and Noemi is connected with Ten Thousand Villages and involves over 30 families. The women of Ruth and Noemi are a remarkable example of resilience in the face of violence and adversity. In the wake of so much loss they found a way forward, together. 

Next, we took a boat ride over to Santiago, Atitlan where we spent two days with ANADESA. ANADESA is an organization that was born after Hurricane Stan brought devastating mudslides to Santiago that destroyed many homes and killed over 250 people. Women from the community of Panabaj came together to figure out how they would rebuild. The group helped many families relocate to the nearby neighborhood of Chuk Muk, and now continues projects of education and economic independence for women.

While in Santiago, we also visited the Peace Park which is situated beside ANADESA. A man named Juan came to talk with us about the park’s origins and significance. The peace park was built to memorialize and honor the lives of those who died in the fight to demilitarize Santiago, two of whom were his teenage students. After decades of military violence, a few soldiers drunkenly roamed the town wreaking havoc. This was the tipping point for Santiago. That same night, thousands of people gathered, armed themselves with white flags, and marched to the military base in protest. As they peacefully protested, the military opened fire. The massacre triggered a powerful mobilization of Santiago. The next day, over 30,000 people had thumb-print-signed a petition to remove the military. After two weeks of protest, the military left Santiago, making it the first area to be demilitarized during the internal war. As Juan explained this history, I was struck by his eagerness to share about this very painful part of his life. Towards the end, I asked him how he feels the community as a whole remembers this time. He immediately responded saying that the young people are not interested in our history, now money is the king that rules their lives. Looking at the Peace Park memorial that has been left unkept and run down, the truth of Juan’s words was clear. 

Guatemala has a complex history riddled with suffering, often at the hands of the US, and resilience. There have been so many efforts, like the Peace Park, to memorialize the harm that has been done. The following day we did an exercise in EMU class that personified truth, mercy, justice, and peace. Toward the end, we tried to decide where in the room each one would be to describe the current state of Guatemala. My first thought was to put truth front and center. We have learned about and visited so many projects that have brought the stories of what people endured during the war to light; the REMHI project, the Human Rights office, museums, documentaries, and memorials. As others weighed in, I began realizing my original stance was representative of the Guatemala I have seen in the last three months, not the true picture of Guatemala. The work of truth-telling has been done, but it is now sitting in the corner collecting dust. Juan’s words kept ringing through my ears as I thought about the importance of remembering. We cannot have peace without mercy to reconcile the harm, and we cannot have mercy unless justice is being actively worked towards, and we cannot have justice until the truth is seen and remembered. These four elements— justice, mercy, peace, and truth— must work in tandem because without all four present, none can properly be carried out. I left the session thinking about my role as a young person in these processes. The US has her own history of governmental oppression. How can I play my part in remembering and honoring the suffering and resilience in my own country’s past? 

We spent the next few days around Lago Atitlan where we visited and learned about the cooperatives they have in San Juan. The coops take advantage of tourism in the area by banding together and standardizing their services to give everyone enough business. To me, it seems like a genius way to allow for tourism to positively impact the local economy instead of the massive companies that take advantage of land and people to earn more money. 

We ended our week in Antigua, a notable destination to experience Holy Week. The small city was teaming with tourists and Catholics. The cobblestone streets were decorated with intricate “alfombra” designs made from flower petals and colorful sand. At all hours of the day and night, processions were being carried out. They often consisted of horses, men carrying 20-foot long wooden floats with various biblical scenes displayed on top, a band, women clearing the way for the float, or carrying lanterns. The processions would march right on top of the gorgeous sand and flower carpets and at the end of each one, a clean-up crew would shovel the trampled remains into a truck bed. Soon you would see a group assembling to build another carpet, a multi-hour long process. It was an incredibly coordinated operation requiring hundreds of people’s cooperation and organization.

Throughout the semester, we have attempted to tackle the theme of trauma and resilience, and this week was no different. There are times I’ve felt very pessimistic and leaned heavy on the dark realities we learn about, unable to see the ways there is also hope. At this point in the semester, however, it has become very clear that where there is pain and suffering, there is also hope and resilience, and that doesn’t need to be a contradiction. Somehow, we must find a way to hold both the pain and the joy, the suffering and the resilience, and the painful past with hope for the future. It is the only way we can sustainably and equitably move forward. 

Maria Longenecker


Guatemala: Host families

Our families have been an integral part of our Guatemalan experience. At first, the idea of staying and living with a family we had never met before in an entirely new country was a bit frightening for a majority of us. The cultural and language barriers seemed to be the biggest worries, but once meeting our families we realized we were so, so welcomed. Everyone was received with open arms and truly treated like a family member. In my own experience, I shared a host family with my on-campus roommate and we’re both so grateful! We now have amazing memories of an amazing family that we get to share forever. Our family taught us what a community within a family looks like. Our host mom especially showed us what it means to be a kind and sharing person with everyone around her. She is the most selfless and caring being I have met, and I’m extremely grateful to have been her host daughter for two months. Saying goodbye was such a heartbreak! I believe I reflect all of my peers by saying that our host families truly became our families and a little piece of home in Guatemala. 



Querida casita en San Cristóbal 

Gracias por tu amabilidad 

Y por el amor que nos enseñaste 

Gracias por recibirnos con un abrazo fuerte

que fue acompañado por perros ladrando 

 y cuetes ruidosos

Gracias por tener una panadería tan cerca 

Siempre teniendo pan fresco y calientito 

Gracias por mi cuarto y terraza 

Desde donde podía ver el hermoso paisaje de un volcán 

Gracias por las desayunos, almuerzos y cenas en familia 

Gracias a nuestra familia por demostrarnos el amor Guatemalteco 

Cuanto los extrañare familia y casita en Panorama

-Arelys Martinez Fabian


Guatemala: Take the Plunge

Plunging into Cultural Learning

Guatemala is a paradoxical paradise. That’s what Israel Ortiz told us on the first day of orientation in the second-floor CASAS meeting room. I remember sitting in that room, full of excitement. I was ready to fully plunge into this new paradise.

Three weeks later I’m panicking while clinging to a rock with all my strength, almost fully submerged in the rapids of Rio Azul in Huehuetenango. Maybe I plunged in a little too literally. I had been flying my drone through the river’s gorge to capture the splendor when a gust of wind took my drone directly into a tree where it then crash-landed on the opposite bank of the river where I stood helpless with the controller. One of our leaders decided to traverse the raging river to recover my drone. Feeling bad about the predicament I had caused, I clamored along the bank to offer him a hand. The next thing I knew I had slipped into the river. I managed to grab hold of a rock before being swept away. The current was so strong it took all my strength to keep from being pulled under. I was terrified. Thankfully, Nate and Josh were nearby to pull me out. The drone miraculously recovered with only 24 hours of trusty rice treatment. Paradoxically, our leader and my drone had made it back to the bank safely while my rescue attempt had put me in a perilous situation.

Along with river expeditions, a part of daily Guatemala life is navigating the public bus system. To catch the transurbano, we flag down the buses with an arm wave. The bus will normally pull over, but if it doesn’t, do not run across three lanes of traffic to catch it. I am not speaking from experience. It’s standard to be safe with your belongings on the transurbano by putting your backpack in front. I learned the importance of this simple safety hack when my phone was pickpocketed right out of my backpack by two women while disembarking from a crowded bus. My heart sank when I looked down at my backpack and saw the zipper unzipped and the pocket open wide. Moments of tranquility in our routine activities can become quickly intertwined with moments of vulnerability.

And while explorations to new regions of Guatemala and navigating the public bus system are great ways to learn about culture, the greatest cultural learnings come from my lovely host family. Every evening they send me to buy tortillas from down the street. When I asked them how often they buy tortillas, they told me three times a day. Since I have arrived, we have yet to go a meal without them. That’s why I found it oddly comforting when we went out to eat at Pollo Campero and my mom snuck out a bag of warm tortillas from her purse when our food arrived. My host family is first-time hosts and very excited to show me about their culture and family. That’s why they did not hesitate at my cousin’s birthday party to push me in front of the crowd for a dance competition hosted by a clown. I didn’t know the dance, or the song being played, so I made up my own moves while the crowd of 50 onlookers laughed. I was only a little embarrassed.

Intercultural is hard. I have been willing myself to be the easy-going, traveler, badass girl of my dreams. And I am her. But I am also lonely and sad and tired. I hope I don’t forget this—what it’s like to be here. The good and the bad. Adjusting to a new culture is difficult, but at the same time, it is so wonderful. It’s like some paradoxical paradise or something, and I’m grateful that I fully plunged in.

-Mariana Acosta


Guatemala: Independent Travel Week

During the week of spring break for the rest of EMU, the Guatemala intercultural students had the chance to travel in small groups around Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador. We planned the trips ourselves and were given the opportunity to go anywhere we wanted (with the approval of our leaders, of course). Here’s a short summary from each group about their trip! 

Ally, Miranda, and Eli hiked up Indians Nose outside San Juan La Laguna and watched the sunrise.

Miranda, Ally, and I spent our week around Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. We were in Panajachel for three nights before we took a boat across the lake to San Pedro where we stayed for the rest of the week. Our three main highlights of the trip were zip lining, weaving, and a sunrise hike in addition to the numerous tuk-tuk rides, exploring all the little towns around the lake, and meeting other travelers. Zip lining was an exciting experience with awesome views. It had seven different lines with two of them being long rides over the lake. During our weaving class, we each got to make our own scarf. We were all very tired and had some sore backs by the end of the six-hour class but it definitely gave us a new appreciation of what goes into handmade textiles. For the sunrise hike, we were picked up at 4:00 am along with a group of others. Indians Nose wasn’t a long hike but was very steep. The view was well worth the early morning as we all enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the lake/volcanos while drinking organic chocolate. I’d say it was a successful week!

– Eli Ours

Lane, Arelys, Kate, and Marie Isabella went to El Salvador and learned a lot about the assassination of Catholic Bishop Romero. 

The Peace is Won 

The peace is won with bloodied hand and the tear-streaked cheeks of children.
The peace is bought and paid by stainless steel cages and the cries of innocence.
The peace reminds of a time not far past, of another impudent government of control.
What cost does the woman running fearless after dark believe can be justly paid, each hard-won right wrest from the freedom and life of another?
The people rejoice a cool dictator, deliverance for many and the cost of the few.
A woman chokes her cry under the bush of hidden safety, ears strained for familiar cries.
The peace is won with bloodied hands, but is held and used with clean ones.

Sunset at El Tunco, El Salvador: Lane, Kate, Arelys, Marie Isabella

-Lane Burkholder


Our group went to El Salvador for free travel. Our first stop was Santa Ana where we hiked a volcano and ate lots of pupusas. We then made our way down the coast by public bus (which was an adventure) where we settled in La Libertad. We enjoyed some days at the beach, surfing, swimming, and relaxing in the sun. Finally, we bussed over to San Salvador to learn about Monseñor Romero and visit the national artisan market and the newly opened library. We enjoyed connecting and comparing what we have been learning in Guatemala about gangs and the civil war to El Salvador. We are grateful for the people that we met along the way who were willing to help us and share with us their perspectives, and the delicious pupusas.

– Hollyn Miller 

Rose garden created to remember the 6 Jesuits and 2 women murdered, Centro Monseñor Romero at Universidad Centroamericana








Semuc Champey!

Naomi Kratzer, Ella Brubaker, and I decided to stay in Guatemala for our free travel week to explore some of the northeastern region of  the country.  We spent a day splashing around in the crystalline pools of Semuc Champey (look it up!) tucked deep into the jungle of Alta Verapaz. Swimming through a cave while attempting to keep alive the only light source (a candle), and cliff jumping by a waterfall straight from a storybook were some other highlights. But nothing good comes easy, as we spent the good part of two days getting to and from Semuc. A valuable lesson we learned during our week was to add about 3 hours on top of every ETA, except for bus rides helmed by a driver who either had no fear or didn’t know where the brake was. 

After our time in the jungle pools, we continued our northeast trek to Rio Dulce, where we canoed and explored El Castillo de San Felipe, a fortress built in 1652 to fend off pirates (spoiler alert: the pirates won). We also spent some time in Livingston, a Caribbean coastal town only reachable by a boat ride through the river, flanked by jungle, granite cliffs, and some mean-looking pelicans. Livingston is certainly a unique place, with a large Garífuna presence (look it up!) and the only white sand beach in Guatemala, which like most things in this area, is only accessible by a boat ride. 

And just as we were safely tucked in our return bus home, we had our last adventure as our 5-hour trip stretched painfully into 8 due to a broken down bus. But on the bright side, I got to have my first ride in a double-decker bus, which thankfully rescued us. 

All in all, we returned to Guatemala City content with our adventures and largely unscathed, (minus Naomi’s pinky toe). What a week!

– Leah Beachey 

This past week, Nate, Mana, and I (Joshua) had the opportunity to travel to Belize for our week of free travel. Belize is, quite simply, an entirely different culture, despite just recently having been a part of Guatemala. While there, we got to experience what is known as “Garífuna” culture, characterized by intensely syncopated music, a different style of food, and a grand mixture of languages – English, Creole, and Spanish.
In between snorkeling with nurse sharks,
meeting Dutch people,

Mana, Nate, and Joshua at Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve, Belize

 hiking up mountains, and swimming in waterfalls, we were able to get to know this culture a little better. I had a conversation on a bus with a local man about the immigration situation in Belize – it is far different from the situation in Guatemala. The citizens of Belize easily obtain visas and come to work in the US, frequently returning home to build houses and support their families. Questions have been raised recently about the purpose of travel. For me, this is the purpose of travel – to come to know and understand the many different people of the world and their situations – because that is something that the world is often sorely lacking.

– Joshua Stucky 



Guatemala: Education

10 March 2024

Education – Investing in the future

Two weeks ago our group focused on education in Guatemala. We listened to a presentation and got a tour at Casa Horeb about the school program they run called EduVida. They offer free classes for people of all ages who are looking to further their education as they see their studies as something to help them become someone. Part of EduVida’s work is to empower their students by acknowledging all that they already have to offer the world while also teaching them technological skills through computers and online platforms that will equip them to work and contribute in a way that modern society demands. Some of the struggles EduVida faces is maintaining a sustainable team of volunteer

Photo: Elaine Zook Barge

teachers and supporting dropout students who can’t afford to make ends meet while working a job, supporting a family & investing in their future through school. While holding all of these obstacles, there are many signs of hope amidst the work that EduVida is doing. One that has stuck with me is a volunteer teacher in his 70s who teaches online classes while also battling cancer. His persistence and investment in his community is something that will have lasting effects for the next generations. 

We also visited Escuela Oficial Urbana Mixta where 300 children attend school every day. They offer morning classes held by 12 teachers and afternoon classes held by 10 teachers. In Guatemala, the government spends $809 per student yearly as opposed to $16,000 per student in the US. This leaves teachers with a limited budget to supply the classroom and also leaves classes with an average size of 40-60 kids. For many students, school is the last time to be a kid and most don’t even move past 6th grade, as it is not required. This specific school is making an effort to support their families. They offer night, weekend, and even radio classes to students who cannot come to school during the day. They are also intentional about reaching out to families who have kids at risk of joining gangs. Doing intentional work like this is really hard to do with minimal support and aid from the government. But this school is one of the many signs of resilience throughout Guatemala where people choose to lean on one another and support their communities in the ways they can. 

Visiting these places of learning motivated me to think of the way education is viewed here in Guatemala. Something EduVida emphasized was the way students view education as a luxury. Things must fall into place for their families to be able to experience this luxury. If their parent needs help working the family business during the day, then that comes first. If one parent has left for the US and there are kids that need to be looked after, then that means holding off on basic education to support the family. This reality comes in many forms for families in Guatemala.

Photo: Ella Brubaker

I can’t help but think of the ways generational trauma is impacting the opportunities kids and even adults have to invest in their education. I dream of the ways that this reality is shifting little by little because of organizations like these. I acknowledge the contrast in experiences between people in the US, recognizing all the corruptness of our US influence that has led Guatemalans to this point. And I question the ways we can aspire to be change agents to provide the education that everybody deserves. As university students, we continue to ask these questions and to learn about the journeys that are much different from our own.

Hollyn Miller


Guatemala: Human Rights

Legacy of the armed conflict

This week (February 18-23)  we focused on human rights and learned about Bishop Gerardi. He was a significant person in Guatemala who focused on uncovering the human rights violations committed by the military upon the indigenous community in the 1960s. We watched a documentary about the murder of Monsignor Gerardi that was called, “The Art of Political Murder.” The documentary discussed the massive impact many people faced when Gerardi died in 1998, as well as the impunity and lack of fear

Bishop Gerardi – Foto: Prensa Libre Guatemala

of repercussions the military displayed. Gerardi was a person who provided a voice to many people who were not allowed to speak about their pain and what happened to their community. During the years of civil war (1960–1996) the military was displacing, brutally murdering, and trying to wipe out the indigenous communities. Their stated intentions were to eradicate the enemy known as the “Guerillas”, however, Gerardi devoted himself to publicizing the truth and the true intentions of the massacres. A statistical fact that astonished me was that the military caused 93% of the war’s atrocities, while the guerillas only caused 3% and the last 4% remaining was unknown. It spoke volumes about how much destruction and trauma the military caused and that many people still face today. 

The next day we went to Monsignor Gerardis’ office and talked to one of the team members. We asked if they still face the danger of working with human rights. She discussed how two weeks ago they were robbed and their computers were the only things that were stolen. They believed it was politically motivated and that the thieves were somehow related to the military. Even today there is the governmental threat of hiding secrets of violations that happened. 

Overall this week was full of overwhelming information on how much damage the military did, and how there are communities still affected by it to this day.

Marie Isabella Spaulding 


Guatemala: Tikal y Cobán Reflexión

23 February 2024

Our most recent trip took us north. We spent a full seven days split between the northern rainforests of Tikal and the high-altitude city of Cobán in Alta Vera Paz. The theme for the week was Nature & Environment, so we visited the ancient Mayan Ruins in Tikal National Park and lived with an organization called Community Cloud Forest Conservation for a few days as well. 

Photo: Mana Acosta

The Tikal visit was incredible- it is humbling to look upwards at stone structures that were built 1.5 thousand years ago, more or less, and not know much about the society that built them. In the US we tear down large buildings about every 100-150 years, and our houses only after about 50-70 years! I was glad to hear that the park gets many visitors each year because the ancient Mayan culture is an important history to continue sharing, especially as the modern indigenous culture continues to change and grow in this country. On the flip side, tourism from the park requires hotels and roads with carbon emissions and noise that continue to divide the Petén rainforest into smaller and smaller chunks. Sigh… there are many paradoxes in this country. Our tour guide was a wealth of knowledge and he spoke English the entire tour which was something that he learned during the Pandemic. The English language is a very helpful tool in the Guatemalan workforce and is increasingly more valuable for employment within the tourism sector.

The most memorable part of the trip for me was our time in the mountains outside of Cobán. We spent a full 3 days living at CCFC, an organization that focuses on sustainable living through a variety of outlets. Their WALC program educates Indigenous women about sustainable practices which they bring back to their villages, and at the same time promotes leadership through teaching and program management. The lodge also hosts elementary schoolers throughout the entire

Community Cloud Forest Conservation Photo: Mana Acosta

Cobán region for 3-4 days as a form of outdoor education and advocacy. The entire establishment harnesses energy from hydroelectric and solar energy sources. The surrounding land also provides a large portion of their food so that there are days on end when no one needs to drive into town. This aspect of their program was pretty impressive at such a large scale! A really cool part of our stay was getting assigned compañeras, women from the surrounding villages, around our age, who were teachers in the WALC program. It was fun to make connections through a language that for most of us was not our first (most of the womens’ first language was not Spanish, but a language from their villages like Q’eqchi and Quiché). Much of what I learned from that trip came from my new friend, Sara. 🙂

The big question that we brushed up against was what to do about the ominous climate crisis. The CCFC is an incredible example of action and advocacy and we were reminded once again of our own ability to create change. How could action and advocacy translate into our own lives as college students in Harrisonburg and beyond? This is always a daunting question. There were points of despair, and also doubts in the permanency of our inspired ideas. Change takes time and work. It can seem like an uphill battle to change a lifestyle, and guilt can appear when we feel like we aren’t doing enough. 

A comment from someone in the group added a new perspective: What if the things that we “add” to our lives are actually moments for mental health and rest? What if our tiny steps in climate action provide moments of solitude or connection with our environment? The quietness of hanging clothes on the line. The rhythm that comes with digging a row of holes for seeds. The breaths of fresh air that accompany your walk to work. These actions in our lives do require a little more time from our packed days, but they can also provide necessary moments of respite and solitude that feed our souls, not drain them. 

So, that is a question that I continue to mull over. Climate action and advocacy looks different for everyone, and each person knows their limits. But perhaps looking at the way forward through this mental health lens could provide a healthier plan and brighter outlook for our engagement in this. I hope to continue thinking and talking about these possibilities! 

And now, on to the next week.

– Naomi Kratzer




Guatemala: Threads of Connection

9 February 2024

As part of our intercultural experience, we are taking Spanish classes for about four hours every morning through CASAS, or Central America Study and Service cultural immersion program. We are in small groups and paired up with a teacher. So far, we have learned through cooking, singing Guatemalan songs, acting out skits, reading Central American literature, and even a trip to the zoo, of course in addition to traditional classroom learning. I like the immersive atmosphere of learning in this way, but I also deeply appreciate how we are in classes small enough that we can ask our teachers questions about life in Guatemala and get real answers.

The more we study Spanish, the more I, an English Education major, come to appreciate English and the study of language. Let me explain.

My whole life I have loved language. I love writing, reading, and communicating my point clearly. I love to read a well-written book, compose a perfectly flowing essay, or eloquently tell others what I want them to know. I appreciate language. I started appreciating language more when I took Introduction to Linguistics (shoutout Wendell Shank) last spring. It was a wonderful class that taught me the importance of parts of speech and just how differently languages communicate the same idea. Being in Guatemala has only grown that appreciation more. For example, I love that the sentence in Spanish “yo se quiero darle” doesn’t translate perfectly to English. If we translated it word for word, we would hear: “I you want to give it.” The idea is the same — “I want to give it to you” — but we can’t say it exactly the same way in both languages. I think that is fascinating. In English, you just follow right along with the idea from point A to point B. In Spanish you almost have to listen to the whole sentence before you can fully understand what the person is trying to say. If you’re not getting the whole sentence, you’re grasping at straws (words) trying to figure out what is going on.

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Guatemala: Everyone Is Affected by Migration

5 February 2024

Last Saturday through Wednesday, our group had the opportunity to visit Huehuetenango and Jacaltenango, both located in the Western highlands of Guatemala. The five to six-hour drive to Huehuetenango was rough for those who get carsick easily, but beautiful as we observed tree-laden mountains and stunning volcanoes along the way. In Huehuetenango, we stopped to visit the archeological site Zaculeu, which had ancient Mayan temples we

Zaculeu  Photo – N. Kratzer

could climb. Unfortunately, the original temples were covered in concrete, turning them into a playground for tourists. The beauty of the original structures will now always be hidden under a “modern” shell. I wonder what other historical and cultural sites have been “fixed” to accommodate tourist interest. After lunch, we drove about four more hours to Jacaltenango, a beautiful area full of trees and with small streets that our bus struggled to fit in. While we were in Jacaltenango, we visited Rio Azul, swam in a pool, and ate street food at the Féria there.

I think that for many, the beginning of the trip represented a break from the full schedule of classes and a chance to explore more of Guatemala. However, the overall purpose of the trip was much more important than seeing more breathtaking scenery. On Monday we visited Pop No’j, an organization that empowers Mayan

Group at Rio Azul Photo – CASAS

communities by encouraging their participation in advocating for their rights and accompanying them in their journey to have a better life. They also walk alongside children and adolescents who have been deported or returned voluntarily from the United States. To start our activities with them, they invited us to participate in a Mayan practice, where six candles of different colors are lit to recognize the energy that the day carries.

Mayan ceremonial candles  Photo – M. Beidler

After learning about their various programs, we met with Robby and Ari, a family they have worked with. Robby is a twelve-year-old boy who migrated to the United States with his mom but had to take care of himself there, because his mom had to work. Because of this lack of support, he along with an older cousin, journeyed back to Guatemala together. His older sister, Ari, who is now his guardian, shared that he had a lot of trauma when he returned. When asked about the migration process, she said that the migration journey is not worth it because it affects everyone and only creates more trauma for families. She believes that there needs to be more investment in communities here, because otherwise, people will continue migrating for any possible chance of a better life. I am grateful for the family’s willingness to share, and I think it was an important reminder of the impact migration has on kids and young adults. We have to remember that they are one story of many and that many children do not have support from organizations like Pop No’j or family members once they return. 

The next day we were going to visit one of the borders between Guatemala and Mexico. However, because narcotraffickers had taken over the highway it was recommended that we not go. Our group was privileged to have connections that warned us of the narco takeover, but many migrants do not have that opportunity. Regardless, many people in transit would continue even if there was danger to their safety or a huge risk of extortion and physical violence. While we were leaving Jacaltenango, our bus was stopped by the police to check our driver’s papers. We learned that police routinely stop bigger vehicles, because they are checking for any migrants who might be aboard. I cannot imagine the fear that people must face every time a bus they are on is stopped. If they are caught, they will be returned to the country they left.  Continue reading