Service learning at Bezaleel School and the cloud forest, lessons from New Horizons Cooperative community

On time spent in a rural K’ekchi village and at Bezaleel School

This church has wooden pews, about 50 people, and massive speakers. I don’t know what is going on and I can hardly talk to anyone. There is just one kid mashing out some pre-recorded keyboard songs and changing chords recklessly with the music. The only words I seem to understand are “hermanos” and “gringos,” but they smile every time they say it. There are two chickens tied up at a table over in the corner.

At my house, people watched us through the walls as if they were waiting for us to plug into the walls or climb out of our skin. A crowd gathered at night to watch us and listen to us talk. They never stopped staring at us, and waited through all the silences with eagerness; it almost felt like they were waiting for us to remember how to speak K’ekchi.

I taught English today in the school, and I hope that my future job goes Zach Coverdale and David Yoder scrabble against Bezaleel school's soccer team exactly like that class.  The students were way more eager to learn than any other student I have ever had in one of my practicums. Kids kept asking me what this or that meant, if stuff in his notes was right, or how to pronounce things. The thing that impressed me most was that two students asked me if they could show me an English conversation. It went something like this:

-Hello, how are you?

-Good, and you?

-Good, what is your name?

-_____, and what is your name?

-_____, nice to meet you.

-Nice to meet you, too.

They were so eager to show me this, and were so happy when I said good job. Their enthusiasm is refreshing and I hope to see it again in my classroom.

-Landon Heavener


Community Cloud Forest Conservation

The group in progress of hauling a eucalyptus tree from the forest to the job site We spent Monday night into Wednesday morning at CCFC. It is a group that works to conserve the cloud forest, while at the same time establishing community and promoting women’s rights. We spent the morning working on two work projects, including moving gravel and moving a heavy eucalyptus tree as a group. The work ethic of the group was amazing, especially as we established a bucket brigade with a rhythm. It also amazes me that we moved that huge tree through the forest and down that long road without hurting anyone. It was a great time to do some team building and we all really worked our hardest. Later in the afternoon, we swam in the creek and explored two caves.

I hadn’t realized all that Rob and Tara Cahill were doing with this farm, and their passion for their “life project” really had me thinking about my own passions. Not that I have to save the cloud forest, but I do want to do something in my life that will make a difference in someone’s life, and that will make me excited to live each day. In college it’s easy to get on one track and think about getting a job to be able to sustain yourself and a family; sometimes it’s easy to forget about the passions in life.

-Carmen Witmer


Nuevo Horizontes Cooperative

When the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, ending the civil war in Guatemala, a group of guerilla fighters emerged from the jungle in Peten after 17 years of life “underground” to form a community. A man who goes by the pseudonym “Fernandez” gave us a small glimpse into his involvement in the resistance and their transition to peacetime. In 1980, Fernandez was a Catholic catechist whose ideology had attracted the attention of the local military. An old friend in the paramilitary warned him one night that the government planned to assassinate him in a matter of hours, and Fernandez escaped to the jungle. “El bosque nos dió vida,” he explained. (The forest gave us life.) Eating poisonous snakes, brewing relaxing tea from allspice, and surviving in a landscape of natural and human predators brought together those who would neither flee nor surrender.

“La guerra no era contra la gente.” (The war was not against the people).  Though Fernandez’s band engaged in much armed conflict against the military, they never killed civilians. After the war ended, political repression did as well, and Fernandez’s guerilla group formed the 450-member cooperative of Nuevo Horizontes (New Horizons), a small dirt-road village in the northern jungle of Guatemala. “Aprendimos unidad, solaridad, transparencia; y esos valores dímos a Nuevo Horizontes.” (We learned unity, solidarity, transparency; and those values we gave to New Horizons.) All members contribute to the cooperative, with agriculture, cattle and tilapia husbandry, beehives, egg, and various businesses. They proudly built a school with the help of humanitarian organizations, from which 17 graduates have gone to college. Houses are deeded in the name of the family, and a husband that perpetrates domestic violence is exiled from the community. “La mujer no es un objeto – es una compañera, un hermano,” Fernandez commented about their views of gender. (The woman is not an object – she is a companion, a brother.) While they have done well capitalizing on peace, Fernandez also chastised the government for failing to uphold its end of the treaty with policies for social improvement.

– Randi B. Hagi