Category Archives: Guatemala & Colombia 2013

Service Learning in Colombia

Group photo at Sembrandopaz farm, including MCC workers and Sembrandopaz organizers I visited Medellin, Colombia for our week of service learning during the semester. On Thursday, April 11, Emma Dalen, EMU graduate Jessica Sarriot, and I took the Medellin metro to Interamericana Filadelfio church which hosts a program called Fundacion Raices de Fe, or, Foundation Roots of Faith, for students ages 8-17. It is a before and after school program because the schools have half day schedules and the kids need something to do the other half of the day. I’m an art and digital media major, so the program asked me to plan and lead some art lessons for the students. I’ve never taught an art lesson or led a bunch of kids before, so I was pretty nervous about how challenging it might be, especially with my limited Spanish.  The morning group was about 30 students and arrived around 9:00.

We began with painting. Each student had a small piece of a photo to copy on a bigger paper. When everyone finished we put the parts together to make the bigger picture. It ended up being a little abstract, but the kids had lots of fun. Then we made origami paper cranes. Here I could really tell that these kids wanted attention and affirmation, more than any other kids I have met. They paid really close attention to each step I demonstrated, and when they got it right, they ran up to me and showed me what they did and waited until I told them it looked good. With 30 students, this was a bit hectic. Emma and Jessica were great helpers, showing the children what I was demonstrating up front.  Around 11:30, the first group left to go to school and Emma, Jessica, and I got a break to eat lunch, play Rummy-Q with the pastor of the church and prepare for the 32 students that came around 2:00.

With this group, we did the photo enlargement activity again but with pencils to teach them about shading. Then we made cranes and painted as table groups the things that were most important to them. Again, without the support of Jessica and Emma, things would have gone badly. This group was much rowdier and messier, but they also showed incredible creativity. I was very impressed by some of the creative and clever things the kids in both groups came up with.  I hope they learned something about art or at least became a little more comfortable with displaying their artistic side.

This experience for me was stressful and out of my comfort zone, but it was an important learning experience and an opportunity for me to give back a small amount of what the people in Guatemala and Colombia have given to me on this trip.

– Karla Hovde


April 6

Today I woke up at 4:45 a.m. to the sounds of engines, shouting, Lani Prunés walking alongside La Caminata, a march to demand reparations for violence displacement in Bolivar, Colombia and roosters. It was day one of La Caminata, a march of 700 farmers from the Montes de Maria, who plan to march for a week to Cartagena, 180 kilometers from here. By the time I was ready, all 700 people were packed, dressed in their marching green shirts and straw hats, standing at the start ready to walk. The mounds of food they had all brought from their communities was loaded in the trucks, hammocks cleared from trees, and so at dawn we began.

We cheered as we marched. “La montana?” “Presente!” People would come out of their houses when we walked through neighborhoods, clapping at the cheers, giving leaders money to support the cause, or just smiling and watching us go past. They knew well why we marched for 6 hours in the hot Colombian sun to San Jacinto that day: so that these families and many more can finally receive government assistance after years of unused medical clinics and vacant schools with unpaid teachers, and so that communities could finally feel the support of a government that cares for their crops, their roads, their futures. And so, with determination under each step, and accordion music in our ears, we marched, and will march, until justice has been felt by Monte Maria.

– Lani Prunés

April 2

Today we had two interesting visits, but the speaker at the first one, Cesar Garcia, said something that was very interesting for me, and in many ways serves to reaffirm my belief in pacifism. Cesar said that the armed revolutionary movements created the conditions that led to the paramilitaries, and together, the two groups created an armed struggle which served to move more people off their land and further aggravated the gap between rich and poor. Ironically, the armed revolutionary movements were created specifically to combat this gap. It seems to me that this is a recurring theme on this trip. Violence does not address the problems that it was formed to address; instead, it often aggravates them. I’m left wondering what would have happened if the money and energy used on the armed movement had been used for a peace movement instead. Might Colombia be more peaceful today?

– David Yoder

April 13

Last day in Medellin, Colombia

Today was a great ending of our time with Jess Sarriot  We just hung out around the house and packed and ate, talking and laughing the whole time.  Then we went to a nail studio 1) to talk to the woman who ran the salon because she was displaced and 2) so Karla could get her nails done.  Jebeisa was a beautiful black woman originally from Choco.  She was very welcoming of our questions and she felt it was important to tell her story.  It took much longer than the usual 45 minute nail treatment for us to hear it all.

On May 3, 2009 Jebeisa and her husband were sitting in their living room around 7:00 in the evening when a man broke in the door and shot her husband in the head and her through the left forearm, breast and right thigh.  She doesn’t remember who was shot first but that her son was safe in his room.  She came to from a coma 29 days later, in Medellin.  After about three months of recovery her son joined her in Medellin where they have been living ever since.  She had a hard time getting things together with the insurance and government aid at first but with the help of her mom and dad it all came together and she owns the studio, her home, and is remarried as of 8 months ago.  When we asked her who did it, she said nobody in the world could tell.  It’s a common thing and it’s even harder to tell the reasons.  I was amazed by how calm she was, she laughed a surprising amount and never once cried.  She was an amazingly strong lady.  Karla and I talked later about the numbness and vitality due to fragility complex that such violent societies assume.  The U.S. is numbed to violence because of the media and entertainment, whereas Colombia is numbed due to the daily reality, but that same reality also makes life more precious too, in some cases.

After our time with Jebeisa we literally ran back to the house to grab our stuff and take a taxi to the bus station where we had lunch with Oscar, and got the opportunity to write down a timeline for him.  We had a good goodbye with him before he had to leave, then just sat in the café with Jess and talked with her about sustainability and life in general.  I really hope that this relationship can continue.  We all had a really good time.  The best part of the trip was getting to know Jess and learning through her about so many cool things.  I also loved that it was such a small group that allowed for more intimate contact within and in relation to other groups, organizations and individuals.  This was definitely in the top three best parts of cross cultural.

– Emma Dalen


Challenges and callings

March 11, 2013

La Limonada It’s crazy to think that even among all the challenges this trip has brought into our lives- challenges of former beliefs, relationships, hopes, needs, and faith- that one could feel a call from God and have it ring true.

We traveled in two groups (one on the 27th and one on the 28th of February) to a part of Guatemala City called La Limonada. La Limonada is considered a “zona roja” by the Guatemalan government and an uninhabitable place that leaves a bad taste in your mouth by the Guatemalan people. Made up of 10 barrios each run by rival gangs, it serves as a border between zones 1 and 5 and houses roughly 60,000 people in an area 1 mile by 1/2 a mile. It is the largest urban slum in Central America. The people who live there face many challenges, including lack of education and job opportunities, spiritual darkness, unsustainable living conditions, no running water or electricity, and a stigma of living in a sub-culture of extreme poverty that leads to illegal activity and a culture of fear.

So what could possibly compel someone- especially a white, English-speaking woman- to return to a place like that? Some may say that it’s the hope that organizations like Lemonade International bring to the area. Founded by cooperation between Guatemalan Tita Evertsz and U.S. aid organizations,Colt Duttweiler interacts with a small child in the nursery at the La Limonada school Lemonade International has six programs established to help the people of La Limonada. These include two academies, scholarship programs, vocational training and a micro-enterprise program, a community of faith program, community development program, and the Mi Casita safe home, which I will be returning to for my week of independent travel; alone. Although organizations like these certainly provide many with hope, I can’t say that my nursing background would lead me to choose this place solely because of that hope. Without a doubt or any hesitation, I’d say that this choice was a call from God. Ojalá que (God willing) I’ll stay safe and not only be able to help out next week, but be able to learn from the people who, according to others, aren’t worth listening to.

-Afton Vanderwarker


This is a very obvious type one incident* but it continues to bother me! And I’m continuing to withdraw instead of trying to figure it out, because in my opinion, there is no ethical reasoning behind this action.

* A Type 1 incident is when we are offended by something in the host culture and are tempted to withdraw in disgust.  It is resolved when we consider and understand the logical reasons for that behavior or custom. –Craig Storti (2001)The Art of Crossing Cultures

So today we get back from our week long trip and like other Sundays, my family and I go to church in the evening, but this time I noticed something different. As we walk onto the church property there is a young man standing there with a HUGE PERSON-KILLING GUN. Of course I see these on a daily basis in front of every store or building, but outside of the church gave me such a weird feeling.

As if that wasn’t enough, the entire sermon was about peace! Sharing peace, promoting peace, loving PEACE!

Ah, Irony! I know guns/guards here are extremely cultural and come from a heightened sense of needed protection and (many times) justified fear, but I just can’t see past the irony of accepting guns outside the church while preaching a life of “peace like Jesus”.

Granted this phenomenon of gun toting Christians is the same in the U.S., just not quite as visible. I definitely feel like it’s a type one incident and I don’t have the patience to hear the explanation. I’m stuck in my ways and I have no desire to change, only the desire for others to change.

This brings the question, “Am I culturally stuck in my pacifist Mennonite ways, or is this a Biblical truth?” I’d like to think it’s a truth. Isn’t “peace” and the meaning of it translated the same everywhere?

I hate being so “stuck in the mud” and “closed minded” on an issue, but I am!

-Emily Shenk


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

Valuing life and hospitality

February 6, 2013

What words can describe the loss of thousands of human lives?  It is a good thing that the FAFG, Forensic Anthropology Organization, are doing in giving identities to those lost to the terrible tragedies that occurred here in Guatemala just a short couple of decades ago.  The emptiness left in each family and village is weighed by hundreds of boxes stored in areas of the FAFG.

What is life?  Why is it so sacred to us?  How can we so easily extinguish from a fellow human that which we hold so dear?

Within us all there lies a spark.  Properly cared for it grows and enflames us- consumes us.  It all began from One- a Holy Fire.  So why does it ever change and become cold inside?  That which thrives is that which is fed.  Do we feed the fire of God’s love that is sparked in us and then spread it to others?  Or do we grow cold and extinguish the flame- cutting off the Breath of Life and thus extinguishing more flames?  Where does it end?  How does it heal?  Sometimes ashes create a land most fertile.  Sometimes a way to rebuild and renew can start with a single seed or another spark.

-Abigail Carr

The following poem is in response to our visit to the Forensic Anthropology Organization.


Boxes boxes of the dead,

At the feet of living spread,

While the living hope and pray,

That they might have food today.

– Colt Duttweiler


February 17, 2013

K'ekchi host family Last week we were paired up with students from K’ekchi indigenous families who attend school in Copan.  We visited their homes and experienced many different ways of life through their families and their hospitality.  The following is a reflection on one of those experiences.

The visit to the village of Leticia was such a good learning experience and view into a life completely different from my own.  One of the things that most stuck out to me was the open curiosity toward Randi and I.  The children were the most open about their curiosity and in some ways the most interested in us, as could be expected.  When we unpacked our bags for the night they stood around us, following every move closely.  If I sat down in the yard somewhere it wasn’t long before they crowded around me laughing and crawling onto my lap or sitting close beside me.  They were also very excited to act as our tour guides, leading us to their gardens and animals and watching our faces to see what we thought.  It was really fun and kind of an honor to spend time with them because they were so interested in us.

The adults, I think, were just as curious toward the pair of gringas in their village, but their age made them more cautious than the kids.  When we walked into the small Catholic Church, all eyes immediately went to us, examining our clothes, skin, faces.  Never in my life have I been such an object of fascination, and normally this kind of an experience would be really uncomfortable, but the open curiosity of the people was more innocent than menacing.  It was such a neat opportunity to share friendship with the children and people of the village (whenever I caught someone looking during the service and smiled at them, they smiled really warmly back; it was fun) and to take memories and a good look at a vastly different lifestyle and way of living.   I will remember these two days for a long time.  I connected this experience to how Columbus and other European explorers must have felt upon arriving in Central America, but will never be able to understand how someone could ignore the beauty of a new culture and opportunity for friendship and learning in the face of greed.

– Katie Eckman


Vulnerability and suprises

Zach Coverdale explores the lava-encrusted mountain The culture shock described in our readings this week was presented in a very real way, but I can’t identify with it. I feel comfortable with the customs and ways of the people and seem to be able to relate and find common ground with them. What is the hardest for me is the shallowness and childishness I feel. My knowledge and language are at a place where I cannot be quite as extravagant in my Spanish conversations as in my English. Spanish is a beautiful tongue and has the potential for weaving beautiful webs of words, strings of images and wisdom. I’m not there. Someday, yes, but I am still stuck, an adolescent in a man’s body, while I am among lots of sophisticated native speakers. It is through this language vulnerability that I have an opportunity to grow and receive from others.

– Zach Coverdale


Sunday January 20, 2013

After an exhausting first week did I really want to get up at 5 a.m. on my Saturday morning to hike a volcano? No. But a wise man once said, you more often regret that which you did not do than that which you did. A convoluted way of saying YOLO.

So I decided to go. Plus everyone else was going. It’s a volcano in Guatemala, of course I’m going.

How beautiful. After some curvy roads we arrived at a base point, greeted immediately by young children waving walking sticks. “Stick!? Stick?” they would ask us, offering us a walking companion. I didn’t buy a 5Q (less then $1) walking stick. I wish I would have now…darn wise sayings.

The hike was great exercise and oh so rewarding. It took about an hour and a half to get to the top. The views were breathtaking and impossible to capture with pen or camera. The steaming volcano was a great reminder of Nature’s power. I don’t care what human structure you build on the side of that sleeping giant. If that thing erupts, my money is on the volcano.

I hope I have the energy for the coming week. Lord, give me the strength to keep actively listening, persistently questioning, and always applying.

-Everett Brubaker


Chris Bates, Landon Heavener, and David Yoder in a tree along the hike Monday, Jan. 21st a mi casa, 9:47 p.m.

Wow!  At first, I thought I knew little to no Spanish at all.  While this is mostly true still, I need to acknowledge that I just survived a 3 hour conversation one on one.  My sister, Alejandra, or Ale, is out for the night at her university; so naturally, me and my mom made dinner together and began to converse about her job.  As I aspire to be a social worker, it is beyond perfect that she has been working in social work for just over 27 years!  Somehow, I understood 90% or more of the conversation and pieced together the rest.  She showed me how she evaluates custody and pension between separated parents and children by drawing out budgets, estimated costs, and evaluating living situations.  Ironically, Myra and her ex spouse went through the same process she now does for other people, and I am humbled that she used her exact, historically accurate situation as an example, while also letting me learn from what she and Ale went through as a result of the father’s irresponsibility.

Obviously I was extremely in the social work process here and as the conversation went on, I found my brain slowly switching into Spanish mode.  I had my first functional, lengthy conversation!  And the best thing is, the social problems/social work process here is not so different from those that exist in the U.S. and those that I began to explore last semester.  I have never had a sister before, or a mom that needed a male in the house (as my Mom in the States deals with me, my two brothers, and my dad all by herself).  So it’s wonderful for me to experience these strong, hard working Guatemalteco women – and I am growing quite fond of them rather quickly.  They have already taught me a lot, and from my conversation with Myra earlier, I can see I have a lot to learn about myself as well as the social work process as a whole.  I’m blessed with the wonderful presence of these fine women.

– Chris Bates

Polarities and connections in Guatemala

The following is a response to studying the history of Guatemala and Central America, particularly regarding Spain and the Catholic Church’s efforts to convert and assimilate the natives to Spanish culture.  Through studying the history of Guatemala we are working toward a deeper understanding of the Guatemala of today and how it came to be.

January 10, 2012

“Exploring the shift from spiritual colonialism to solidarity and servanthood”.  To my understanding, when first seeking to convert other peoples to the Christian faith, [historically] the culture of those to be converted was somewhat overwritten.  True, the other culture remained, but it was usually Megan Nafziger looking at tombs in the cemetary changed, similar to colonialism.  Countries would start colonies in other areas and also in the process press their own culture on the natives.  Solidarity, on the other hand, brings to mind standing together and finding common ground in an area or issue.  Rather than focusing on what one can give to the other, in this case the message of the Bible, the focus is instead on working together and finding mutual ground in serving others and God as well as seeing what one can learn from those around them.

-Megan Nafziger


I am amazed at the level that I am fitting in with my family. It seems as though CASAS was able to figure out exactly what I desired in a host family because I cannot imagine a better one. The first night, my family went to Pizza Hut, and at night my brother and I played video games.

Today, while reading Christianity in Latin America, I had a long talk with my mom and dad about the significance of Mayan, Aztec, and Inca culture in Guatemalan history. Afterwards, my mom and I talked for a long time about language, the fears of a new language, my family and plenty of other things. I have definitely learned that this is what I need. To experience, Guatemala, this family is perfect. I learn best through experience, through impulsive and floundering conversations and especially through error. Already in these two days, I know that my family will teach me more than a classroom can.

-Landon Heavener


City dump In Guatemala, I have seen evidence of many polarities. I saw impressive displays of wealth, such as the National Palace, and just a block away, penniless beggars.  I saw a complete neglect of infrastructure and no evidence of traffic safety laws. I meet the warmest, friendliest people. I became an instant best friend and English dictionary to a bunch of little children who have no fear of strangers, but the bank nearby needs to be guarded by armed men. It will be a long time before I can adjust to these polarities. Maybe no one understands them, but just learns to accept them.

-Karla Hovde