Twelve Weeks in Guatemala City
I arrived in Guatemala on Feb 20, and dove straight into starting programs. Was very fortunate to find a a place to live right smack in the middle of the action, zona 1. I am subletting a room at a friends house. I wanted to stay in zona 1 for many reasons. 1st to not have to wake up to traffic every morning to zona 1 where all the networking needs to be done and almost everywhere I need to go to work is within easy walking distance.
In Guate I felt the need to walk with the pueblo and bump into people and talk to them. It was a surreal experience for me. It was almost like going back to the 3 years i lived in Guate as a teenager.
We did two 4 day workshops at USAC. Sadly, during the course of the workshops two of the students were killed while getting snacks near the university. So sad.
We also started our annual programs at the all boy’s school in Zona 8.
You may remember that we did workshops in the PNC academy in 2009. Since then, they had a complete change of leadership both at the academy and in the PNC overall. Thanks to our work nurturing relationships, we were able to get in again this year. This year we are year round. Remember MIA”s goal is to get in the curriculum and this time we actually are in the midst of signing an agreement to be part of the curriculum on an ongoing basis. This is HUGE!!!
The PNC is in the middle of construction, there is a interium director who does not have the power to sign anything, but does have the power to allow us in every other Friday. We go in 5 classes per Friday and each class has between 40 and 60 students. I feel very optimistic that we wil be signing an agreement with the PNC Academy to adopt our campaign. I have been sitting with instructors and all of them want our manuals. It is a matter of time for the academy to have a stable director and then i think we be able to get a contract.
We’re finding that there are plenty of places ready to take us in to give the workshops. The biggest challenge for us is to find funding to make our work happen. I want to share with much pride that we were also able to get in with an agreement adopting our campaign. The department of health at USAC has welcomed us to their programs. I signed the agreement only days before my departure last May 15. This means that every single student that signs up to go to college will have to go through our classroom *as a requirement*. I am so new inside the USAC system that I still dont understand how this is going to unfold, but during my time here i am in constant contact with their personnel that we are are going to plan it out. USAC is the model and when MIA is able to hire permanent staff, we will be moving in to some of the satellites of USAC. We will become a BIG movement within the university.
I’ve also been dealing with the challenges of getting MIA recognized at a nonprofit in Guatemala. The latest was that my name was misspelled on some paperwork and I had to get it corrected and resubmitted, adding two weeks to the process. In addition, I had to get an ID card at the Guatemalan DMV, and in the process learned that my fathers name on my birth certificate was some stranger, a name I’d never heard of before. This opened up an old wound, my not really knowing who my birth father was. During this trip, I also was spending some time tracking down my birth father. Apparently I’m the result of an Immaculate Conception, which sounds better than not knowing who my father is. My blood father, according to the latest story I hear, was a boss in a bus company where my mother’s then-ex-husband worked. My father had been a bus driver and worked his way up to being the boss. Later, he was killed when returning home from work.
Also met with the Association of Widows of the bus drivers killed while working. As you may know, there have been hundreds of bus drivers killed on duty in the last few years. A reporter asked me why I was getting involved with the bus driver widows and I started crying: I realized right then it was through what happened to my blood father that leaves me feeling so closely connected with the widows.
We are working on a program to help the widows get into small businesses by creating micro loans. In a micro loan program, we would sponsor the women to get basic training on how to make a business work, and a small amount of funding, about $100, to get the means to make their business happen. This is the newest cause MIA adopted, and stuggled with it, because we barely have money for the campaign, but to see the widows going in circles trying to help themselves I could not look the other way. When I visited their little whole in the wall there were five women that for some reason I connected stongly and asked if they would be willing to attend a workshop on Sundays at Jenny’s house. They all come from a distance, one comes from a 2 hour and a half distance and tends to be the one who arrives first. They have been meeting for four Sundays in a row except last Sunday because of the Pacaya volcano and Tropical Storm Agatha. Through Jenny we were able to find them counseling for free on Saturdays too. These women have had no time to grieve. They were forced over night to pick up the pieces for their children and have not had the chance to be swallowed by their pain., and allow themselves to grieve.
I want to end with telling you a little about our facilitators. They are six young men who come from different schools within USAC. Two are artists, who are studying to become music teachers. Our longtime friend Randy from Colectivo Rogelia Cruz is going to school to become an archeologist. William is going for a teaching degree, Gary is going for business administration and Derick is about to graduate as a civil engineer. They are all volunteering and we give them a small stipend for their time and expenses. We meet twice a week.
Our chapina volunteer from Canada, Maria Luisa, is working with them while i am here to support the facilitators in their readings on gender issues and to train them to become strong facilitators.
When the academy called me, I was not prepared with facilitators and told the interim director that MIA was ready to go. I walked out of there with Randy who is a long time supporter, and asked him what to do. He said we (volunteer facilitators) have to go forward and MIA has to train us overnight. We started calling people we have worked with in the past and 5 accepted immediately. I feel I have been training a little too rapidly, but I had no choice.
When we met with the academy they wanted to start that same week I said we couldn’t start that quick, but to give us 2 weeks and we would be ready. Never told them it was because we didn’t have workshop facilitators trained yet. It was exciting to make this happen over night. The facilitators are loving the work and the hands-on training / workshops. We all read and discuss the readings. Then, the next day they train to present, and they all facilitate to the rest to make sure they understand the curriculum.
I can go on and on about the facilitators, I am very fond of them. Because we are meeting so often we have become like a family. They look forward eating together while exchanging ideas on how else they can contribute to a Guate without violence and day dreaming when we have an office. We are meeting at my friends house where I sublet a room, but sometimes we can get loud and we don’t want her to kick us out. I am hoping come next year we can get some serious donations and can have an office and employ them full time.
Unfortunately we were not able to get funds from the private company we were hoping from. As a matter of fact, it was them who prompted my trip in February and decided to stay for so long. But it is all good, we were able to network and find us BIG place to work in where we have a captive audience and helps us from running around all over the city. This private company asked that we revisit the project in July., wish us good luck.
Lastly, we were able finally meet with close people to the first lady again. As you may remember, we met with the first lady last July. She delegated the job of assisting us to certain subordinates, then her words were forgotten. Out of sight, out of mind. Being there for so long, allowed me to sit on it and finally got a person with the power to remind the first lady to revisit our conversation. I will be meeting soon with someone in a position to make this happen, to discuss the national school system adopting our curriculum. This reconnection with the first lady talk from last July delegation happened thanks to assistance from Norma Cruz. Norma picked up the phone and put us in contact with the right people within the Avocado House (Palacio Nacional).
Helping girls in the path of education is an on going project. Because of limited fundsy we are presently only helping 5 young girls. Please help us help them keep them on track.
And now to end, I want to announce that I will be going back to Guate for at least another 3 months if not more. Maybe till the school year ends., that is in October. Chris and I have been talking for the last two years and finally both us are o.k. with me living long period of times in Guate. He will be visiting me a lot .
Don’t forget that we are a 501(c)(3) non profit, and so all donations are completely tax deductible.
ABOUT THE HOMBRES CONTRA FEMINICIDIO CAMPAIGN
Hombres Contra Feminicidio is an educational campaign in Guatemala which objective is to train teachers, students and people in power on how to prevent and erradicate violence against women. M.I.A. strive to bring the campaign to teachers nationwide in order to bring the topic into the schools curriculum.