Blog 1, Shirley Aldana, Adler University

Shirley Aldana is a PhD student at Adler University and is working with MIA for her internship. She will be documenting her work in future blogs, but for this first blog, she gives a perspective on how she got here and why she is working with MIA.

— Chris Hill, Secretary

“It was the nation’s architects who laid a foundation rooted in slavery, capitalism, and an ideology that for generations has stigmatized slaves and their descendants as inferiors. The foundation has lasted far longer than the tools that were used to dismantle the most egregious practices of racial subordination.”

Fredrick C. Harris, ‘James Baldwin, 1963, and the House that Race Built’

My Immigrant Story

How does someone decide one day that they will leave everything they know and love? Knowing that their very existence and survival will depend on happenstance and the hope on a shared humanity and good will. The push and pull factor of immigration is not new to the human race, if you believe in evolution like me, then you are familiar with the “Out of Africa” theory which explains why my DNA is agglomeration of Iberian, East and West African, Southeast Asian, Asian, and European ancestry, but I digress, and perhaps will return to that topic at a later time. For many people in Guatemala and other countries in Latin America and around the world, the immigration push/pull factor is most likely is one of fear, despair and search for economic opportunities for their families.

Like MIA, Mujeres Iniciando en las Americas’ founder, Lucia Muñoz, my family was also impacted by the mass exodus of mothers and fathers leaving their children behind in the care of family members, and oftentimes strangers, in the pursuit of work in order to provide the basic needs lacking back home. People might find it surprising that mass exodus from Guatemala to the United States specifically, has waxed and waned since American industrial corporations positioned themselves in Guatemala as the foothold of international commerce according to “Immigration – A Central American Problem” (Filsinger, 1911).

I believe it is egotistical ignorance on the part of the elitist and anti-immigration supporters in the United States, often found in academics, politics, journalism to discuss immigration issues in black and white binaries and absolutes. I am not going to not say that that the push/pull factor of Guatemalan exodus is founded on US capitalist and economic exploitation, and prosperity of this great country from colonial through today continues to be built on the backs, sweat, blood, tears and hopes of those citizens it refuses to acknowledge and recognize.

However, I want talk about the aftermath of the push/pull factor from my Guatemalan immigrant experience. I was forced to leave Guatemala with complete strangers to be reunited with my mother in the United States of whom I had vague memories, but yearned to see. Coming of age as an “illegal” immigrant in the United States, was one of fear, confusion and disconnect. Reuniting and reconnecting with my birth mother in the United States intersected difficult issues of abandonment, reunification, belonging, and identity. Identity.

There is a saying that the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” and for me, there were pieces missing in the puzzle; the yearning to understand my Guatemalan culture, and particularly to reconnect with an identity I had abandoned for the sake of assimilation brought me to a crossroads of looking deep into how I had internalized cultural messaging in my life. I recall a particular moment I was proud to be Guatemalan, it is frozen in time, burned in my heart.

The Guatemalan Peace Accord of 1996 was signed and it was all over the news, I had learned about Rigoberta Menchu and pride for Guatemalan indigenous Mayans grew in me. I was so happy I called my family in Guatemala. My grandmother had passed away a few months before, and I spoke to a dear aunt who I had (have) so much love and admiration for, I carried on about Rigoberta Menchu. What she said to me shattered my heart and set me on course I am now navigating, and one I am honored and privileged to be on. She said that Rigoberta Menchu was a dirty no-good lying “india” – as a Guatemalan immigrant I had experienced discrimination and racism, and never in my heart of hearts thought its roots ran so deep and long, and in my family.

For me, being my authentic self has been a long and mindful process. My experience as a Guatemalan immigrant coyote-trafficked-child exposed me to things no child should be exposed to, and it also formed the binaries of what I perceived as injustice and justice. My first experience with racism was as a fifth grader at Will Rogers Elementary in Santa Monica, California. Even with my broken-English I became good friends with a porcelain skin, blue-eyed, blonde hair classmate. She invited me to her house, and when her mom heard my broken English, she told my friend to get that Mexican out of her house.

The lens of social justice formed early on in my life, even before I migrated to the United States in 1978. In Guatemala, as a child I saw a female neighbor beaten to an inch of her life and no one intervened. I saw a homeless woman give birth in my grandmother’s bakery. I saw a man try to break into our home and shoot into our living room. I saw the fear and anguish and tears of my grandparents when an uncle was kidnapped and returned a week later. As child, the 1976 earthquake left us homeless, we lived in make-shift tents outside our inhabitable homes, and we stood in long-lines to get a ration of food for many weeks, months for others.

While these types of events evoke caring concern, themselves may not fully paint the image and the urgency from plight many Guatemalans actually experience : crimes against humanity, organized crime, gang violence, drug and human trafficking, domestic and gendered state violence, child abuse, child rape and forced marriages, lack of health care, lack of education, high unemployment, lack of clean water due to environmental exploitation, earthquakes and natural disasters.

Furthermore, Guatemala continues to endure a complicated and painful history, we are descendants of Spanish conquistadores, and Mayan warriors, and our cultural beliefs are an agglomeration of all that is beautiful from both worlds. But our political structures and policies have been constructed by the worst of American Capitalist Imperialist White Supremacist values.

When I think about my life experiences as an immigrant child trying to assimilate, and negotiating ways of belonging, it is thought provoking as well as opening old wounds. When I think of the ways that society operated/operates still in my life and how it prescribes meaning to peoples lives, it seems almost unthinkable of the capacity of the vast human experiences and ability to function and find resolve to move forward, but most importantly function in a system that can be oppressive and restrictive if you weren’t born with the preferred phenotypes, or geographical boundaries, or the class structure, or gender expression, or set of cultural beliefs and values.

When I consider the act of being wholly authentic, I reflect on a double consciousness, feeling of otherness as I saw myself through the eyes of others, as an non-white immigrant. I took into consideration forms of being transparent as one of an interconnectedness of beliefs, values and actions, but what happens when our beliefs, values and actions hurt and marginalize others?

To paraphrase James Baldwin “we operate under the beat of the language that has produced, oppressed & dehumanize us.” The formation of language is a powerful tool of oppression, as well as healing and belonging. Adrian Favel defined the politics of belonging as “the dirty work of boundary maintenance (1999).” He said that we have emotional attachments to our social environments, and we place boundaries and put value judgments on others and ourselves. That we “operate” in “imagined communities” under “hegemonic political powers within and outside that community” where participation of citizenship are “interrelated to status, entitlements and membership.” What happens when we have been excluded from participating in defining our identity? Drawing from writings of Teresa Cordoba in “Anti-Colonial Chicana Feminism:

“It is the pain of the present, however, that keeps the historical memory fresh… It is by strategic essentializing that we are able to create an important practice against the hegemonic ideologies that define us in ways to silence us and control us.

It does not provide a final destination, but a journey by which we may find our “multiple identities” so necessary in the fight against colonization (racial oppression). It is the fight for social change, for our own self-definitions and our own decolonizing spaces.

In “Power and Knowledge: Colonialism in the Academy,” begins with the premise that breaking silence against oppression is an important anti-colonial act because silence and compliance are so critical to maintaining exploitative relationships.”

I wholeheartedly believe that while Guatemala will celebrate its 200 years of independence this year, Guatemalans continue to be subjects of American imperialism and have internalized racist and political structures perpetuated against ourselves. To answer question “how does someone decide one day that they will leave everything they know and love?” it seems to me the answer is liberation. It is northbound. But not without a new set of obstacles. For those us who long for a true democratic Guatemala, with prosperity and liberation, I hope you are inspired by the words of Sara Curruchich (2017) a Guatemalan music artist:

“One of the biggest fears of my family, specifically of that of my mother, that I would go through the same [suffering] that she had gone through”
“I believe that as women we are all discriminated against”
“As an indigenous woman, we are double discriminated ”
“I knew that somehow those types of thoughts [racism and hatred] have to change … and although they hurt [my experiences] … those who have to change are those people”
“I talk [sing] about my grandmother’s [indigenous] textiles … [because] of the wisdom, each one of us, as women, is sharing … a [indigenous] textile is a canvas, a canvas is made collectively”
“We are all actors and actors of change … we cannot be indifferent to everything that happens”


Córdova, T. (1998). “Anti-Colonial Chicana Feminism.” New Political Science 20.4 ;379-97.
Crowley, J. (1999). ‘The politics of belonging: some theoretical considerations’, in Andrew Geddes and Adrian Favell (eds), The Politics of Belonging: Migrants and Minorities in Contemporary Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate 1999), 15/41.
Filsinger, E. B. (1911). Immigration—A Central American Problem. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 37(3), 165-172.
iniciativaT. (2017, May 24). Sara Curruchich. YouTube.

NUEVO!! CURSO EN LINEA sobre Prevencion de Violencia Sexual

El abuso sexual de menores es un problema complejo. La información que ofrecemos no sustituye el consejo de profesionales. No enseña un método garantizado para identificar a las personas que agreden sexualmente a los niños, niñas y adolescentes. No pretende ser terapéutica. El curso por sí solo no aborda todos los problemas concernientes al abuso. Su propósito es brindarle información y mostrarle pasos simples y proactivos para proteger a la niñez y adolescencia contra el abuso sexual.

Según datos revelados por el Inacif, 17 menores de edad son examinados y evaluados a diario por denuncias de agresión sexual. De enero a septiembre del año 2019, se registraron 1,816 nacimientos de niñas violadas de entre 10 y 14 años y 62,229 nacimientos de adolescentes de entre 15 y 19 años. Guatemala no ha desarrollado las estrategias y acciones necesarias pertinentes para la protección de la vulnerabilidad en materia de violencia sexual, íntimamente relacionado al bienestar integral de la niñez y adolescencia que conduzca a la reducción de las alarmantes estadísticas.

Para mas información del contenido del curso consultar el siguiente enlace:

Para poder inscribirse siga las instrucciones del siguiente enlace:

Instrucciones para inscribirse al curso en linea

Why am I here?

By Cesslie Davalos

(english version is below the spanish)

El significado de la vida es encontrar tu don especial. El propósito de la vida es compartirlo”, Pablo Picasso.

Decidí empezar el blog con esta cita porque creo que mi vocación en la vida es trabajar con estudiantes, compartir conocimientos, aprender de los demás, luchar por la justicia social y hacer de este mundo un lugar mejor poco a poco. La única forma en que puedo disfrutar mi vocación es compartirlo a través del trabajo con otros, aprendiendo las narrativas de los otros mientras construimos comunidades. Mi primera semana en Guatemala ha sido un poco difícil, me he dado cuenta cuantos privilegios tengo en casa sin saberlo siquiera.

Por supuesto, una de las cosas más difíciles ha sido extrañar a mi familia y a mi pareja. A todo el mundo allá en casa en realidad. Sin embargo, ellos son la razón de porqué estoy aquí. Mi mamá es de Guatemala, por eso es que tengo una conexión tan fuerte con esta tierra.

Hablaba por facetime con Braulio sobre cómo me siento antipatriótica por haber nacido en una nación construida en base a opresión, esclavitud, racismo e inequidad. Le decía que por eso me siento tan orgullosa de tener raíces en Guatemala y lo llevo con mayor orgullo, pero ¿no hay mucho de eso mismo aquí también? Braulio mencionó una cita de Calle 13 “el que no quiere a su patria no quiere a su madre”.

Estar aquí me está ayudando a dar un poco más a mi comunidad y a dejar un poco de mi vocación en la tierra que le dio a mi mamá resistencia, coraje y que la hizo la magnífica persona que es. Sin mi madre yo no habría podido graduarme ni ser la persona que soy ahora. Así que no solo estoy devolviéndole algo a mi comunidad, también se lo doy a mi familia, a mi madre, a mí misma.

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” Pablo Picasso

I decided to start of my first blog with this quote because I believe that my calling in life is to work with students, to share knowledge, learn from others, to fight for social justice and to make this world a better place little by little. The only way I can enjoy this calling is by giving it away by working with others and learning others narratives while building communities. My first week at Guatemala has been a little hard realizing so many privileges I have back at home without even knowing it.

Of course, one of the hardest things has been missing my family and my partner, everyone back home really, but they’re the reason why I’m here. My mom is from Guatemala that is why there is such a strong connection to this land.

I was talking over facetime with my partner Braulio about how I feel unpatriotic of being born in a land built on oppression, enslavement, racism and inequality. I was telling him that’s why I feel so proud to be from Guatemala and I carry that so much more proudly, but isn’t there so much of that here too? So why am I pretending like none of this exists here? My partner Braulio mentioned a quote from Calle 13 “el que no quiere a su patria no quiere a su madre”.

Being here is helping me give back to my community and leave a little piece of my gift to the land that gave my mom resilience, courage, and made her the magnificent person she is. Without my mom, I would have not been able to graduate or be the person I am today. So not only am I giving back to my community but to my family, to my mom, to myself.

MIA’s Collaboration with Congresswoman Sandra Morán

Here at MIA, we’ve been investigating and providing information to help legislators who want to modify and reform Guatemala’s National Education Legislation to educate about and prevent school bullying and sexual abuse in schools throughout Guatemala.

Back in 2011 and 2013, the Government of Guatemala, along with the Ministry of Education and several international donors, published a Guía para la Identificación y Prevención del Acoso Escolar (Bullying) / Guide to Identifying and Preventing School Bullying, as well as a Protocolo de Identificación, Atención y Referencia de Casos de Violencia dentro del Sistema Educativo Nacional / Protocol for the Identification, Attention to, and Reference for Cases of Violence within the National Education System. You can get these documents here: and here, respectively:

These documents are quite thorough and provide in-depth information on the topics. In fact, the Protocol breaks down different types of violence into separate categories, defining each one, explaining how to recognize them, and providing internal and external routes of reference for how to properly handle them. The types of violence identified are: mistreatment of minors and physical and psychological violence; sexual violence; violence on the basis of racism and discrimination; and bullying and sexual harassment.

It is remarkable and innovative that this information has been formally established – especially in Guatemala, where, although these types of violence are rampant, talking and learning about them are still taboo. In theory, these guides exist and should be incorporated in every public school. In practice, however, they are not properly implemented and used as dynamic tools by teachers, administrators, and school staff.

This is where MIA comes in. We are currently collaborating with Sandra Morán, a Congresswoman with Partido Convergencia. Together, we want to raise awareness and provide information that may be used to advance legislation that ensures that the Guide and Protocol are properly enforced in each school and classroom. It simply doesn’t do much good to have all the information officially printed and made available to the public, if the utilization of these tools is not enforced.

Sandra Morán is a really interesting and ground-breaking politician. She was elected in September 2015, amidst the corruption scandal that involved many in public office, and took office in early 2016. She is a staunch feminist in a machista country where being a feminist is radical and even dangerous. She is also openly gay, in a place where violence—and even murder—is perpetrated against homosexual and trans people. Sandra has said, “In Guatemala, to be a feminist is not welcomed, to be a lesbian, even less so. But the fact that I have always been transparent about who I am – a lesbian feminist – took away that weapon from those who use misogynist, sexist, and homophobic attacks as a political strategy.”

Sandra has long been an activist. She was born in 1960 (the year Guatemala’s internal armed conflict began) and from a young age, expressed her anti-military, anti-violence and repression sentiment, joining the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres, EGP), when she was a teenager. She then went into exile in the early 1980s, when the dictatorship and governmental brutality were most severe, and spent time in other Central American countries and Mexico, until the conflict was officially over with the signing of the Peace Accords. Upon her return, she became part of the Women’s Sector of the Assembly of Women for the Peace Accords, and later the coordinator of the Women’s Forum. Over the past 20 years, she has promoted and participated in different feminist and lesbian collectives, such as the women in exile collective Nuestra Voz (Our Voice); the lesbian collective Mujeres Somos (We Are Women); and the Colectivo de Mujeres Feministas de Izquierda (Feminist Leftist Women’s Collective).

Sandra has a strong agenda to make more visible LGBTQI rights and gender diversity and equality. As she has expressed, upon her election and with regarding her everyday fight: “Lesbian identity in Guatemala is taboo. It was necessary to show it, not only to break that taboo, but more so, it gave the opportunity for the LGBT community to have a representative. I knew that identity was going to be used against me. So I took from them the power they could have had to use it against me.”

She is pushing strongly to include school bullying against LGBTQI students in the Guide to Identifying and Preventing School Bullying, where the unique and persistent ways in which these students are harassed and bullied are specifically detailed. Using homosexual slurs such as hueco, maricón, marica, culero, among others, is extremely widespread against students of all ages, and it is time that this violence is addressed head-on.

At MIA, we are very excited to be working to provide information to Sandra Morán and her party to really make in-roads and lasting change within the Guatemalan education system on identifying and properly addressing violence and bullying in schools. Her energy and deep desire to create change are contagious, and she seems prepared and driven to confront and and all obstacles that would prevent advances towards gender equality and identity. Stay tuned to read more about our collaboration and achievements!

If you’d like to read more about Sandra Morán in the news, The Guardian has a great article: The Nobel Women’s Initiative conducted an interview with her: And Guatemala-based Plaza Pública has an in-depth article in Spanish:

All-Men Delegation to Guatemala with MIA

MIA, Mujeres Iniciando en las Américas, is hosting a Delegation to Guatemala, for men only, June 11th-18th!

Background Information: Fear of Feminism

“Feminism is an attack on social practices and habits of thought that keep women and men boxed into gender roles that are harmful to all.” – Robert Webb

Many men – and women – shy away from labeling themselves as feminists and consider ‘feminism’ a dirty word. Indeed, to some, ‘feminism’ conjures up notions of women who despise men and seek to castrate and annihilate male existence. But feminism, at its core, is the simple acknowledgement that societal power hierarchies force women to be inferior to men, and the simple belief that we should work for gender equality by striving to dismantle these power structures.

In Guatemala, the concept machismo, which can be defined as a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness and an assumptive attitude that virility, strength, and entitlement to dominate are attributes of masculinity, is deeply entrenched in practically all aspects of society. We can consider machismo to be the opposite of feminism, and Guatemalan machismo permits men to behave in the home, workplace, school, and street with impunity. According to a 2015 investigation and report by InSightCrime, 7 out of 10 countries with the highest female murder rate in the world are in Latin America, and Guatemala ranks 3rd in Latin America and in the world.

MIA, Mujeres Iniciando en las Américas seeks to dismantle Guatemala’s machismo through preventive education methods that incorporate didactic material. MIA trains women, men, girls, boys, and adolescents, but is particularly focused on working with men. Whereas the majority of Guatemalan women’s rights organizations provides attention only to women, and effectively erases men from the equation, MIA views men as allies and firmly believes that it is impossible to fight against machismo and patriarchy if men are excluded from the fight.

This is why MIA is sponsoring an All-Men Delegation to Guatemala this summer: to educate men from the U.S. about violence against women and work with them to find joint solutions to inequalities between men and women both in Guatemala and the U.S. MIA deeply wishes to weave stronger social connections between the two countries, uniting men across borders, and creating a tolerant, inclusive, pluri-cultural environment that fights for justice and equality within and between the countries.

Why All-Men?

MIA has always been involving men in the process of ending violence against women. MIA’s past delegations have always included men, but this is the first delegation for men only. The reason behind making the delegation men-only is to emphasize the importance of men being involved in the challenge ot ending patriarchal gender violence. The vast majority of gender violence against women is perpetrated by men, and the end of gender violence will happen when all men understand the role we all have in perpetrating violence and the commitment we need to make to ending it, no matter our backgrounds or which country we come from.

Why a Delegation?

Delegations hosted by international NGOs in their countries of work are effective ways of shedding light on the daily realities in these countries. They contextualize human rights situations and expound on the complexities of these situations, making them more real and tangible to outsiders. Delegations facilitate mutually-beneficial outcomes for both the delegates and for the individuals and groups who are visited. There is a reciprocal relationship for all parties involved, including a cultural exchange of ideas, understandings, beliefs, and approaches to solution-based issues and problems.

MIA led two delegations per year between 2007 and 2010 to raise awareness of the challenges of gender-based violence in Guatemala. Since 2010, MIA has mostly been focusing on preventive education work within Guatemala, and less on building bridges between the U.S. and Guatemala. However, it is time to re-examine cross-cultural ties, especially in light of what occurred at Hogar Seguro on March 8th. You can read about the tragedy here:
The Story Behind the Fire That Killed Forty Teen-Age Girls in a Guatemalan Children’s Home, the New Yorker Magazine. (Also, my previous blog post discussed the event.)

Delegates have reported feeling transformed and that their horizons have been expanded in terms of their understanding about the Guatemalan context. They are often inspired to advocate on behalf of Guatemala after participating in the delegations. Moreover, the individuals and groups with whom we meet report that seeing North Americans and other foreigners taking an interest in Guatemala gives them hope and inspiration to continue their difficult, grass-roots, on-the-ground work. It is not simply important that the Guatemalans fighting for human rights and women’s rights feel listened to, heard, and supported; it is necessary in order for them to be empowered enough to keep up the fight.

2017 Delegation

This year’s delegation seeks to unite Guatemala and U.S. men to learn more about and work to end gender-based violence. The title of the delegation is: Challenging Toxic Masculinity in Guatemala and Everywhere: A Delegation for Men Against Gender Violence. Gender violence in Guatemala is at epidemic levels and, as aforementioned, the country ranks third in killings of women worldwide. During the Delegation, delegates will meet with indigenous leaders, women human rights movement groups, women in Congress and presidential staff, White Ribbon Campaign graduates and LGBTQI organizations. They will be able to bear witness, actively participate, and experience first-hand the factors that contribute to violence in Guatemala and ways to help as an outsider.

This delegation will provide an innovative, in-depth experience and is ideal both for those who have been to Guatemala before and know about the country’s context, and for those who have little experience or knowledge about Guatemala.

We hope that you can join us, and if not, that you can help spread the word and help us raise funds to cover the costs of hosting the Delegation. Here is the delegation flyer:


For more information, you can contact Chris Hill, MIA’s secretary, at or (562)-900-7969.


A Patriarchal Tragedy: Reflections on Hogar ‘Seguro’ Virgen de la Asunción

By A Volunteer

“In theory, the Guatemalan government has a clear line of work that consists of maintaining and regulating any aspect of social relations (labor, political, economic, social, familiar, and institutional) within its territorial confines. In practice, it is evident that it only cares about the protection of the dominant and most powerful, and this conservative and misogynistic way of thinking and acting justifies that abortion is a crime but that the aberrant deaths of dozens of scorched girls is the ‘responsibility of everyone.’”[1]


Several men lighting candles. Sign: “CORRUPTION is what killed the girls!”

My previous blog post discussed March 8th: International Women’s Day, the march in Guatemala City with photos, and my three years with MIA. Tragically, March 8th 2017 also marked a devastating fire that took place in a shelter called  Hogar Seguro (which ironically translates to Safe Home) for children and adolescents. At the time of writing, 40 adolescents have died, several severe burn victims have been transferred to hospitals in the United States for skin graft surgeries, several others remain in critical conditions in Guatemala, and many survivors are being relocated to other shelters throughout Guatemala. All of the victims are female. It is shocking and heartbreaking and incomprehensible.  The government officially declared a State of Mourning from March 8th-10th, countless investigations are being done to get to the bottom of this tragedy, and civil society organizations and individuals alike are gathering in Parque Central to hold memorials for the victims and demand justice and accountability from the State. It seems as though everyone in Guatemala is mourning and desperately angered by the negligence and abuse that took place in the shelter.

A very brief version of the series of events leading up to the fire is the following. On the evening of March 7th, a group of adolescent girls in shelter started an uprising, and sought the help of some adolescent boys. One of the reasons determined for the uprising is that the adolescent girls could no longer take the abuses and sexual violence perpetrated by the teachers, administrators, masons and guards who worked at Hogar Seguro. These are some accounts:

‘“You can’t leave this room until you give me oral sex,’ ordered teacher Edgar Ronaldo Diéguez Ispache to 12 and 13-year-old students, as they tried to leave the classroom in which they received 5th and 6th grade classes. Not one was able to leave nor avoid the sexual abuse.”[2]

                   “The same teacher ordered girl and boy students to walk around the classroom naked in front of their classmates. One of the masons, José Roberto Arias Pérez, raped a mentally disabled girl. An alleged worker, described in one of the 28 legally filed complaints to the Secretary of Social Welfare as Joseph, forced some of the girls to have sex with him as he took them out of and away from the shelter.”[3]

In the middle of the uprising, the staff, aware of what was happening, opened the doors and screamed, “If that’s what you want, then get the fuck out of here!”[4] The adolescents ran out of the shelter and hid in the surrounding forest. A little while later, once they were captured around 10 PM, the adolescent boys were beaten by the police, while the adolescent girls were manhandled. Afterward, they were separated: the boys were locked in the auditorium and the girls were locked in a part of the school. Between roughly 12 AM and 8 AM on March 8th, between 52 and 60 girls and adolescents were forced to stay locked in this area, unable to leave even to use the toilet. Dozens of police and guards were stationed outside the auditorium and the section of the school. Around 8 AM, some of the girls set fire to a mattress, which quickly spread to the other mattresses across the room. Once the fire started, the girls screamed for help and banged on the doors but the police wouldn’t open the doors.[5]

Some of the adolescent boys provided the following testimony:

“Around 8:30, we started to smell a burning stench, and I don’t even know how we opened the door of the auditorium, in order to go and help the girls because they were burning. But the police didn’t allow us to help them and they began to hit us. No one helped the girls, and we weren’t allowed to help them either.”[6]


“This body is mine… It won’t be burned! It won’t be raped! It won’t be murdered!” #ItWasTheState

There are many intersectional elements to this tragedy. First of all, the conditions of the shelter were abysmal.  Reports had already been filed over three months ago by the Human Rights Ombudsman, when it requested cautionary measures with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. Moreover, UNICEF explained on repeated occasions to authorities and the media that an institution like Hogar Seguro was an unsafe environment for children and adolescents. It was designed to hold a total of 500 children but had approximately 800 at the time of the fire.[7]

Secondly, the children and adolescents in Hogar Seguro come from very precarious situation and poor backgrounds, whose families couldn’t care for them or who do not have parents or family members to care for them. Many suffered abuses at the hands of their guardians. In fact, according to the Secretary of Social Welfare, Hogar Seguro is an institution that “provides refuge and shelter to children and adolescents from 0 to 18 years of age, who are victims of physical, psychological, and sexual violence, who have disabilities, who are abandoned, who are homeless and living on the streets, who suffered from addiction problems, who are victims of human trafficking and sexual, commercial, labor, economic exploitation, or who are victims of illegal adoptions.”[8] Basically, children and adolescents were rescued from these horrible conditions and sent to Hogar Seguro to be protected and receive the care and attention they needed, under governmental mandate.


“Their voices have been silenced, but ours aren’t. Another act of femicide in the 21st century.”

Thirdly, the issue of gender: I already stated it above, but all of the victims of the fire were adolescent girls. Some had been raped by fathers, grandfathers, uncles. Some were pregnant as a result of this sexual violence. Once again, the girls were separated from the boys, locked in a room, and not permitted to leave even to go to the bathroom, even with dozens of police and guards at the door. They started the fire out of desperation. It was their last attempt at a desperate call for help, a call so that someone would take notice and help them and care for them. They were, after all, in a Safe Home and supposed to be receiving care. From the Guatemalan government. Tragically, that last call for help was never answered.

Finally, everyone is pointing fingers and no one wants to assume responsibility and accountability. Some authorities have been captured: Carlos Rodas, former Head of Secretary of Social Welfare; Sub-Secretary Anahí Keller; and Santos Torres, former director of Hogar Seguro. Up against accusations of State negligence, President Jimmy Morales and a number of members of Congress are trying to wipe their hands clean of any responsibility. The International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) and the FBI are getting involved in the investigations. At the time of this writing, more and more testimonies and facts are emerging, and only time will tell us who are those accountable.


“Make your indignation convert itself into action! #IAmNotIndifferent”

There are many questions, much anger, and overwhelming grief. I find myself unable to not read articles from various news sources as soon as they are published. But what now? This tragedy happened, and the pain cannot be reversed, but we must ask ourselves: what concrete steps can we take to not be indifferent or ignorant? How can we disseminate information, educate, and make sure that this isn’t repeated in the future?

MIA’s preventive education work champions for gender equality by dismantling and analyzing root causes of violence against women and girls, and violence also against men and boys (from a gender perspective). The Canada-based White Ribbon Campaign (in Guatemala, Hombres Contra Feminicidio, or Men Against Feminicide) is an international campaign to involve men and boys to vow to not perpetrate violence against women and girls, and to educate their peers to do the same. Imagine if the fathers, grandfathers, and uncles of the girls in Hogar Seguro had received the MIA’s Diplomado course? What about the teachers, staff, masons, and guards and police?

Time, energy, resources, and care & compassion must be invested in Guatemalan girls, boys, and adolescents, now more than ever.


Crosses with flowers, candles and fake blood, at the memorial in the Central Plaza

[1] Orellana, Paula. “Misoginia: hogar inseguro e irresponsabilidad estatal.” CMI-Centro de Medios Independientes. 9 marzo 2017.

[2] Woltke, Gabriel y Martín Rodríguez Pellecer. “Las razones del amotinamiento de las niñas del hogar.” Nómada. 9 marzo 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Nómada. “Estos testimonios apuntan a un crimen de Estado.” Nómada. 13 marzo 2017.

[5] Nómada. “Estos testimonios apuntan a un crimen de Estado.” Nómada. 13 marzo 2017.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Muñoz, Geldi y Jessiva Gramajo. “Unicef y PDH denunciaron la situación del Hogar Seguro.” PrensaLibre. 9 Marzo 2017.

[8] Orellana, Paula. “Misoginia: hogar inseguro e irresponsabilidad estatal.” CMI-Centro de Medios Independientes. 9 marzo 2017.

International Women’s Day, March 8 2017

By Tessa Engel

March 8th marks not one, but TWO important dates: International Women’s Day and my MIA birthday – my 3 year anniversary with MIA! This particular year, considering the politics of women the world over, participation in the protests was impressive. There were marches in the U.S., where women wore red to illustrate anti-Trump solidarity; marches in development and lesser developed nations around the world; protests and marches among communities throughout Guatemala, and the march in the heart of Guatemala City (which I’ve attended since 2013).


Me at the beginning of the march, excited to represent MIA alongside my sisters.

International Women’s Day has its origins in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which occurred in March 1911 in New York City, when a fire in the garment factory killed 146 and injured 71 others. The majority of the workers were immigrant women and they suffered grave labor abuses. If you don’t know much about this history, I STRONGLY encourage you to read up on it. =)



Graffiti: “We don’t want to feel brave on the streets, we want to be FREE!”

“Why do we need to have a date that is recognized internationally as Women’s Day?” you may ask. Well, valid question! Why do we particularly acknowledge women? Notice how I use the word ‘acknowledge’ as opposed to ‘celebrate.’ We women do NOT want to be given flowers or chocolate, or congratulated for simply having uteruses and breasts on this day (or on any day, really…). We want our rights as women to be guaranteed: the right to marry whom we want; the right to love whom we want; the right to decide whether we study; the right to have a job outside of the house, or work inside the house, the right to reproductive health and justice; the right to decide what we do with our bodies; the right to live FREE and SAFE and SECURELY, and without FEAR of men / masculinity / male figures / machismo / sexism / etc. At the heart of the matter, women want to be perceived and treated as equals.


“No more sexual abuse of girls by the patriarchal state.”

“Well, if we are talking about equality here, why don’t we celebrate International Men’s Day?” you may ask. Well, astute observation, especially through the lens of MIA. You’re correct, men do suffer physical and emotional violence, as well as economic abuses and denial of education and threats to their life. In MIA, we are keenly aware of this and work to raise awareness about lesser-known, but just as serious, violence against men. However, MIA is also aware of the fact that the majority of abuses happen to girls and women, especially within the deeply-entrenched patriarchal culture in Guatemalan society.


“Sexual education so that we can decide; Contraceptives so that we don’t have to abort; Safe and legal abortions so that we don’t have to die”


Only in resistance, together, can we dream about constructing a better Guatemalan society and a better world.



In Guatemala, rates of pregnancies among girls and adolescents are alarmingly high. Girls are allowed to be married without their consent. Domestic abuse is so commonplace that it is normalized. Sexual harassment on the street is rampant, and just a few weeks ago, a man was caught on one of the Transmetro buses (the safest in Guatemala City) ejaculating upon a woman passenger. Out of sheer luck, he was caught on camera, and captured by police, set to serve several years in jail. So Guatemalan women suffer disproportionately more abuses in everyday contexts in comparison to men, and THAT is why we need to appreciate how much we’ve achieved in securing equality and liberty for women, and recognize all the work that still needs to be done.

MIA, alongside thousands of other women and men from Guatemala and around the world, was fiercely proud to participate in the march. It is necessary that we stand firmly and in solidarity to speak out against the countless abuses against women and girls, and that we declare that we wish to be Agents of Change, or Agentes de Cambio, as we say in the Men Against Feminicide and New Masculinities diplomados. MIA strives to discuss and debate, make wholly visible, and raise awareness about gender
injustices and inequalities.



Cosme Caal, one of MIA’s male representatives, holds our “10 Things Men Can Do to Eradicate Violence Against Women” banner.




Recognition of and Recommitment to International Solidarity for Women in the Age of Trump

By T Engel

I’m a self-defined activist. I participate in marches and demonstrations in my country of residence, Guatemala, and in my country of birth, the USA. I deeply believe that public activism is necessary and important, that it instigates social change, and that it inspires peace, unity and solidarity.

So, when the Women’s Marches blossomed all over the internet in the days leading up to and after the inauguration of Trump, I voraciously scoured the news for articles and pictures covering protests all over the world, from my home in Guatemala City.  They filled me with so much pride and joy that I was brought to tears on multiple occasions, especially when I saw the people I love actively engaging in the type of work I love.  

But they have also stimulated anxiety within me. So what now…?! seems to be the persistent question I ask both publicly and privately, and it is a question that fills me with dread. There is all this opposition, all this resistance, all this fear, all these calls to action, all this presencia and solidaridad, but what will it actually achieve? The future is more uncertain than we have seen it in years, and confronting that reality can be paralyzing.

One thing that feels concrete and solution-based is the work that I am engaging in with MIA, Mujeres Iniciando en las Américas. March 8th (International Women’s Day; how fitting!), 2017, marks my 3-year anniversary as a volunteer with the organization, and I began as Project Coordinator just a month ago.

It may sound like hyperbole, but MIA’s work changes lives. Its preventive-education based structure has durable, lasting results. Its didactic material facilitates dialogue about sensitive topics that are still taboo in Guatemalan society, such as sexual harrassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, gender identity and sexual diversity, and child sexual abuse. MIA’s courses open safe, confidential spaces where participants of all ages can and have expressed incidents of abuse at home, in the workplace, at school, on the bus, and on the street. Some of these students share that they’d never before spoken openly about this personal information — that they’d felt silenced, powerless, and voiceless. MIA gives a voice to the voiceless.  MIA has deeply affected thousands of Guatemalan men, women, boys and girls, and its education is empowering.

Just to give you a sample of the day-to-day work that is currently being done: we are preparing the Hombres Contra Feminicidio diploma course which will take place at the San Carlos National University at the end of February; we are meeting and collaborating with the National Men’s Network of Guatemala; we are carrying out workshops at an all-girls elementary school; we are writing project proposals for funding; we are participating in local forums and events. We are constantly busy and working to improve, and yet there is still so much to be done.

And thus the challenge I have forced myself to engage in is to channel my fear and apprehension and uncertainty about the politics of the US (and by default, the world) into tangible solutions and achievements through MIA’s programming. Every morning, and anytime I open The New York Times/Atlantic/Guardian/Al Jazeera/PrensaLibre/Nomada/etc., and read about the latest executive order, Cabinet appointment, statistic on femicide, or number of Guatemalan GIRLS (aged 9-15) who became pregnant in 2016, my commitment to MIA is reaffirmed.

Of the dozens of articles I pored over in the aftermath of Election Day, one by Lindy West, entitled “Her Loss” particularly resonated with me. West, expressing her acute feelings of grief over not only the results but the insufferable nature of both campaigns and Hillary Clinton’s tireless battle just because of her sex writes, “We, as a culture, do not take women seriously on a profound level. We do not believe women. We do not trust women. We do not like women.” This is, of course, a universally-held concept, but in my personal comparison of the conditions for US women to Guatemalan women, there is no comparison; Guatemala easily trails the US by 75+ years.

At the end of West’s article, she defines the battle cry that I so desperately needed to hear, ponder, and believe in, post-election. “We [women] have been weathering this hurricane wall of doubt and violence for so long, and now, more crystalline than ever, we have an enemy and a mandate. We have the smirking apotheosis of our oppression sliming, paw-first, toward our genitals. We have the popular vote. We have proof, in exit polls, that white women will pawn their humanity for the safety of white supremacy. We have abortion pills to stockpile and neighbors to protect and children to teach.”1

Children to teach. Children to teach. Yes, I said to myself, we need this kind of education so badly. But it would be harmful and self-sabotage if we were to focus on educating just the children. We need to educate the girls, the boys, the women, and the men. The men. The men. The men.

So, when I feel inundated by horrible news from my country and its leaders, and the horrible news from Guatemala and its leaders, when I think that women’s rights and human rights couldn’t possibly become rolled-back any more, I seek resilience and protection in knowing that MIA’s education work in Guatemala affects not only Guatemalan women, but women the world over.

1 West, Lindy. “Her Loss.” The New York Times. 9 November 2016.

3rd post, a Canadian Volunteer at MIA

It takes a lot of background work to run MIA’s White Ribbon Campaign here in Guatemala. There is a lot of emailing, class preparation, funding applications, phone calls, and lobbying; but all of this work fades away once you step in front of a group of students to teach about gender and equality. For the past two and half months every Tuesday I leave all my other duties behind and step in front of my students at Escuela Pedro Pablo Valdes, an all boys school in zona 8. I teach our version of Hombres Contra Femicidio and the White Ribbon Campaign to three classes, grades 4, 5 and 6. The program is designed to be didactic and interactive, which produces lively conversation and interesting, thoughtful comments from the students.

I have had the great luck to be working with a supportive staff of volunteers and a great co-facilitator Angel Martinez, who accompanies me so that we can teach gender equality together. The power of having a man and women standing in front of the students, co-teaching themes of gender, violence, sexual harassment, media messages, and dating is not lost on me. We are there to demonstrate that women and men together can create a more equal society, and our respect for each other and the students is an essential element in the success of the program.

Angel in the Classroom

Boys in Zona 8

Three weeks ago on July 2, I took the long bus ride to the school. As I entered my first class, I told my young pupils that they had to be on their best behavior because it was my birthday. The class teacher excitedly stood and proceeded to plug in a cd player. As a scratchy instrumental song began, the boys sang their best version of three Guatemalan birthday songs. If anyone knows the national anthem of Guatemala, they will understand that local songs here are not short. The first time I heard the national anthem, standing at attention at the beginning of a conference on victimization, I kept on waiting for the song to end so I could sit, but to my delight and growing urge to giggle, it continued for what seemed like 20 minutes. These class birthday songs followed a similar path, but I was ready this time. As I stood at attention at the front of this class, 25 boys aged 9 and 10, gleefully belted out three various versions of Happy Birthday. As the last song neared the end, boys rushed forward to give me wonderful, sometimes awkward, but very moving, birthday hugs. It was a great present.

This past week I was lucky enough to be at the school for Cultural Day. All of the teachers and students gathered in the playground which is a concrete pit about three quarters of the size of a basketball court. There are frames for holding soccer nets at either end of the playground, but no nets. Normally when I arrive on Tuesdays I see many of the boys playing in the courts, but I have never seen a ball. Instead, the boys play with plastic bottles, though I have also seen them using a large fruit seed at times in place of a ball. I think of all the sports equipment I had when I was young. Yet the boys play and laugh, run and kick, and do not let the lack of ball interfere with their fun. These are resilient children, and I feel so lucky to have been part of their lives for the past three months.

Rebecca and Angel in Classroom

Rebecca and Angel at Zona 8, boys class

 I got to watch students stand in the concrete pit and make speeches about their school, their country and their people. It was the perfect sort of school presentation with awkward giggles, forgetting of lines, teachers telling all the boys to “hush,” and beautiful touching moments.

 After the presentations Angel and I continued to our classes to teach the young men about sexual harassment. At this point in our course they are well versed in the vernacular of gender equality and followed along quickly as Angel and I acted out various sexual harassment scenarios.

 At times I wonder how much these young men understand the content of what we are teaching. But then there are special moments when you see a light go off for one of the students, when something meaningful has happened, or something we taught resonated deep within them and perhaps even changed their world perspectives. Maybe they have understood how gender inequality creates a climate of violence against women; or maybe they have related something we have taught to their own lives, family, or community. That is why we are here – to work with these young men and help them gain perspective and make small changes that can make a big difference in ending violence against women.

 Next week is my final class with these boys. I will bring sweets and candy to reward them for bearing with my insecure Spanish over the past three months. I will review what we have covered, introduce the final material, and ask them how they hope to contribute to the world. By being open to learning ways to prevent violence against women in their own culture, I think that they have already begun to do so.

2nd Post, A Canadian Volunteer at MIA, Rebecca

In my second blog post from Guatemala City, I want to focus on the gender equality issues that we face here. Coming from Canada with a background in International Affairs and Women’s rights, it is easy to forget how unsettling the idea of gender equality can be when first addressed. Through MIA using the White Ribbon Campaign we are teaching gender equality in order to stop gender violence against women. Although this movement is relatively new in Canada, it is revolutionary in Guatemala. In my second week at MIA I learned how destabilizing and potentially dangerous even the beginning stages of equality can be.

In our final MIA class at USAC University this semester, a young women approached our Director Lucia Munoz and me. She had been attending our ten-week program with her male boss and male co-worker. She spoke to us in tears. Her boss was threatening to fire her because in the last class she had disagreed with him over a concept, and had risked voicing these differences. She had not been disrespectful or out of turn, but simply voicing disagreement seemed enough for him to threaten to fire her.

We of course offered any assistance we could, including meeting with her boss or his superior over this issue. Through tears she explained how she could not afford to lose her job, as she is a single mother and relies on this work to support her child and herself.

It was my wake-up moment. In our programs we try to create a safe place to teach about gender equality, social norms, patriarchy (machismo), social constructions of power, and other issues related to violence against women. However we are not teaching these ideas in isolation. These ideas have real world consequences and affect people’s lives, and concern for the welfare of participants must be a priority.

Power structures are difficult to change because those with power generally do not want to share it; and people without power often do not have the ability to demand equality. Violence comes in many forms, both physical and emotional, and attempts by those in power to maintain control is often a major factor in the violence. When the woman voiced her opinion, her boss threatened her in order to silence her.

Most people think that violence against women is a “women’s issue.” However since men commit the vast majority of that violence, both men and women have to be involved in creating change. Without the involvement of men, the underlying social factors that foster a climate of violence will continue to place women at risk. Until women in Guatemala and elsewhere can freely voice their opinions without repercussion, the pandemic of violence against women will continue.