Archives - ‘Guatemala’

Changing perceptions

November 10, 2015 | Libertad, Guatemala, Uniterra, CECI , Baseline Assessment Intern

When I first got to Guatemala, I was very excited but at the same time I was very scared about the crime and violence in the country. The first day I was so scared to go out, I have never felt that way before.  I was looking around me all the time, I felt so vulnerable.  I thought with anxiety, “I hope I will not feel this way for my whole internship period because I do not think I can live like this for three months”. I have been almost half way into my internship since that day and I feel completely different.  It feels so right to be here, of course, I know that I need to be careful, but I feel relaxed and my perception of the situation has changed. If we watch and/or read the news about Guatemala in the media, it seems that there is only violence and crimes in the country. There is no place for anything else. However, when you live here you can see that this is only a part of the reality, there is another part of the picture which is lost, and in my opinion, that part is the most important one. Guatemala is a country where people are full of creativity and energy to resist global economic forces and social injustices. Guatemala is also a country where different cultures live together which makes it a fountain of art, ancestral knowledge, marvellous cuisine, and numerous languages.

There is not one reality, there are thousands of them. We need to go deeper in the different discourses which form our own perceptions of a country, community, person, culture etc…, because sometimes the best things remain invisible at first sight. Dominant discourses are dangerous and simplistic, and in general, they hide interests and stereotypes.  That’s why I think it is fundamental to revise and re-read the different stories that seem so neutral. We need to go further in our analysis of the world that we live.

Difficile de quitter le paradis

November 29, 2013 | Aurore, ECH, Uniterra, Guatemala, Commission du tourisme CODEDE

26 novembre 2013
San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

Déjà la fin… Déjà la fin d’une aventure hors-pair. Je recommanderais le stage à n’importe qu’elle personne qui a envie d’aventure, de s’ouvrir l’esprit et d’apprendre d’une autre culture. De plus, les habiletés apprises sur le terrain vont certainement m’aider dans mon cheminement, autant scolaire que professionnel.

Le petit village de San Juan La laguna a su me charmer. Les gens sont d’une sympatie extraordinaire. J’ai sorti à plusieurs occasions ma slackline et ce fut un moyen extraordinaire pour créer des liens avec différentes tranches d’âge. Ma famille d’acceuil était ouverte d’esprit, compréhensive et attentive. Chacun d’entre eux a partagé des expériences de vie et des opinions, ce qui a enrichi mes connaissances quant à leur culture et à leurs habitudes. Je pense que j’ai été choyée d’être au Guatemala. Je n’ai pas choisi le pays, mais plutôt la langue qu’on y parlais. Je voulais à tout pris améliorer mon espagnol. De plus, le poste était dans la promotion, qui n’est pas du tout mon domaine. L’opportunité parfaite pour acquérir de nouvelles connaissances professionnels et linguistiques. Finalement, je suis tombée en amour avec le Guatemala et ses habitants. Le CECI (programme Uniterra) ont toujours été présent lors de mon stage. Ils repondaient rapidement à mes questions et s’assuraient du bon fonctionnement de mon mandat. Je devais, au départ, améliorer la page web de l’organisme et apprendre aux différents reponsables des associations du village comment l’utiliser. Elle devait être créée deux semaines avant que jarrive, et le fut deux jours avant que je parte! Bienvenue au Guatemala!

Mon mandat a consisté d’avantage à apporter un support sur tous les différents projets de l’organisation (Ati’t’Ala). J’ai fait des catalogues et des panflets de promotion pour un projet de vente de végétaux biologiques, donner des cours sur l’utilisation des réseaux sociaux, de l’ordinateur, fait des plans de promotions pour les associations et aidé Malik (un autre volontaire du CECI) dans son projet d’expositions des murales de San Juan La laguna. La majeur partie de mes efforts a par contre été concentrée à la promotion d’un festival qu’Ati’t’ala organisait. Le Festival Naooj Tinaamit, qui fut un beau succès! Je voyagais à travers le Guatemala, principalement autour du Lac Atitlan pour donner des panflets et des affiches, expliquer le festival et le faire connaître auprès des hotels, des écoles d’espagnol, des agences touristiques et des centres du tourisme. Également, j’ai tourné plus d’une dizaine de petits vidéos de moins d’une minute sur la cultura de San Juan La Laguna, qui ont fait office de promotion sur la page facebook du festival. J’étais responsable des réseaux sociaux, donc constamment en contact avec des guatemaltéques. Ce fut un plaisir de travailler avec eux. Ils sont non seulement très coopératif et attentif à de nouvelles propositions, mais ils travaillent d’arrache pied pour obtenir le nécessaire afin de faire vivre leur famille.

La valeur de la famille est ce qui m’a le plus impressionné. Tout, tout sera fait pour la famille. On n’aspire pas à une réussite professionelle à San Juan La laguna, mais bien à une réussite familiale. La religion a bien sure un énorme pouvoir sur les choix des gens, mais il en reste que leur coeur est immense. Acceptée comme leur propre fille, ma famille d’accueil m’a enseigné que la valeur monétaire n’avait pas d’importance si les gens qui t’entourent ne t’aime pas.

Je peux, après ses trois mois de stage, dire que le Guatemala et ses habitants ont fait la différence dans ma vie d’étudiante. Je reviens avec une vision des problèmes sociaux et économiques changée, une approche différente quant à la coopération international et surtout, surtout, avec un coeur rempli de souvenirs et de moments inoubliables.

Autant ma famille d’acceuil, que le CECI, que le Guatemala et ses paysages splendides, que mon mandat et mes coéquipiers de travail ont tous et chacun contribué à ce que je considère comme une réussite. Une réussite sur le plan scolaire, sur le plan professionnel et sur celui émotionel.

San Juan La Laguna : L’aventure continue!

November 8, 2013 | Aurore, ECH, Uniterra, Guatemala, Commission du tourisme CODEDE

Dans le petit village de San Juan La Laguna au Guatemala, c’est toujours l’amour fou! Je n’aurais pas penser visiter ce pays un jour, mais m’y voilà. J’apprends à le connaître et à l’aimer, surtout à aimer les « chapines ». Tant de paysages paradisiaques, de visages d’enfants adorables, de sourires contagieux, de couleurs flamboyantes, de vêtements typiques uniques. Tant de volcans au milieu d’un ciel bleu ou encore au milieu d’une tempête. Tant de beauté dans un crépuscule tombant sur un océan qui parait sans fin.

J’admire le naturel et ce que les guatémaltèques arrivent à faire de leurs propres mains. Toutefois, aucune photo n’exprime ce charme, cet envoûtement, ces battements de cœurs face à ce merveilleux nouveau inconnu. Aucune photo n’exprime le moment où un enfant pose son regard curieux sur tes cheveux. Aucune photo n’exprime ce sentiment d’accomplissement et de fierté au sommet d’une montagne. Aucune photo n’est autant parfaite que le moment présent. C’est la beauté unique de ce moment. Parfois, en regardant une photo, on peut revivre les émotions vécues, mais rien ne vaut le moment présent. Je ne suis pas une experte de la photo et mon appareil n’est pas toujours à porté de main. Heureusement, car je profite, sans pause photographique, du moment avec cet enfant qui rit, d’une discussion sur la politique et l’éducation avec une femme qui a 17 enfants. Par la suite je me dis que j’aurais dû prendre une photo de ce sourire, mais finalement, je l’ai la photo, elle est dans ma mémoire. Elle va s’estomper avec les années et d’autres viendront prendre sa place. Le plein potentiel du bonheur ne se résume pas dans une photo que l’on partage, mais bien dans la joie du moment présent et le partage par la suite de ses émotions à autrui. Que de bonheur, d’être à coté de quelqu’un et savoir que lui aussi ressent ce sentiment d’impuissance face au ciel étoilé! Nul besoin d’une photo pour capturer le moment, seulement d’un cœur.

Mon mandat a complètement changé. Je pense que c’est quelque chose qui arrive fréquemment dans le monde de la coopération. En parlant avec les autres volontaires du CECI, au Guatemala, rare sont ceux qui n’ont fait que ce qui était sur les papiers. Dans mon cas, je suis loin des objectifs établis avant le départ. Je devais me charger de la page web, d’en faire la promotion et d’expliquer son fonctionnement au gens du village. Hors, elle n’est toujours pas créée! De plus, la plupart des artisans/peintres avec lesquels nous travaillons ont plusieurs difficultés quant au fonctionnement d’un ordinateur. Il faut donc commencer par la base et expliquer comment l’ouvrir! Ca semble bien logique. De plus, tel que mentionné dans l’article précédent, je suis en charge de faire la promotion du festival que l’association organise. Cela prend finalement 100% de mon temps depuis les dernieres semaines. Entre envoyer des messages, me déplacer dans les différentes villes et villages autour du lac, contacter les médias, mettre quotidiennement à jour le twitter et la page facebook, répondre aux courriels et au téléphone, je suis bien occupée! Je travaille moins avec les gens du village et d’avantage avec les agences de touristes et les médias. J’ai également tournée une dizaine de petits films de moins d’une minute pour faire la promotion via les réseaux sociaux.

Outre ma joie quotidienne d’aller au travail, j’ai l’opportunité de vivre dans une famille extraordinaire. Ils sont très compréhensifs, ouvert d’esprit et cultivés. Nous parlons de différents sujets tous les soirs à table tel que la religión, l’éducation, l’environnement, l’alcool et les drogues. Ils sont très confortable à parler des crimes, de la violence au Guatemala et des questions de sécurité. Cette chance me permet de comprendre la culture et d’analyser plusieurs de mes observations suite à leurs commentaires.

Guatemala, je t’aime déjà!

October 19, 2013 | Aurore, ECH, Uniterra, Guatemala, Commission du tourisme CODEDE

15 octobre 2013
San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

C’est dans le petit village de San Juan La Laguna, à environ 1600 mètres d’altitude, au bord d’un des plus grands lacs du Guatemala (surement le plus touristique), le Lago Atitlan, qu’une histoire d’amour commence…
Déjà que la capitale, je l’aimais bien, ce n’est rien comparé à ce petit village de 3000 habitants où chaque passant te dit Buenas/Adios et où l’atmosphère est mystérieuse et étrangement joyeuse !
Entouré de montagnes et de volcans, d’une eau turquoise opaque, de fruitiers et de guatémaltèques souriants portant des vêtements qui ne passent pas inaperçus aux yeux d’une canadienne (les couleurs sont encore plus marquantes que celles de l’arc-en-ciel au milieu dun ciel bleu clair !). San Juan sait accueillir de jeunes perdus comme moi ! Si on me demande pourquoi j’ai choisi le Guatemala, je n’en ai aucune idée. J’étais en voyage sur le continent africain au moment où il fallait postuler… ça en dit beaucoup sur l’état d’esprit dans lequel j’étais ! En arrivant dans la maison, où j’habite pour le restant de mon stage, j’ai compris que c’était pour être ici et connaitre ces gens merveilleux que j’avais choisi le Guatemala, créer ces relations qui en une seconde viennent de prendre une place grandiose dans mon petit cœur prêt à tout découvrir. Je vis dans une petit chambre, dans une petite maison au milieu de pleins d’autres, où la pluie a pour conséquence de rendre le plancher glissant 24h/24, où la table de la cuisine est fait pour 4 personnes mais on y mange à 7, où l’accès à internet est inexistant, mais les relations humaines sont chaleureuses, où chaque petites fentes dans le plancher laisse libre-court à des fourmis de rentrer et sortir, où le bruit de la pluie sur la tôle, des criquets et les touctouc qui klaxonnent (mototaxi) font partis de ta berceuse pour t’endormir, où chaque instant passé entre ces « murs» me fait simplement réfléchir d’avantage sur le confort inessentiel que j’ai de retour au Canada ! Ehh que je t’aime Guatemala!
Le transport en commun, je commence à y être habitué maintenant ¡ Nous sommes généralement trois adultes par bancs, ainsi que deux personnes qui se tiennent debout dans l’allée. Dès qu’un homme entre dans l’autobus, il pose directement le regard sur la peau blanche assise dans son coin près de la fenêtre. Si la place à côté est libre, les statistiques de mon périple indiquent que 99% du temps, il va venir s’assoir à mes côtés, même s’il y a des bancs de libre ailleurs ! Ensuite, selon mes propres statistiques encore, dès hommes qui viennent s’assoir volontairement à mes cotés, 100% d’entre eux vont tenter de s’approcher, mettre leur main proche de ma cuisse (ou sur ma cuisse) et même parfois tenter de flatter ma main (qui est la seule partie de mon corps autre que mon visage à découvert!). Mon regard et ma gestuel (me déplacer rapidement) veulent tout dire et en général, ils s’arrêtent la. D’autres insistent un peu, mais pas très longtemps, car sinon je change de banc ! Par contre, si c’est un enfant qui entre dans l’autobus et que la place est libre à mes côtés, il va également venir s’asseoir, mais en laissant un bon 30cm entre nous deux et ne fera que me fixer du regard. La curiosité fini souvent par l’emporter et ils vont me demander mon nom, d’où je viens et où je vais. C’est tellement mignon! J’ai envie de tous les prendre dans mes bras et de leur faire un gros bisou sur leurs joues basanées !
Mon mandat consiste à faire principalement de la promotion. Je travaille pour un organisme qui se nomme Ati’t’Ala. Nous travaillons avec les différentes associations de peintres, de textiles, de guides touristiques et de plantes médicinales du village. Il y a également un projet de vente d’aliments biologiques. C’est super intéressant en raison des divers domaines que nous touchons! Je devais être en charge du site internet de l’organisation, expliquer le fonctionnement aux différentes associations et l’améliorer. Toutefois, cette page n’est toujours pas créée (elle devait l’être deux semaines avant mon arrivée!). C’est pour le meilleur à mon avis, car la plupart des présidents et administrateurs des associations ne savent finalement même pas comment ouvrir l’ordinateur! Tous les jours je fais des formations sur l’utilisation des réseaux sociaux, je fais des documents de promotions et des catalogues pour la vente. Je participe également à l’organisation du festival qui aura lieu le 16 et 17 novembre. Je voyage à travers le pays pour parler de l’évènement et déposer les pamphlets et les affiches.
Je suis passionnée par ce que je fais ici, par la culture et la gentillesse des gens est incomparable. Tous mes coéquipiers de travail sont compétents, travaillants et aimable. Je vis dans une famille et la nourriture est tellement bonne que j’ai surement pris quelques livres! Quoi demander de mieux!

Home, Sweet Home

July 30, 2013 | Catherine, DVM, Uniterra, Guatemala, Maya Works

I find it somewhat odd to be writing this on my own computer, sitting at my own desk, in my own home. Granted, I have only been gone 3 short months, and not much has changed around here. But somehow, I feel I have been gone for years.

I formally ended my internship with MayaWorks last week. The usual goodbye parties ensued, shared with friends and coworkers, and the last few days disappeared in a commotion of packing, re-packing, last minute souvenir shopping and one last attempt to fit everything into a single backpack. I managed to schedule a traditional Mayan ceremony with a coworker´s brother, a spiritual guide, so as to see what the Mayan spiritual forces have in store for the future. But those details, I will keep to myself.

During the last week of internship, I realized that it was no longer a question of finishing projects, but of setting up the guidelines for completion of these projects by others once I left. It seemed as though time had been compressing, every day bringing new challenges and less time to sort them out.

I started my internship with a work plan. Another volunteer I met around that time commented humorously on its complexity, and how three months could hardly be enough time to finish it all. I laughed it off, confident that I would accomplish everything with time left over at the end! Granted, at the end of the line, work was quick and as efficient as the worst internet connection of all time would allow. But, limitations started to test my patience. Printing offices never printed by the expected deadline, head offices required approval and were slow to answer requests, funding was irregular, artisans weren´t as productive as I had expected or rather estimated, etc. With the last week looming, we had four stores waiting for items that we didn´t have in stock (we never successfully managed to develop a stockpile), a few items still at the printers, letters that hadn´t been sent, orders that hadn´t been written. But as another visitor once told me: ´´TIG´´. This Is Guatemala.

Looking back on my internship, I am honestly proud of what I was able to accomplish. My particular position allowed me great flexibility in terms of time and selection of the work I wished to do. As the only intern in an office consisting of 2 administrators and 1 accountant, I was allowed to work independently on projects that we agreed could help the association. I designed 2 pamphlets, 1 new business card, new packaging material, 1 promotional poster, 2 commercial posters for our vendors, and more. The flexibility and independence I enjoyed allowed me to create designs according to my imagination. This greatly helped speed up the process and allowed me to learn how to navigate new programs such as Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Photoshop. Of course, designs were inspired and tweaked by my coworkers and the head office but I tremendously enjoyed the creative opportunities nonetheless.

Other tasks such as creating data banks, mailing lists, finding new vendors and producers and selling (door-to-door style) our services to new stores and hotels were tedious but nevertheless valuable. Commercial communication is nerve-wracking, especially on the selling side. However, I developed networking and marketing skills and left MayaWorks with new communications tools useful in many different circumstances. We have one new potential international client, and several new vendors in Antigua. The challenge now will be for the artisans to keep up the pace of the new inflowing orders.

Now back at home, I can say unequivocally that I do not regret embarking on this journey. International internships may not be the idealistic, life-changing opportunities portrayed by some. But neither did I ever have these expectations. Nonetheless, it has been an amazing opportunity in every regard: professionally, academically and personally. I will definitely recommend this endeavor to other students, with the caveat that what we really get out of an internship grows from what we put into it. That is entirely in our hearts, heads and hands.

El Tiempo Vuela

July 16, 2013 | Catherine, DVM, Uniterra, Guatemala, Maya Works

Nearly 8 weeks have gone by since the start of my internship in with MayaWorks. It’s amazing what you can do in such little time, although much is still to be done. I’m currently at the crux of most of my mobilization and awareness projects, with most of the promotional material going off to the printers in the next few days. Then, the fun part starts, when I’ll get to promote our brand throughout Antigua much more actively. I’ve also established a potential international corporate partnership, which will be great for our association if it materializes (the process may take a few months). I must admit it feels odd to be doing real, international and concrete work in marketing when my formal education has focused on far different areas. But at the same time, I’ve always loved talking and selling, and I’m having a blast promoting something that is also close to my heart, which is fair trade.

During my free time I’ve been lucky enough to travel to most touristic places around Antigua. I’ve visited the majestic ruins in Tikal, the beautiful Semuc Champey, the serene Atitlan lake and the boisterous markets in Chichicastenango, I’ve tasted coffee at the Filadelfia farm and I have a few more day trips planned including volcano hikes, visiting local breweries and macadamia farms, celebrating San Juan in a nearby town, and keeping up with the fast pace of the salsa lifestyle. While sickness has caught up to me a few times, it´s all part of the traveler´s life and after a quick rest, one must get back on one’s feet and keep exploring.

Speaking of the Filadelfia farm, the 43rd OEA convention was held in this exact farm in the outskirts of Antigua. I won’t go into details about the meeting’s results as my opinions by no means reflect those of MayaWorks, CECI, the faculty or any other institutions I may be representing. However, I will admit to being highly disappointed with some specific conclusions (or lack thereof) of the meeting. Guatemala is a beautiful country, with great potential. As the Guatemalan ambassador to the UK said, other countries may have more than Guatemala, but nowhere is there as much as there is in Guatemala, in such a small space. This country is overflowing with fertile lands, hundreds of different cultures, lovely people and countless opportunities, if only the social development of the country would become a priority unhindered by institutionalized corruption, a stifling religious culture and the remnants of a brutal past. But there is no single path to development, and once again I stress that my opinion on these matters (vague as they may be in this entry) is entirely my own.

It is slightly overwhelming to see the amount of things to be done not only here, but in my own country, to better our respective nations. For the first time I’ve joined the local level and worked in areas where, because of lack of real power to change things, I was forced to listen carefully and see what was going on around me in a way that isn’t necessary possible, or at least as easy, when budgets and goals and corporate concerns define the possible and the necessary. But then I remember, things can change just by listening, also.

Dancing In The Rain

June 5, 2013 | Catherine, DVM, Uniterra, Guatemala, Maya Works

Welcome to Antigua, where coca cola replaces coffee at the breakfast table, Latin club music is blasted on morning busses, traffic is an endless game of chicken and grocery shopping is not for the faint hearted.

 

The chaos of developing countries is part of their charm, and it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back. Of course, when fatigue hits home, the market seems like less of an adventure and more of an impending ordeal, and the local pizza place becomes a welcome respite. But there’s no time to stop, the daily rhythm here is quick and steady, from dawn ´til dusk, and everywhere you turn there are children and adults alike, running about, bartering, selling, calling, playing, dancing and laughing.

 

And all this in the rain.

 

We are in the rainy season, which means that it either rains all day or it rains most of the day. I have a secret pact with nature, and I travel with the sun: no matter how dreary the weather is forecast, it is always sunny when I’m there. My pact worked well for my first week in Antigua -to the dismay of local farmers-, but even my supernatural powers eventually waned and yielded  to the torrential downpour that characterises these tropical climates. One thing is certain: while Canadians tend to stay inside and hide during the rain, life here doesn’t miss a beat. Then again, with leaky roofs and constant humidity, nothing dries anyways: there’s really no escaping the cold, so we might as well forget about it.

 

I’ve been working at MayaWorks for a little over two weeks now. We are well on our way to develop new business cards, flyers and other promotional material, and soon I’ll be promoting a new tour in the Comalapa region, where visitors will gain insight into our artisans’ lives and how fair trade works. Work is exciting, but sometimes slow as there are only 2 administrators to oversee all the orders and nothing can really be done without their approval. Despite the little setbacks, I’m having a blast promoting the projects and products we sell, and I can’t wait to put my salesperson talents to the test in the next few weeks.

 

On the social side, I was excited at the prospect of working in a Latin country as I could continue to develop my dancing skills. Performance dancing in Canada is slightly bureaucratic and can be long and dreary. I found a good teacher here and we are already practicing for a few shows in the region. Nerve-wracking definitely, but exciting! Of course 2 weeks doesn’t compare to 8 months of intensive training, but then you can never take yourself too seriously when dancing (or travelling, for that matter). When all else fails, laughter will make it better! I’ve also just finished writing an international Spanish exam over the weekend, preparation for which was time consuming  during my first weeks in Guatemala. Who knows what I will do with my now abundant free time!

 

There is much work to be done, places to see, and people to meet.

 

¡Manos a la obra!

‘dios, pues, Guate!

August 7, 2012 | Julia, Uniterra, Guatemala, Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas

3 months ago, I committed myself to an internship with the Union Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas, and 3 months later I find myself documenting my last moments and experiences in Guatemala before I prepare for my return home. The time has flown by so quickly, that I find myself both overwhelmed by my surroundings and proud of what I have accomplished during my brief time in the heart of the Mayan world.

 

Before arriving to Guatemala, I came with several assumptions. I have never been a mainstream thinker, and before my arrival, I assumed, and with some pangs of regret, that I was throwing myself into an organization where neoliberal development served as the ideological foundation for its projects. I assumed that all development represented new forms of colonialism – a neocolonial expression of Western interests on the soil of the global south, empowered by the efforts of do-gooder volunteers who shared the idealistic (and dangerous) goal of “making a difference” without an adequate understanding of the context and culture of where change needs to be fostered. And I secretly yet seriously questioned my own involvement in the process, seeking consolation in the fact that I was going to learn and affirm what I had thought all along – development and the way it is implemented about it needs to change.

 

Finding myself at the end of my internship, I find myself much less pessimistic about development. Indeed, I still believe that the phrase “implementing development” implies a colonial mentality of “west knows best” in the development process which only drives the cycle of power relations rooted in a history of domination and global inequalities, today polarized by the very nature of our international capitalist system. But what I believe now that I perhaps had not considered before is that alternate development can and does exist. Yes – the process of global development efforts does need to change; but to my surprise and realization, it is changing.

 

I feel that before my experience in Guatemala, I read about and could reiterate the importance of pursuing a more critical approach to development studies, to not simply accepting realities or methods, or processes. Now, I feel like I can truly say I understand what it means to engage – to listen, to share, and to cultivate development from a more organic perspective. Sharing in ideas with my colleagues, who have become my friends, has truly given me a space to elaborate my perspectives and have offered their ideas has given me an invaluable foundation upon which to continue my studies and professional pursuits. I cannot emphasize how grateful I am to my host organization, to the Centro de Estudios y de Cooperacion Internacional, and to the University of Ottawa for enabling and empowering my participation in such a formidable learning experience and opportunity.

 

These past few weeks have been busy and hectic for me, making my time pass even faster than I had anticipated! I’ve spent some time travelling to San Marcos and San Miguel Ixtahuacan, exploring the context of the rural and impoverished regions of Guatemala and impacted by foreign investment in the extractive sector and all the dilemmas and destruction associated with such intervention (“development?”). I have also travelled to Quetzaltenango with my host brother, his girlfriend and cousin for a concert a friend was putting on. I truly enjoyed my experience in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city nestled in its mountainous highlands, and wish I could have stayed for longer! I also travelled to Tikal, but on my own, to visit the Mayan ruins and explore in the jungle, before I took some time to enjoy the lakeside towns of Flores and Santa Elena.

 

I also participated in a course offered here at FLACSO given by a Spanish academic, Dra. Rosa Cobo. The course was centered on her latest publication, a book entitled : Hacia una nueva politica sexual – las mujeres ante la reaccion patriarchal. I am proud to say that I read the entire book – in Spanish – and participated in the entire week-long course here in Guatemala City. If I’m not mistaken, this was the first entire book I have read in Spanish, my 3rd language!

 

The course itself explored how the capitalist economy in an era of neoliberal globalization is impacting women. How are new forms of violence against women generated?  How do we grapple with women’s rights and a respect of cultures without descending into cultural relativism? Men and women from various local NGOs participated and engaged in the course, which brought forth interesting perspectives and debates. Exploring feminism from a political economic perspective throughout the course provided me with a strong foundation for future study, and really got me thinking about neoliberal globalization in the context of the extractive industry and its impacts on women. With my MA studies beginning in the near future, I can definitely see myself pursuing these questions further!

 

This past weekend being my last in Guatemala, I decided to challenge myself to the fullest and pursue something I have been considering throughout my time here – hiking Central America’s third largest volcano – Acatenango! It is known for its challenging slopes and breathtaking views, and I decided to join an expedition and camp overnight on the volcano. So, I made the trek up nearly 4000 m and had the experience of a lifetime! I cannot even begin to describe the majestic views we enjoyed from our campsite at 3500m, and the sights we saw from the crater. All I can say is that I’m certainly glad I’ve been working out with my host mom, and that the views we had made the trek worth the effort! What a way to say ‘Adios, Guatemala!!!

 

I felt so warmly hosted while I was here, and today, I was treated to two goodbye parties – one at my work after my final meeting this afternoon, and another with my host family and some friends. My colleagues got me a cake, a little gift and a card signed by everyone in the office, and had so many kind words to share. I felt so special! Later this evening, my host family prepared a special dinner for me as my goodbye celebration. One friend I met through my host brother, ‘El Gordo’ is a well-known Guatemalan musician and even brought his guitar to sing a few songs to say goodbye! My host family also got me a cake and gifts as an early birthday surprise, as I won’t be celebrating my birthday in Guatemala!  

 

Everyone has made me feel so welcome and safe here, and I am sure I will be seeing my host family, colleagues and friends sometime soon! ‘Guatemala es tu segunda casa, Julia, estas siempre la bienvenida!’ (Guatemala is your second home, you are always welcome) say my friends here – I truly hope to come back to visit the friends I have made, and continue to learn and explore Guatemala!

 

Now, as I pack my bags and prepare for my trip home, I feel so incredibly grateful – to the University of Ottawa, to CECI, to the UNAMG, and to my family and friends in Canada and in Guatemala, for making this experience a reality for me. I am so humbled by everyone’s support and encouragement, and appreciate so much the experience I have gained from my participation in this international internship. I would encourage anyone with a curiosity and a passion for change to hop on board, and live the experience of a lifetime!

 

Abrazos a todãs!

Settling in…

July 25, 2012 | Kylea, Uniterra, Guatemala, La Red Nacional de Grupos Gestores- Asesora en Desarrollo de Circuitos Turísticos

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Guatemala was that every car had tinted windows. I have never seen such dark windows on vehicles in my life. To my knowledge in Canada windows can only be tinted to a certain degree and then it is illegal. Here the windows are so black that on many vehicles it is impossible to even see the driver, let alone the passenger. I thought it was quite peculiar so I asked one of our NGO representatives. She explained to me that it was for security purposes. When my NGO representative told me about that, I was shocked and felt sort of chilled. The windows are purposely that dark to protect the people inside from unwanted attention. Our NGO representative told us it´s also that way so that people can´t tell if a person (woman more specifically) is driving alone. It is so no one knows how many people are inside the vehicle at any time. Even now after living here a few weeks I still do not know how people drive during the night with such dark windows. It just seemed so unreal that it was practically a necessity for people to have black windows installed on their vehicles. Learning this unsettled me quite a lot—that fact that it was practically a natural part of life here.

While I was in Guatemala City during the orientation week I took the opportunity to ask about the city and how real the dangers actually were—or if the stories I had heard and read about the country were indeed just stories. I was explicitly warned not to go to certain zones of the city, and if I was to go anywhere to take a cab—never walk. I was warned I needed to know where I was going at all times. At all times I have colleague’s and taxi numbers in my phone and in my wallet to call if anything were to go wrong. I was also advised not to contact the police and avoid them as much as possible—they are not to be trusted at all. I was told how corrupt they are and how they often take bribes. The government is corrupt and so are the police. This is in part because the officers do not have very high salaries, so bribes are openly welcomed. This also unsettled me as growing up in Central Ontario, where as a child I was taught to go to the police if you were in trouble or need of assistance—here they were to be avoided like the plague.

After learning a little more about the physical geography of Guatemala my CECI took me to visit my NGO and look for accommodations. I looked at four different types of accommodation in Chimaltenango where I was going to work; however, my supervisor did not think that the accommodations were suitable. Two of the rooms did not have any furniture, another had only a bed and the mattress was filled with holes, the last place had no internet access and was quite dark. I had to take the internet point into consideration as I am a student and do have assignments to complete for my internship. Another factor to consider was that Chimaltenango is more dangerous than Antigua and there are not many things to do in the evening or afternoons. After exhausting our options in Chimaltenango we continued on to Antigua, one of the formal capitals of Guatemala.

Antigua is a beautiful colonial town of approximately 30,000 people. There are many bars, shops, restaurants, churches, ruins, parks, and other historical sights. We met up with another volunteer from CECI and continued looking at three more potential housing options. The first was a private room in a very nice house. It was nice but did not have a warm, home kind of feeling. We continued searching and visited a host family, but the room didn’t have any windows and we thought that this could be a potential fire hazard. We finally came to a guest house which had large spacious rooms with windows. The guest house was also complimented by a garden and a white rabbit. I decided that the guest house was a reasonable and safe option.

Once I settled into my room and located the grocery store, market, and started to orient myself by getting lost many times in the beautiful cobbled streets of Antigua. The first two weeks of living in Antigua I got lost countless times—I wandered around for hours sometimes. Now, weeks later I can guide others around town with confidence.

I first was taken to several bars and shop by a CECI volunteer who had already been living here in Antigua for the past three months. She introduced me to several people who worked at different restaurants and bars. Once I became more confident with my Spanish I started to venture out on my own and then I started to make friends of my own.

Opportunity, Knowledge and Internships

July 24, 2012 | Kylea, Uniterra, Guatemala, La Red Nacional de Grupos Gestores- Asesora en Desarrollo de Circuitos Turísticos

Hello everyone!

I would like to take a moment to introduce myself to you. My name is Kylea and I am currently completing my third year of post secondary education at the University of Ottawa. My program of studies is called International Studies and Modern Languages. I started studying at the University of Ottawa in September 2010.

Before starting to study at university I took three years off to work, travel and figure out what it was that I wanted to study. During this time I lived in Ecuador for three months living with a host family and volunteering in a medical clinic. After that experience I continued on to Europe for eight months travelling and volunteering with the Girl Guides and Scouts at two of the four world centers in England and Switzerland. It was while I was walking through the mountains of Adelboden that I decided that I wanted to study something relating to global politics. Although I enjoyed my volunteering in Europe tremendously, I greatly missed speaking Spanish and the vibrant Latin American culture.

Upon my return to Canada, I applied to universities in Ottawa and started my degree that autumn. At the University of Ottawa they offer the opportunity for students to participate in an internship for one semester. While on internship, students work with an NGO to gain hands-on experience. The university offers internships all over the world in developing nations such as: Ghana, India, Brazil, Nepal, Turkey, Bolivia, Tunisia, South Africa, Peru and Guatemala. When I heard about this learning opportunity I was eager to enroll.

I was intrigued to have the opportunity to put to use the knowledge I had attained over the last two years of my studies. I think it is invaluable to be able to have real life experiences in your field to see if it is truly what you are interested in pursuing as a career.

I had been anticipating my internship since the moment I was accepted. I felt slightly anxious before the start of the internship because the last time I was abroad for an extended period of time, I had more than a year to mentally prepare myself; however, for this internship I had barely any time to prepare for it. I remember hearing about the internship, attending an information session, and then being accepted a week or two later. It took the longest to find out about my host destination and the NGO that I would be working with. Out of the countries to choose from my top two choices were Bolivia and Guatemala—Bolivia because I was interested in going back to South America and Guatemala because it had an interesting, but much different history than Bolivia. I was so happy once I got the confirmation that my host organization wanted me to work with them. Then, it became more real. I was actually going to be living in Guatemala for three months.

The process of getting to Guatemala was a long and tiring one. I flew from Ottawa to Chicago, Chicago to Dallas and then Dallas to Guatemala City (Guate). I arrived in Guate the evening of May 7th with another intern from the university. Representatives from our organizations were there to collect us and transfer us to our hotel in one of the safer zones of Guate. We were both exhausted from the long journey and found it difficult and slightly overwhelming to communicate in Spanish the first evening. Aside from being exhausted and overwhelmed, we were thoroughly looking forward to what the next three months had in store for us.

Especially the first few days of being here in Guatemala, I was in constant wonder of this beautiful and terribly dangerous country. I looked out at the sprawling metropolis of Guate and it was like the apartment buildings and offices had sprouted up through a vibrant jungle. The city is spotted with palm trees and pines and covered in flowering vines. It was fascinating, for the first time in my life I saw where pomegranate fruit came from and how pomegranate trees grow.

Although Guatemala City is breathtakingly beautiful, it is also one of the most dangerous places on the planet—something that I learned from speaking with Guatemalans from all parts of the country.