Community Engagement & Service

Indigenous Guatemala: The Struggle for Rights and Recognition After Genocide

The Trip

The Alternative Break trip to Guatemala will focus on the struggles of indigenous peoples to practice their culture, protect their rights, and preserve their memories after years of oppression and violence. As the country continues to rebuild from an incredibly brutal and one-sided civil war that raged for 36 years, Mayan indigenous groups still face marginalization and violent oppression. This trip will examine how human rights abuses of the past and present are interconnected and provide exposure to the social movements that seek to address the root of the problem.

Participants will meet with on-the-ground human rights activists to learn about their innovative and courageous efforts, and have the opportunity to work side by side with organizations through community service projects. This trip will provide students with a valuable cross-cultural perspective and a deeper connection with the shared human experience. Students will reflect on how they, as American citizens, can be part of the movement for social justice in Guatemala and throughout the world, thereby building a foundation to become lifelong human rights defenders and advocates for social justice. As AU returns to Guatemala for the seventh year, students will learn how to stand in solidarity with the Guatemalan citizens and put their experience into action upon their return.

Trip Social Justice Issues

Members of the indigenous community are fighting relentlessly to be recognized in society after years of repression, peaking with the genocide of the 1980’s. Over 200,000 people, mostly indigenous civilians, were killed or disappeared, yet many of those responsible have not been held accountable and the country as a whole has not come to terms with its violent past. Consequentially, the country does not have structures in place to support a holistic and peaceful society.

On the trip, we will begin to delve into the various forms of human rights abuses against indigenous populations. The main issues addressed will be environmental destruction and harassment of communities in the hands of resource-extracting megaprojects; divisive and unjust government policy perpetuated by a corrupt system and elitist power structures; ethnic discrimination and marginalization; and brutal restrictions on freedoms such as expression and association.

The indigenous effort to rebuild Guatemala and address these issues is incredibly complex and multi-faceted. Throughout the trip, participants will be exposed to many different perspectives and sides of the movement. They will learn how historical memory, judicial proceedings of past violations, direct human rights activism, and cultural preservation are all integral parts of the current movement and the creation of a just society in the future.

About the Student Leaders

Nellie Mitchell is a Junior majoring in Spanish and Latin American studies. She was first exposed to social justice issues in Guatemala when she traveled there in 2009, and was lucky to have the opportunity to return on the 2012 Alternative Break trip. Nellie has a strong interest in Latin American culture and human rights in the region, and her experiences in Guatemala have continued to play an important role in her life.

Jacqui Langer is a Junior majoring in Cultural Psychology and minoring in Latin American Studies. She fell in love with all things Spanish while studying abroad in Lima, Peru for her senior year of high school. At AU, she is usually busy playing rugby or working at the library. Jacqui also participated in the 2012 Alt Break trip and can’t wait to go back next January.

Tentative Itinerary (subject to change):

Day 1
Arrive in Guatemala City, get settled at Hotel Spring
Training Orientation
Dinner with NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala)

Day 2
Meet with Cluadia of UDEFEGUA, the “defenders of the defenders”
Meeting with Forensic Anthropology Association   
Tour of Relief Map
Dinner with members of H.I.J.O.S. (Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against the Silence and Forgetting)

Day 3
Meeting with community members and anti-mining activists in San Juan Sacatepquez
Lunch with community members
Meet with Norma Cruz of Survivor’s Foundation

Day 4
Travel to Rio Negro
Orientation with Don Sebastian, community leader
Dinner prepared by community members, discuss history of Chixoy Dam

Day 5
Hike to Pak’oxom, site of 1982 massacre – commemoration site
Visit Rio Negro museum
Time to unwind, nap, swim

Day 6
Walking tour of Rio Negro; meet with community members in Rio Negro
Travel to Rabinal, settle into Hostal Posada San Pablo

Day 7
Meet with Carlos Chen of ADIVIMA (Association for the development of the Maya-Atchi victims of violence)
Visit Pacux, the relocation camp for Maya Achi communities who were forced off their land.
Meet Romeo Tecu of Association for Justice and Reconciliation for tour of cemetery and memorial mural
Visit Rabinal Museum, where there are photos of victims of Rio Negro, photos of exhumations, and other cultural artifacts
Meeting with Jesus Tecu of the Lawyer’s Association

Day 8
Spend day at Fundación Nueva Esperanza (New Hope Foundation – primary school)
Cultural activities
Service project

Day 9
Go to Mother Earth Association meet with Doña Magdalena
Community visits to farms with Mother Earth staff
Lunch at Mother Earth restaurant
Return to Guatemala City
Dinner with Sandra Moran of Casa Artesana

Day 10
Meeting with US Embassy
Travel to Antigua, settle into Guesthouse of Foundations for Education
Time to explore Antigua, shop
Closing ceremony and final reflection

Day 11
Travel back to Washington, D.C.


Location: Guatemala
Dates of Trip: January 2 - January 12, 2013
Email Student Trip Leaders: Jacqui Langer and Nellie Mitchell
Faculty Advisor: Bryan McNeil, Anthropology
Cost: $2,000
Cost Includes: airfare, transportation, room and board, meals, and all activities. Does not include immunizations.