Community Engagement & Service

Indigenous Guatemala: Community Resilience and the Struggle for Environmental Rights after Genocide


The Trip

The Alternative Break trip to Guatemala will focus on the indigenous communities that are leading social and human rights movements to combat the impunity and unjust power systems of their nation. It has been 17 years since the brutal and one-sided civil war ended, but Mayan indigenous groups still face discriminatory violence, harassment, and marginalization. This trip will examine the political, social, and economic forces that affect their peaceful fight for recognition and justice.  

Participants will have the opportunity to meet with grassroots human rights defenders to learn about their innovation and fortitude, as well as to work side by side with organizations through community service projects. They will gain a valuable cross-cultural perspective on social inequality and human rights and a deeper connection with the shared human experience. The trip will challenge students to reflect on how they, as American citizens, can be part of social justice movements both locally and globally. As AU returns to Guatemala for the eighth year, we will stand in solidarity with the Guatemalan citizens and their defenders and put the experience into action upon our return.

Trip Social Justice Issues

Guatemala’s history is besieged with violence and oppression against the Indigenous population. Of the 626 massacres between 1978 and 1984 of the internal armed conflict, a wide majority targeted Indigenous civilians. Today, mining and other extractive industries ravage the country and use up what little resources the communities have. These Indigenous populations are exploited and forced from their agricultural and ancestral lands, making it much more difficult for them to remain economically autonomous and sustainable. The government favors military and commercial interests over the environmental and cultural needs of Guatemalan citizens.

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 the environmental destruction and lack of consultation for resource-extracting megaprojects, harassment and threats against communities and human rights defenders, divisive and unjust government policies perpetuated by a corrupt government and elitist power structures, and ethnic discrimination and marginalization.

The Indigenous effort to rebuild their communities and to address the root causes of these issues is incredibly complex and multifaceted. Throughout the trip, participants will be exposed to the many sides and perspectives of the movement. They will learn how cultural preservation, education, human rights activism, judicial proceedings, and international solidarity are integral parts of the current movement and the creation of a just society in Guatemala.

About the Student Leaders

Anna Aspenson is a junior studying Public Health. She participated in the 2012-2013 Alternative Break to Guatemala and is interested in ways to achieve community health and address resource disparities.

Kevin Taub is a senior in the School of International Service. He is studying global security with an interest in international law and a regional focus on Latin America.

Tentative Itinerary (subject to change):

Day 1
Arrival in Guatemala City, get settled at Hotel Spring
Training orientation
Dinner with NISGUA: Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala

Day 2
Visit the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala
Meet with FAMDEGU: Guatemalan Families of the Disappeared
Meet with HIJOS: Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against the Silence of Forgetting

Day 3
Meeting with UDEFEGUA: Unit for Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Travel to and meet with community members of San Juan Sacatepéquez about their conflict with Cementos Progreso
Return to Guatemala City

Day 4
Travel to Río Negro
Swim & orientation at the Cultural and Historical Center “Riij Ib’ooy”

Day 5
Strenuous hike up a mountain to Pak’oxom – commemoration site of the 1982 massacre
Visit Río Negro museum
Campfire reflection

Day 6
Walking tour of Río Negro
Travel to Rabinal
Meeting at Mother Earth Association: Qachoo Aloom lodging
Dinner with Qachoo Aloom
Day 7
Service project with Qachoo Aloom
Meet with The Lawyer’s Association of Rabinal
Visit Pacux, the relocation camp for Maya Achí communities who were forced off their land

Day 8
Meeting with ADIVIMA: The Association for the Integral Development for the Victims of the Violence of the Verapaces, Maya Achí
Visit Rabinal Museum – cultural artifacts, stories, and photos from Río Negro and exhumations
Spend rest of the day at Fundación Nueva Esperanza (Primary school for underserved children around Rabinal, educating future community leaders with an emphasis on Maya Achí cultural and language preservation)
Cultural Activities  

Day 9
Service project with Nueva Esperanza students
Visit to San Jose del Golfo to hear about their environmental struggles and anti-mining efforts
Travel back to Guatemala City

Day 10
Meeting with US Embassy
Visit Guatemala City market
Dinner at Casa Artesana, a café and organizing center for women’s empowerment and against Indigenous discrimination
Closing ceremony and final reflection

Day 11
Travel back to Washington, DC


Location: Guatemala

Dates of trip: January 2 – January 12, 2014

Email The Trip Leaders: Kevin Taub and Anna Aspenson

Faculty Advisor: Bryan McNeil, Anthropology

Cost: $2,000

Cost includes airfare, lodging, travel insurance, food, transportation, guides, and activities.