by Sebastian Africano, International Director
A lot of my recent “firsts” have been in Guatemala, while working with TWP partner Utz Che’ – an umbrella group for 36 campesino organizations throughout this vast country. Through Utz Che’ I met the community of La Bendición – a displaced population of some 100 families from San Marcos, who were resettled in the south east of the country, in the Department of Escuintla.
Since 2011 a group of young men from La Bendición has been approaching me very formally, seeking support for some community projects they were getting off the ground. Their pitch was impressive – saying that while they lived in a remote area with no municipal services, they saw an opportunity to make their living from the land and resources around them, avoiding migration to the city or to the United States.
After three years of visits, I have never been let down by these guys – they’ve planted tens of thousands of trees, thousands of pineapples, and have a small enterprise producing honey. So, when they asked me to support them getting additional training in bee keeping to improve their business, I made it a priority to see that it happened.
For two days in November 2014, a group of 16 beekeepers from the Utz Che’ broad network of partners came together at the Meso-American Permaculture Institute (IMAP) on the south shore of Lake Atitlán to receive an apiculture workshop from local expert Genaro Simalaj. The participants ranged in age from 16 to 70 years, and were from throughout Guatemala – three generations of knowledge and experience in one powerful convergence.
When participants were asked in an introductory circle what bees meant to each of them, responses included “they are part of my family”, “they are who give life to nature through pollination”, “a healthful economy” and “they are the scientists that do with nature what no one else can”. We then spent two days studying and splitting hives, collecting honey, and learning from each other in the mountains around Lake Atitlán.
This workshop was a reminder to me of the importance of my work at TWP – a fulcrum between the aspirations of rural communities and the resources that help them become reality. David Bautista, the unwavering leader of the youth group from La Bendición said that “when the adults are no longer here, it’s us (the youth) who are going to have to guide this ship”. My role, as I see it, is just to fan the sails.
Join TWP on a work tour to the community of La Bendición the week of March 15 – 22 to build clean cookstoves, work in the tree nursery, learn about bee keeping, and help fix a water system. A great way to travel while giving back! Register by Dec. 31 for a 5% discount: www.treeswaterpeople.org/worktour