Volunteer Voices: Cherishing a Blessing

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by Peggy Christiansen, Guatemala Work Tour Participant

I came back from our Work Tour with Trees, Water & People humbled, amazed, inspired, joy-filled, and moved to the depths of my soul.

La Bendición, which means The Blessing, is the right name for the little village we visited in southern Guatemala. Two groups of Mayans from very different geographical settings and cultural traditions – even different languages – share this land.  It’s an abandoned, overworked coffee plantation on a hillside that sits next to a virgin forest.  The area, which the Guatemalan government promised would be fertile and full of rivers, has one river and hurricane-strength winds six months out of the year.

And yet the people have named and claimed it as The Blessing.  They have coaxed a living out of that land for 15 years – all the while with a huge debt to the government hanging over their heads.  Why?

Why would they stay in such challenging circumstances?  Apparently, some haven’t.  Some of the younger folks have found the lack of electricity, the inconsistent attendance on the part of schoolteachers, the difficult access to the remote village, the continual struggle with the wind, and the on-going failure on the part of the government to keep its promises to be too much.  Some have sacrificed their strong connection with the earth and have headed for the city. Others have found their way to the States, where they work ungodly long hours to send money home to their families.

But many have stayed.

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The Mayan people I have known in my life are strong. Patient. Resourceful. Playful. And very, very wise. After all, the Mayans have persevered for hundreds of years. They survived colonization by the Spaniards. They endured the fruit companies and plantations and foreign land “owners” of the last two centuries.  And now somehow they have survived the brutal years of oppression and massacres by their own government, a government that was financed and trained in “anti-communism” techniques by the United States.

Weakened in numbers, traumatized by torture…  they are STILL HERE!

Strong. Patient. Resourceful. Playful. And very, very wise.

When the death squads “disappeared” people, and Central American refugees had to seek asylum, especially in the 1980’s when the situation was at its worst, a Sanctuary movement in the U.S. and Canada created an underground railroad to help people escape. Many gatherings were held during those years – both here and in Central America – and families and friends and strangers would call out the names of the disappeared and the assassinated, and the whole crowd would shout back, “¡Presénte!”

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HERE!”  “Present!”  It was a declaration that those who were gone lived on, and a promise that their work would be carried on.  People stood together in solidarity against the vicious military campaign that targeted human rights workers, teachers, doctors, priest, and thousands and thousands of campesinos.

In 1996, when peace was finally declared in Guatemala, the indigenous Mayan peoples were promised a voice and basic human rights. The process since then has been long and difficult.  And there is far to go.

But the campesinos in La Bendición are an awe-inspiring example of the courage and the perseverance required on this journey.  Together they are creating a place where the values and the strengths of the Mayan people can shine forth and illuminate for the rest of us what it means to heal our earth.  They call it “la lucha,” the struggle to overcome obstacles and difficulties, the work for peace and healing and regeneration for all.

P1040628I learned many lessons in the short days that felt like a lifetime.  Those lessons will continue as our group and TWP develop the relationship and the friendship between Fort Collins and La Bendición.

In the future, I want to share some stories about the people who are teaching me those lessons.  For now, I simply want to say thanks.

Thank you, TWP, for introducing us to La Bendición and for sharing the amazing partnership you have created there.

Thank you, fellow travelers, for the wonderful ways you were present on this journey.

Thank you, Lucas, for your huge heart, your constant smile, and your constant care.

And, a huge thank you to all of the special people of La Bendición, who opened your hearts and your homes and your lives and your wisdom to a group of strangers. You worked so hard to care for us and still, after all that, you urged us to come back.

We will.

In solidarity, we will partner with you in “la lucha” – both here and there.  And “si Dios quiere,” we will be back.  As you said to us over and over, “we are one human family.”  And I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for The Blessing in that.

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Trees, Water & People is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to developing sustainable community-based conservation solutions.

One thought on “Volunteer Voices: Cherishing a Blessing”

  1. Thank you for your inspiring words but, more importantly, thank you for your helpful deeds! — Kristen Brown

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