This past week our group was split in two, and we headed separate ways. The first group started off working with MCC (Mennonite Central Committee), while the others headed 8 hours north to Lanquin. Midway through the week the two groups would swap locations.
Group one met up with Sarah from MCC and headed to Santiago Atitlan. There, we explored the city on a tour accompanied by Sarah where we had the opportunity to visit the building where Stanley Rother was shot and killed by government soldiers. Stanley Rother was a Catholic priest in Santiago during the time of the Guatemalan civil war and was a key figure in helping provide relief during this devastating period. At the beginning of the semester, we all read a book retelling the story of his life, making the experience that much more meaningful. Following the tour, we were introduced to the staff of ANADESA, the organization we would be working with for the next few days.
MCC partners with ANADESA to provide support, using their resources to help the surrounding communities in the best way possible. ANADESA focuses on providing support to children, youth, and women, offering many different workshops and resources to help the community excel. Examples include their after school programs and language classes. They also provide the opportunity for women to earn extra income, through the use of their traditional skills, by helping to teach and host groups like us.
During our learning tour, we were given the opportunity to learn many different traditional activities in order to gain a broader understanding of the culture. One example was staying with host families from the community. Through chatting with Sarah, we learned that in all Mayan languages (23 total in Guatemala), the word for “welcome” is universal. This is very fitting, as hospitality is definitely one of the first words that come to mind when reflecting on our experience there.
We learned how to make a traditional Mayan meal, starting with gathering all the ingredients from the local market. We also learned how to make a simple beaded bracelet (a common traditional craft that many possess here in both Santiago and many parts of Guatemala). Our tour included learning the extensive processes of growing and making organic coffee, and real chocolate from cacao. Though we only stayed with ANADESA for a short period of time, so much was learned. The days were very full, however, we know that we only experienced a portion of what life is like in our short time here.
It was such a privilege to partner with MCC and ANADESA this past week. The beautiful culture and traditions that have been preserved will definitely leave a lasting impact on our time here in Guatemala.
On Tuesday afternoon, we had a short reunion over lunch with the other half of our group that was in Lanquin. We then once again parted ways and swapped locations.
For the second half of our week, my group drove up to Lanquin where we spent two days at a beautiful hostel on the water. There, we enjoyed a day in Semuc Champey swimming in natural turquoise pools, caving by candlelight, swinging into a river and jumping off the side of a waterfall. Our time in Lanquin was a wonderful way to end a busy few days before reuniting with the rest of our group on Sunday evening.
Through reflecting on this week, I am very grateful to have had another opportunity to work with MCC, learning more about the meaningful work they are doing in Guatemala. When walking the streets of San Juan La Laguna, after our coffee tour, we had some time to explore the shops. Sarah recommended that a few of us stop in a small store that sells hand-dyed, locally made bags, scarves, etc. Through browsing and reading their brochure my heart was immediately filled with joy seeing what they are striving to do. Made up of 25 women, they have a mission aimed at promoting ecological sustainability, cultural preservation, and equal opportunities for women.
I feel very blessed to be able to support such a meaningful business. Through learning about how ANADESA is working with women in the community and the ways businesses like this in San Juan La Laguna are working to gain equal economic opportunities to contribute to their families’ finances, I have felt empowered. With this, I have been further challenged to look where the clothing I am buying is coming from and how my simple choices can make a powerful impact on who I am supporting.