Wednesday, July 2, 2008

During the first two days of the trip, we are being given a glimpse of Guatemala's troubled history with the help of some remarkable people who have been risking their lives to promote human rights and justice in a country still struggling to emerge from a 36-year civil war. In 1996, a peace agreement was signed between the government and the guerrillas, with promises of social justice for all Guatemalans, including the indigenous Mayan population. However, it takes a long time to transform a country that has been so damaged by violence.

On Wednesday morning, we were introduced to Claudia Samayoa, who leads an organization that provides protection for the defenders of human rights, helping prosecutors to bring cases against those who violate human rights, and supporting those who are in danger. She does this at considerable personal risk. She skillfully explained the recent history of Guatemala, and the various social divisions that produced the unequal distribution of wealth and power and led to the war. In spite of promising developments, like the start of a proper national land registry and the recent public prosecution of human rights violators, Claudia understands better than anyone how much there is to do.

After a pleasant lunch, we then set off on a four hour journey into the heart of Guatemala, to visit the town of Rabinal. The countryside of Guatemala is truly spectacular, mountainous with richly fertile valleys. It was extraordinary to see some of the vertiginous hillsides that were being cultivated - it looks like every inch of land is farmed, perhaps because so much land is in dispute.

In the evening, we were introduced to Maria Magdalena Alvarado, who leads a school in organic farming. She is pictured with Alejandro Alfaro, Gabriella Barrios, and Maria Van Der Maaten, who work for Sister Parish, and work tirelessly to make sure we get the most out of our trip.

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