Saturday, June 30, 2012

Change Afoot

About two weeks ago I arrived in Guatemala, a beautiful mountainous country which has endured one of the most tragic histories in the world.  It is the place I will call my home for the next two years as MPI’s Country Director, replacing Dana Zichlin. I am amazed by the strength and unity of the people I have encountered here thus far.  The colorful handmade clothing worn by the Maya is a reminder of the strong indigenous presence which so few Latin American countries still have. 

The biggest highlight of my experience in Chaquijyá has been attending two PTA meetings at the school.  Around 60 parents gather monthly to discuss updates regarding recent happenings at the school and potential projects the community wishes to implement.  The meetings generally last around four hours, and everyone talks and listens to one another regarding the well-being of their community.  The slow pace and lack of urgency is a welcome change of pace from my past year of attending graduate school in the U.S.  People are not rushed to get to their next destination or do something “more important,” because community is what really matters.

After spending a year studying the complexities of international development work at The School for International Training in Vermont, I am left with many questions regarding how to carry out development work in the field while doing the least amount of harm possible.  I know there are no definitive answers to my questions, and throughout the next two years of working with MPI I will gradually learn what works and what doesn’t. Step by step. Day by day. 

I come here with a very different background from those I will be working with.  I grew up in the United States as a white, middle class female.  It is important for me to publish where I am coming from up front.  I have not grown up with the culture and history of the people of Guatemala.  I do not know what they want; and to begin to understand I must take the time to listen closely and carefully to what they have to say.

I come here inspired by a love for Latin America after having lived in Chile and Costa Rica, a passion for immersing myself in cultures foreign from my own, and most importantly, because despite the vast differences between my story and theirs, we are all affected by the same world history.  My hope is that side by side we can work to create long-term solutions to community identified issues, and that by collaborating with local partners we can bring our strengths together to create positive social change.  One day at a time.


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