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Central America Semester Spring 2001:

Guatemala, Cuba

Semester leaders: Nathan and Elaine Zook Barge

Program summary
January 15 posting
January 16 posting
Week #2
Week #3
Week #4
Week #6

Week # 7
Week #8
Service/learning reports



Images from Central America EMU cross-cultural

Cuba, April 1 to 12

The Central America cross-cultural group visited Cuba from April 1 - 12. The following are several theme journals from the students regarding their impressions and learnings about health, religion, poverty/wealth and human rights in a socialist environment:

Justin Edris: Coyuntura de Cuba Before the revolution in 1959, the island of Cuba was under rule of the Batistas. The majority of people lived in situations you can currently see in many poor areas of Central American countries. The U.S. owned nearly half the land of the business sectors. Approximately 40 % of the population was illiterate. The revolution in 1959 changed all of these things. The U.S. imposed a blockade on Cuba to pressure them to change their socialist government, but they actually strengthened their ties to the Soviet Union. Cuba sent 4 million tons of sugar to the Soviet Union in return for many materials and technology. This allowed Cuba to build transportation, housing, utility and health systems. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba lost its supplier of 98% of fuel, 85% of spare parts and 75% of food; so it entered a Special Period.

During this Special Period, many things are not available as before, but they are doing what they can with what they have. They have encountered many problems, but they don't simply accept them as a fault of the system, but rather confront them and find ways to solve them. Today, they are transforming from exporting raw materials (sugar) and now are exporting services (human capital) and increasing tourism. Cuba'' economy is growing 4.6% each year. As Gladys Hernandez states, "the dream of Cuba is to become a developed country.… to create a society not perfect, but one that works for the majority of the population".

In my own experience thus far, I have seen this statement live true. I find streets filled with educated workers rather than homeless beggars. I have experienced the quality of the medical system where I was treated quickly and was only 2 blocks from where I was. This is a great strength of the Cuban government. It's one thing for a government to promise free services like health care, but the other is to have it easily accessible. Each municipality has many choices of clinics, schools, and other programs.

The other side of the Cuban situation is the lack of housing, weak peso economy and trade relations with the U.S. These things are not being hidden or pushed aside; but rather, they are confronted by the People's Councils and the government. The unity of the Cuban people to come together and resolve conflicts shows the spirit of the revolution.

This spirit of revolution is seen throughout the Cuban culture. It means to Cubans that things can change for the betterment of society. People give rides to random people in the city…kids play in the streets without parents fearing for their safety. I can't name a large city like Havana, where in the U.S. people could say the same thing. Billboards are not promotions for clothes, soft drinks or the next money-making idea. Here billboards promote values of the revolution, empowerment of the people, the importance of planting trees for the future and ads telling you not to litter. I found this absolutely incredible. The state of mind here is so logical in creating a better society.

The question I have for Cuba is what is going to happen in the future? How is the younger generation that didn't experience the early beginnings of the revolution going to respond? Will they accept U.S. influence and eventually give into it? Is the revolution continuing only due to the ideas of Fidel? If people remain revolutionary in thought, will the revolution be able to last economically? Will the U.S. realize its actions are affecting an island and people that are only trying to improve the condition of its people?

Deborah Yoder - Religion Yes, umm…… I love Cuba. It's not a perfect country, but it is so shockingly different from the United States that it is easy to get excited about all the new information we are taking in. Even though I didn't think that I was bringing a lot of ideas about Cuba with me, I did. I hadn't learned many historical facts about Cuba before now. We skimmed through the Bay of Pigs invasion. What I unconsciously learned about Cuba is that it is a bad country with a terrible, militant dictator. In school, in our textbooks, on the news we have been trained how to think and feel about Cuba. Actually, learning the history, experiencing the culture, seeing the beauty of the country and speaking with intelligent Cubans in our meetings and on the streets, I have found Cuba to be a different place than what my government expected me to find here when they gave us the authorization to come for educational purposes.

Religion has been one of the most interesting aspects of Cuban culture to look at for me. We visited a Presbyterian Church where we experienced a beautiful service and spoken with three men highly involved with different church organizations, two of whom are part of the Cuban Parliament. It is not possible to make a simple statement concerning the relationship between government and the church in Cuba; the history of Cuba must be understood to understand this relationship.

We read in "Cuba: Neither Heaven Nor Hell" that religion has been a rough spot in Cuba. We learned through the book that until the 1990's a religious person could not be part of the Communist Party. From the book, I got the impression that the position of the church has been improving, but I didn't grasp the historical background. In 1959, the church still had a pretty good relationship with the government, but in 1960 when the revolutionary reforms began to be enforced, the tension began as well. The schools were nationalized. This was especially upsetting to the Roman Catholic Church who lost many schools to the state for this reason. Some Catholics also had a lot of land so when the land reform redistributed the land, the people were upset at losing their land.

Besides this, many church members feared communism as it was perceived as atheist. Many missionaries as well as Cuban pastors, left the country out of this fear. The government's perception of the church was one of domination because of the way the Spaniards and the U.S. used the church to gain power in Cuba. As the blockade was put in place in 1962, people were often suspicious of churches as they were viewed as "American churches". For these reasons, there was a period of time following the revolution when relations between church and state were difficult.

Several occurrences have contributed to improving relations between the government and the churches of Cuba. In the 1980's Cubans who went to Central and South America saw the way believers were involved in politics. This helped to change the ideas of both believers and government officials. In the 1980's, Frei Betto interviewed Fidel Castro on religion and wrote a book called Fidel and Religion. This book also contributed to relieving tensions as Fidel was seen as open to religion. He once said it was essential for believers to work with non-believers and he believes that his socialist thoughts are the same as those of Jesus Christ. In 1991, the Communist Party opened up to accept religious persons as members. In 1998, the Pope visited Cuba. At this time, evangelical churches were given as much airtime on television as the Pope received. This fact and his visit have really contributed to the positive relations that are now present between church and state.

How does all of this contribute to my cross-cultural understanding? I don't believe I would have this type of understanding of Cuba and religion, in particular, if I was not here experiencing it. With this newfound understanding, I hope to talk with friends and family about it. I have learned how important it is to go beyond what we read in newspapers or see on the news to understand what is going on in the world. We will not learn the history of the poor from these sources. Our government will not give us directly the information concerning our supposed "enemy". I have learned that the Cuban church is strong and that our churches have an important responsibility to join Cubans in their revolution.

I have learned a lot about the history of the church, but I would still like to learn more about the types of churches and about the Santeria religion. Is the Mennonite church in the U.S. involved with Cuba? How can I continue learning about current news in Cuba without the U.S. media's bias? I have lots of questions for the U.S. government concerning relations to Cuba. I feel so privileged to have spent this time in Cuba and to have the opportunity to meet with such amazing people. I will always hold a place for Cuba in my heart.

Michelle Kuhns - Human Rights "Human rights" is one of the main buzzwords thrown around in the U.S. when talking about Cuba or U.S. - Cuba relations. It is one of those abstract phrases that can be used by politicians to make their cause sound more righteous, but means many different things depending on who is using it. When U.S. officials talk about human rights in Cuba they are actually, according to Reverend Raul Suarez, talking about civil rights. The U.S. says there is no democracy (one of the fundamental "human rights" according to many in the U.S. government) in Cuba and points to the one-party system and state-controlled press as signs of a government that is oppressing its people. Though those are problems, there are countries who have the civil rights the U.S. speaks of, but have committed (and continue to commit) atrocious human rights violations, as Suarez pointed out.

A comparison of the situations in Guatemala and Cuba shows clearly that Cuba actually puts much more of its energy and resources into human rights. In Guatemala, people were "disappeared" or massacred for being related to someone who was actively speaking out for more justice. In Guatemala, 85% of the population is poor and education and health care are very poorly developed. In Cuba, on the other hand, the economy is structured so that all people have access to justice, health care and education. And, during all of the oppression in Guatemala, the "pro-human rights" U.S. was supporting the Guatemala government while strengthening the blockade against Cuba.

Through all of these lessons about human rights and economics, I have come to the conclusion that communism is the economic system that is most founded upon human rights. Its main goals are to provide the same basic needs and services to everyone. It is founded on the idea that a sense of justice entitles every person to food, clothing, shelter, education, health and security. Its capitalist counterpart is founded on a more competitive idea that the aforementioned services and goods should be provided to those who are strong enough to fight for them. That "survival of the fittest" ideology allows many people to fall beneath the fact of the "fittest" and lets their human rights be trampled on, while communism's solidarity ideology does its best to keep everyone standing.

My question is this: The biggest human rights violation I see in U.S.- Cuban relations is the blockade, which really changes my view of what constitutes a human rights violation. In this case it is a broad, very entrenched economic policy rather than a death squad. It is certainly much less visible or shocking. So, how do I, as I head back to the U.S. and interact with people who have much less knowledge of this situation, shock them, show them, rile them up to fight this violation that hides under the names of "Torricelli" and "Helms-Burton?" And one more thing…Yes…umm, I love Cuba!

Carrie Maust -- Poverty & Wealth The past 8 days in Cuba have been an incredible experience. I came with little knowledge and many biases and feel that I'm leaving with the opposite - fewer biases and much more knowledge. I chose the poverty and wealth theme for this essay because I feel that my definitions of these words have been changing throughout the semester and especially as we have been traveling in and learning about Cuba. The days here have been intense - a mixture of cultural activities, tours and discussions with Cuban personalities about their country.

Our visits with Gladys, the economist from CIEM helped me to realize the seriousness of the economic crisis here in Cuba. We've heard about the rationing system from several people, including Alida who showed us the very basics that people receive here in food and supplies. Also, we've learned of the housing shortage in Cuba and seen the lack of transportation that they have. So materially, in comparison to the U.S., Cuba has less dollars and a weak economy -- as any country would who has had 85% of its raw materials, 75% of its food supply and 98% of its fuel supply cut off in a very short period of time and has since been bullied and discriminated against by a world superpower. They struggle economically.

Looking through Guatemalan lenses however, Cuba is wealthier and has a higher standard of living. People on the streets are dressed more stylishly; there is no hunger, illiteracy or begging in the streets. Even with the discrimination of the U.S. (or maybe because of this discrimination), Cuba is at the top of the Latin American countries. Even going so far as to have a School of Medicine where Latin American students are given scholarships to study and return to their home country as doctors.

But, even more relevant than this - there is a wealth in Cuba more important than dollars and economics. It is a wealth in human potential, in ideology and in equality. This is a wealth found in a country that has free health care and education for its people - all of them, not just those who can afford it. It is a wealth in a people equal in sex, race and with only a 4:1 ratio in salary difference. The wealth in human potential is also incredible. In the short time that we have been here, the number of professional, educated people we have met with is amazing. Lastly, there is a wealth of culture here that can't be found in the U.S. From school children reciting a poem of Jose Marti to the elderly entertaining us with Guantanamera, the people here are aware of their traditions and have a pride in them that is to be envied.

So who's richer? U.S. citizens who live with our cars and vacations -included in only the 6% of the world who has the access to these things or Cubans who have a pride in belonging to their country? There is a verse in Ecclesiastes that says "better a poor, but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning" (4:13). It seems to me that Cuba may be the youth who, though poor, has a surpassing wisdom. The prophecy following the verse says that those who live and walk under the sun will follow the youth, the king's successor. This too could be a metaphor for the ways in which our world is changing. The U.S. can't always hold its power position. There has to be an end to the cycle somewhere. I don't know if this fall will come during my lifetime but until then while we have the current system, I am faced with the question of what my role should be in working to erase the injustices in the world caused by a huge separation in poverty and wealth and a small number of people who control all of the resources?

A couple of other questions on my mind: How strong is the greed that is part of human nature in the general public of Cuba and how will that affect the future? Would an influx of money into Cuba destroy the ideals that they have maintained thus far? Where and how can I find pride in my country and what other kinds of wealth can be found there?

Erin Kauffman - Health Umm, yeah…I love Cuba! One of the things I've most enjoyed studying here is the health care system. The Cuban government prioritizes health, and this is very evident in the system it has created. All health services are free, from minor checkups to operations and hospital stays. And treatments are the same for all Cubans, rich and poor, rural and urban. There are health care facilities in each and every province on the island, and there is definitely no shortage of skilled physicians. Cuban doctors are recognized in Cuba and in many other countries both for their skill and their caring and gracious spirit. We were given the opportunity to see this amazing system at work on 3 different occasions.

First, we visited a family doctor's office. These are small clinics attended by one doctor and one nurse that operate at the community level to treat minor illnesses, assist women in their reproductive health and run a variety of prevention and vaccination programs. The clinic we visited cares for about 160 families. I was very impressed here by their emphasis on prevention. Barbara, the doctor, believes it's a lot easier to prevent many diseases than to cure them. For this reason, the clinics will actually hunt down women who forgot or "neglect" to come in for their tri-annual gynecological exam. They are educating people to be more aware of health risks and means of prevention. Barbara said that the blockade has caused a lot of difficulties in the health care system - there are shortages of resources, equipment and medicines. But, Barbara also said she would not change anything about the system itself. That says a lot about its effectiveness.

Our visit to the Latin American Medical School really left me in awe of Cuba. After 2 major hurricanes devastated many countries throughout Latin America, Fidel envisioned the creation of a school where young people from poor, remote areas of these same countries could come to study medicine - for free! The intention is for the students to return then to help improve the quality of life of their people. What a wonderful idea - and it became a reality! After only 2 years of existence, the school has over 5000 students from 24 countries in Central and South America, Africa and now North America. The 6-year program includes a pre-medical course, 2 years of study in basic sciences and then 4 years of study/practical experience in the hospitals. The most amazing thing is that it's all free - the students don't pay a thing. The Cuban government pays for the education, books, food, haircuts, transportation - it's unbelievable! And what is Cuba getting in return? One of the most important things they receive through this project is the solidarity of the Latin American people. The Cuban professors we talked to said they see it as Cuba's small contribution to humanity, a project for the health of the people -- what a wonderful example of generosity, unity and love. I am so impressed, especially by the fact that the school is now opening its doors to North American students (8 students from the U.S. arrived the day of our visit). Cuba is beginning to build bridges….

We also visited an Alternative Medicine Clinic just the other day. Each municipal in Cuba has one of these clinics that specializes in traditional, natural medicine. They use plants and flowers and techniques like acupuncture and music and color therapy to treat both physical and mental illnesses. One technique involves applying the heat of a cigar to certain pressure points! I've never heard of such therapies and have to admit I'm a bit skeptical, but they must work to some degree. In Cuban medical schools, all students complete a course in natural medicine and in the hospitals doctors often refer patients to these clinics. The one we visited also had a rehabilitation unit and programs for the elderly. Older persons in the community can come to the clinic every weekday to converse and participate in cultural activities. We had a chance to talk with some of these "viejitos" and they seemed to really enjoy and appreciate the program. One of the things I admire most about Cuba's health care system is the motivation, the caring spirit of the doctors themselves. They serve for love of their people, not for $$. Barbara, the doctor we talked with at the family clinic only receives 500 pesos ($29 dollars) per month, yet she loves her work. Many Cuban doctors also leave their country to serve in others parts of the world. I met one such doctor in Nebaj just a few weeks ago, and when I asked her why she chose to come to Guatemala, she replied, "for love of humanity". I spent last semester at EMU studying our own health care system - insurance, HMO's. Medicaid, etc. - it's a complicated mess! Those with more $ have access to better services. The health care system in Cuba amazes me; I never dreamed that such a system could exist! The Cuban government prioritizes the health of its people. What a concept! What would happen if the U.S. government, our government, would think along the same lines? What would happen if we channeled some of our $ and resources into service for humanity. Just think how many people around the world we could help! But, would this ever happen? I think the U.S. could learn a lot from Cuba….


Service/learning reports, March 31, 2001

All of the students are back in Guatemala City following a three- week Service/Learning assignment in either Mexico, Guatemala or El Salvador. Yesterday was spent “debriefing” about the varied assignments and hearing many stories. The following are brief comments from the students regarding their experience:

Denlinger, Jeremiah I spent my three-week Service/Learning assignment in El Salvador helping to rebuild houses damaged by the earthquakes and simply spending time listening to the peoples’ stories. The people there (extremely poor)were an inspiration to me as they spoke of how despite poverty and uncertainty that comes with fears of other quakes, etc. they do not have fear. They walk forward in a prayerful state with confidence, knowing that God is in control and that even if God chooses not to save their lies physically they know they’ll be cared for by him and live with him forever. This is a common theme that has run through my experence here. With almost everyone I’ve talked to about earthquakes, violence, accidents and coups, the common response is not to let yourself worry too much because death is not our end. This is the attitude we carry with us as we walk forward in this life of many uncertainties and insecurities; we have a security.

Dintaman, Abram Although I knew a good bit about the US’s exploitative involvement in Central America before this trip, I now feel like I have to tell people in the States about the shocking things their government has done. I think that most North Americans would feel drastically different about their system if they were exposed to the major parts of U.S. history that aren’t in our history books and the extensive involvement that the U.S. continues to hide from it’s citizens.

Edris, Justin Over the past three weeks of service learning, I’ve learned a lot about myself and missed my family and friends. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again. I do have one worry as I return – that I will slip back into the easy to live North American life and forget where I’ve been, the stories I’ve heard, the great learning experience I’ve just been through.

Evans, Eva It’s always interesting to me to realize the different ways in which I connect to people. These last 3 weeks in El Salvador, I have made so many different connections: Dona Eddy and I talked about the war; a dressmaker and I looked through Bride Magazines and talked about my wedding dress; Rosa and I talked about our fiancees; Jorge and I talked about cultural norms from our various countries; Oti and I talked about our families; Dona Carmen and I just smiled at each other. These are the same ways I relate to people in the U.S. and I keep realizing over and over, that through our cultural differences, we are all people who love and fear and hope. We are all people, equally loved in God’s eyes.

Gascho, Lisa I spent 2 weeks in Chichicastenango, a beautiful town in the highlands of Guate, working in a nutritional center/day care for 22 underprivileged children in the area. Each day, I fed them meals, helped with homework, played games, bathed them, and helped teach them hygiene values. I really enjoyed getting to know the unique personalities of the children and being able to add a little more love to their lives. I also spent a week in Chontola, a nearby rural community of mostly widows who lost their family members in the violence of the war. I lived with a Quiche family who shared with me the campo lifestyle of weaving, taking care of the animals, cooking and making tortillas. I really appreciate the opportunity of learning a new culture, a new people and a new perspective of Guatemala.

Good, Deborah: Michelle Kuhns and I spent 2 weeks as international “campamentistas” in Tzajalchen, an impoverished, indigenous community in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. International presence has helped provide communities with some measure of protection and solidarity during the low-intensity warfare that continues (though calmed) in Mexico.


I want to write you into poetry,
With your wooden slat houses
And tin roofs Sheltering Bees;
With your Zapatistas and paramilitaries;
With your milpa and your coffee
Leaning in precarious rows
Against mountain slopes,
Harvested and sold for a third their worth
Thanks to NAFTA and
So-called free trade.
I want you to enter me,
Flow through me
Like the rain water that flows down
Your riveted mud roads,
Like the blood that flowed in
Acteal December 22, 1997.

I want to write you into poetry,
To spill onto paper
The stench of your sweating back
Under the heat of the sun,
Under the whip of the wealthy,
The government,
The multi-nationals,
All with skin lighter than your own.
Chiapas is rich, they say
It is a rich land;
But why, then, are your people
So very poor?
It isn’t fair to you that in a week,
I will bounce away
On the back of a pickup
And head off to be a tourist
Somewhere new,
To look on you from the distance of
Newspapers and TV screens.

I want to write you into poetry,
To somehow take you with me and
Breathe you into my meaning-holes
Because you seek the justice I only talk about
While you live with the injustices
I only read about

"Where you are going is a very long way from DC, city girl," my cross-cultural group leader, Elaine Zook Barge, said to me as we looked out the windows of the stuffy combi (public van) that was taking us to Pantelho, Mexico. "In more ways then one," added Lynn Stoltzfus, a Christian Peacemaker Teams volunteer in this, the country’s southern state of Chiapas. And, indeed, they were right. From Pantelho, we stood in the back of a cattle truck for another hour down a dirt road, bouncing along between lush mountainsides, and then hiked forty-five minutes into the impoverished, indigenous community of Tzajalchen.

As part of our EMU cross-cultural experience, Michelle Kuhns and I would spend the next two weeks serving as campamentistas. Adding our names to the long line of internationals who had preceded us, our assignment was accompaniment—to live with the indigenous people of Chiapas in the hope that our presence would provide a sense of solidarity and some measure of protection from the threat of government-supported paramilitaries.

On January 1st, 1994, the Zapatistas rose up in arms as a voice for Mexico’s Mayan peoples, many of whom live as poor farmers in Chiapas. In the eight years since the 12-day uprising, the state of Chiapas has suffered under a period of low intensity warfare involving the Zapatistas, the Mexican military, and the civilian paramilitaries. The high levels of militarization have affected the lives of the thousands of indigenous people living throughout the area. Though the violence had calmed considerably before Michelle and I arrived in Tzajalchen, the poor farmers we spoke with insisted that the conflict is yet to see a resolution. These farmers belong to a group of mostly Mayan Catholics who share the concerns of the Zapatistas but live committed to an ethic of nonviolence. They are called las Abejas or the Bees.

Las Abejas

Of course there were moments
I ached for home,
for English conversation with friends
and french toast for breakfast,
but the day passed
as a gift.

Now I can say I have chewed sugar cane
while squatting on a log
beside the field where it was freshly cut
and sat through three and a half hours
of mass in Tzotzil.

And as the green valley
turns navy in the coming night,
as I rest on this rock overlooking it all,
and as Sebastian’s animated, accented Spanish
tells us a story,
a history,

I am reminded of Gandhi and Romero
and my own Anabaptist ancestors.

"We are called the Bees,"
he said,
"because bees work under their queen,
and we work under our own;
ours is the reign of God."

Deborah Good

Kauffman, Erin I did my service-learning assignment in the beautiful green mountains of Nebaj with a youth program call Q’anil. My service can best be described as accompaniment. I played and talked with kids all day! I felt really blessed by the many relationships I was able to build with the people I lived and worked with. I learned a lot about the culture of the Ixil people and even had the opportunity to dress in the colorful traje for a day and taste Box’bal, the comida tipica of which they’re so proud. The experience taught me a lot about myself and confirmed my love to this beautiful country and its people.

Kauffman, Julie As I sat and pulled weeds amongst the oregano and rosemary, I had the view of volcanoes and mountains with corn growing on the side in the distance. And, they called this work. I also helped make soap and shampoo and teas with medicinal plants. I learned more from being out there alone and the people I worked and lived with then I did from talking to the oregano though. I learned to have patience with myself and I discovered even more the reality that is Guatemala – a reality that is family, God, soccer and survival!

Kuhns, Michelle Living in the rural community of Tzajalch’en in Chiapas, Mexico was a stretching experience to say the least. The challenges of living amidst such harsh poverty, not having an assignment and not being able to communicate with a large part of the community (Tzotzil is everyone’s first language) were overwhelming at times. But, I left with a heart full of the memories of Sebastian’s impassioned discussion of the word of God and nonviolence, Juana’s hospitality and dreams, Katarina’s wild eyes and a community with an abundance of faith and purpose.

Maust, Carrie Hiking up a mountain in search of agua pura, playing soccer with 8-year old Jose Pablo and watching my host sister in Chontola make tortillas over the stove with a baby on her back are scenes that I will never forget from my time in Chichicastenango. I was part of an organization called Ruth y Noemi, a project which includes a women’s weaving cooperative, a bag factory where students are able to learn a trade during the day and attend school at night and a nutritional day care center where single mothers can leave their children to receive care and 3 meals a day free of charge. My activities while there included revising finished bags, office work and occasional translating, but I feel that I received much more than I could have ever given. Most of all, I received an incredible witness of people who selflessly give to others, truly serving the widows and orphans and putting feet to their Christian walk.

Morey, Jen Nebaj was a beautiful town surrounded by colorful mountains. It was populated by the Ixil people with their bright trajes ad lively traditions. I was a volunteer at a youth center, so I enjoyed getting to know so many people and hanging out with all the children, who loved our accompaniment!

Moyer, Emily Over Service Learning, I worked closely and formed a mother- daughter relationship with a woman, Chonita, who’s life and family has been torn apart by the violence of the war. She lives with an open heart and an open home so eager to serve others in her work with a women’s group in her church and widows of the community. She is like many other individuals who I’ve met in this country – generous and so faithful in spite of hardships.

Newcomer, Monica I’ve spent the past 3 weeks working at an indigenous boarding school in a small community 4 hours north of Guatemala City. I didn’t realize until I go there that my assignment was to teach English to the 84 students who ranged in age from 14-26. The job sounded impossible at first. I mean after all, as a social work major, what do I know about teaching a second language and in 3 WEEKS. But, as soon as I met the students and witnessed their enthusiasm, I was excited for my work. They ended up teaching me more than they learned with their friendships, smiles and lives.

Siegrist, Janine I never expected to get so attached to El Salvador and it’s people. From my first day in the finca when I was left with a dozen Spanish-speaking men to build a house, to hearing Dinah share her story of physical abuse and separation from her 15-year old daughter, to attempting to make pupusas -- all of these memories and more will stay with me for a long time.

Souder, Laura I spent 3 weeks in Chimaltenango, stirring big vats of shampoo and soap over a little gas stove and laughing with the indigenous women at Tecnologia para la Salud. I feel privileged to know more about natural medicine and health needs related to poverty that people experience in Guatemala. I also experienced the joy and struggle of independence as I navigated a new bus system in Spanish, became accustomed to a new family and learned a wealth of new things without the direct support of EMU friends.

Yoder, Deb La Esmeralda is a returned refugee community who is working with the basics, trying to rebuild their lives after the war. My time there gave me a new perspective on what it is like to live in poverty. Despite their lack of resources, opportunities and education, many still carry the hope of providing more for their children than they have been afforded.

Week 8, March 5, 2001

“Peace building” was the theme for the eighth week in Guatemala!

Activities this week included:

  • A visit to the MCC Guatemala office to hear from Country Rep, Scott Jantzi
  • A talk by Willi Hugo Perez, Director of REDPAZ (Central America Mennonite Peace Network)
  • Semilla chapel on Peace building -- speaker Willi Hugo Perez
  • Saying goodbye to families
  • Closing activities with CASAS teachers and staff on Friday -- skits, words of thanks and appreciation, soaking in the Santa Teresita hot springs in Amatitlan, dinner at Picadilly’s including cake in honor of Emily Moyer’s 21st birthday!

The following excerpts come mostly from the Essay Journals of several of the students as they reflected on the theme and activities this week:

Justin Edris: In Guatemala and other Latin American countries, injustices have led to violence due to poverty and lack of education. The violence has been less than in the past now that the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, but the signing of the accords was only the beginning of the peace building. The peace-building process has a long distance to go before true peace is achieved. How long will it take? What more can be done? Will it ever be accomplished?

Erin Kauffman:. At times, peace seems very distant and inaccessible here. How do we transform a world built on violence? Scott talked to use about MCC in general as well as about the work in Guatemala. MCC has 4 priorities: 1) relief, 2) peace and justice, 3) capacity building or development and 4) person to person exchanges. An important goal for MCC is “secondment” where they support local agencies to foment independence and authenticity. Service in the name of Christ and accompaniment are other important goals of MCC. I like the priorities of MCC; they are helping the people help themselves. On Wednesday, Willi Hugo Perez from the organization REDPAZ spoke to us. First, he gave his personal history which was very interesting. Then he described the different REDPAZ projects to foment peace in MesoAmerica. After the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, REDPAZ tried to find projects that promote peace since the Mennonite Church has worked a lot in this area. REDPAZ works in areas of peace, justice and con-flict transformation, offering training courses in the different Central American countries.top

Jen Moyer: I never realized there were so many organizations working at building peace throughout Central America, but at the same time it seems like so little of the population is involved with these organizations. For me, I enjoyed the lectures, but the CASAS readings really presented a lot of information also. The article by Arnold Snyder states, “….means of common, ordinary people gathered into communities that God works out his will in this world, and his will is justice, equality, and love among brothers and sisters”. This is a powerful statement and expresses the importance of working together for common goals, which I believe to be a definition of peace building. I learned more about the “Anabaptist Vision” in the article by Mario Higueros. It states that one of the principle elements of Anabaptist theology is discipleship; another element of peace building. “The world belongs to those who offer it hope,” stated by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; this statement resembles REDPAZ’ goal of giving hope to Latin American countries. I think hope is another aspect of peace building. My favorite article was Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger because it explained how “wealthy” North Americans can simplify their lifestyle to benefit others. It stated, “simple personal lifestyles are crucial to symbolize, validate and facilitate our concern for the hungry.” Then the article proceeded to list hints for simple living. My favorite suggestions were: “hoeing not mowing,” using bicycles, carpools and feet for trips under a mile, laughing regularly at commercials, having one or two “home-made” babies then adopting, enjoying what is free and giving your children love rather than more things. top

Emily Evans: There are many kinds of peace; emotional, physical, spiritual. It is hard to have one if you do not have them all. That may be one reason why peace is so hard to come by. In Guatemala, where there has been a great deal of war and violence, there is a great need for emotional peace. Exhuming graves for the emotional peace of widows is one way to bring more peace to this country. Teaching about conflict transformation is one way of helping keep physical peace. Having the ability to practice your beliefs can bring spiritual peace. A lasting peace will be hard to come by in Guatemala if people are continually faced by the economic discrepancies between the rich and poor. It’s hard to be at peace with yourself and your surroundings if your family is starving. Maybe that is why there is so much inner-city violence in the U.S???

Deb Yoder: It is one of our last morning bus rides from Zone 6 to CASAS. I love this city. I recognize the violence, as we passed a man who got out of his little pickup truck in the middle of the highway to go after the bus driver with his wrench. I see it on the streets of our community in San Juan de Dios. It is displayed graphically on the nightly news as they show close ups of the person who took the bullets that day lying in their own pool of blood. I recognize the sadness as we hear stories of the past and present from indigenous individuals and as I listen to my father’s desperate search for work in a jobless city. I recognize the poverty as we pass children begging for money and see the shack-filled ravines. But, there is more to this city than the violence, the sadness and the poverty! The city is also people who are filled with joy and hope; who have not let economic restraints hold them down. It is people who have stories to tell that could bring any North American to tears. It is lively music and dancing that involves more than just throwing arms around. It is lime green, bright blue, orange and yellow. It is this crazy bus flying down the Periferico. It is a city with more than the pavement, buildings and high-class stores of many U.S. cities. There are trees, purple flowered ones, pine trees and palm trees. There are ravines, mountains and volcanoes. There are tiendas everywhere you look offering whatever they feel like selling for that day. I can’t forget the panaderias that provide bread and pastries for us every afternoon as we walk from the bus stop to our homes. It is all of these things and more. top

Week 7, March 1, 2001

“Religion” was the theme for the seventh week in Guatemala!

Activities this week included:

  • A lecture by Dennis Smith, Presbyterian church worker in Guatemala for 28 years, about the Evangelical-Pentecostal groups in Latin America
  • A talk by Rafael Escobar, Mennonite pastor, regarding the Mennonites in Guatemala
  • A meeting with Carlos Herrera, Catholic priest, on Liberation Theology
  • Quincieneras ---Celebrating 15th birthdays
  • Daily life with Guatemalan families

The following excerpts are from the journals of several of the students as they reflected on the theme, activities and daily life this week:

Carrie Maust: “All I Need to Know about Life, I Learned Playing Dutch Blitz in Guatemala “ (Like the best seller). Almost every night the gringas here at 5th Calle round up whoever we can and play a few rounds of cards. If we don’t initiate it, then someone else will. I’ve learned a lot form the game and thought I’d take a minute to write it down: Who needs words when you’ve got gestures and tone of voice? (I’ve had some of my best conversations in Spanish over a deck of cards) Everyone can play! (From 5-year old Rebeca to Alfred and Arturo) Practice makes perfect. (In the beginning no one could match Monica’s speed – now Alba regularly wins, depending on how she’s feeling that day.) A little cheating, no, “creativity” never hurt anybody. (Even the most talented players have their tricks.) It really doesn’t matter who wins – as long as you have a good time. Two players are always better than one (just ask the person who plays by themselves) Any bad day can be made good with a few laughs shared by friends. There’s always time for one more game! Now, that it’s my last week in La Brigada, I have to admit I’ve almost had my fill of this German card game. I’ve had moment here that I won’t forget! But the game goes on and our trip moves on to new places and activities. I wouldn’t have traded my time here or my games of Dutch Blitz for anything! top

Jeremiah Denlinger: Dennis Smith explained to us why Pentecostalism became so popular here in Guatemala and this history helped me understand why there is conflict between the Protestants and Catholics and between Pentecostales and more traditional groups of Protestants. Pentecostalism accentuates the public exhibition of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This theology offered poor persons an opportunity to be more a part of the church without the hierarchy. On the other hand, Neo-pentecostalism is like the fundamentalists of the United States. It grew in Guatemala in response to Vatican II when many wealthy Catholics felt betrayed by their church which began to care for the poor. North American fundamentalism greatly influenced the Neo-Pentecostals who are politically conservative and believe in the prosperity theology which helps the wealthy justify their form of being. The Mennonite Curch was and continues to be influenced by Pentecostalism. When the church began, many people brought their theologies and ideas with them. When the early missionaries started churches here, many of the churches were left with Pentecostal pastors. Now I understand why the Mennonite churches here (some, not all of them) are very charismatic and evangelical. The church has struggled to understand what it means to be Mennonite or Anabaptist.

Janine Siegrist: The Catholic Church workers often suffered along with the indigenous communities during the war. Their work with the poor was a threat to the powerful. The army reacted by inflicting violence and killing them. But, the communities had begun to understand the Bible in a new way. They recognized their immediate experience was comparable to that of the Israelites and if God was capable of freeing the Israelites, he could do the same for them. With this understanding, liberation theology was born and church workers struggled to transform their reality. I have gained a deeper respect for the Catholic Church after hearing and reading about their involvement in the fight for justice for the poor. Their willingness to work for the people despite the risk of persecution and death is a challenge to me. I was reminded of the Anabaptist martyrs. Where was the Mennonite Church during the violence? We have learned about their involvement afterwards, but where did we stand in the midst of the struggle?

Abram Dintaman: Before this trip, I had no idea that the church had played such an instrumental role in the history of Central America. I was unaware that any denomination was socially involved or activist in Guatemala. I had always assumed that the Catholic Church would still be reinforcing the status quo like the Spanish Catholic Church did in supporting the conquistadores and subjugating indigenous people. It has been encouraging to learn about the activist role that the reformed Catholic Church has played in the history of Guatemala. Without the formidable presence of the Catholic Church, I think the government would have committed even worse crimes and continued completely unmonitored. I believe that social activism and involvement are responsibilities of the church. It does not make sense to me for Christians to expend their time and resources administering to the spiritual guidance of those who are already comfortable while so many of God’s people still cannot achieve justice and comfort. It is hard for me to watch Mennonite institutions in Virginia spend large amounts of money on modernizing their buildings.top

Deborah Good: It seems that for most people at EMU, cross- culturals cause any clarity that they had in terms of beliefs, values and worldview to become muddled. For me, it has been the opposite. The past year (+), I’ve had a very hard time feeling strongly about anything. I felt like I had no black-and-whites, nothing I could stand on with any certainty -- I was swimming in relativity. But here in Guatemala, I have realized that I do believe in things. I do have the desire to say that some things are right and some things are wrong. I do have opinions and a perspective on the world that I want to share with others through my life. I believe in human rights and life and love and equality. I believe in God and embrace a theology that has to do with concrete lifestyle choices and social actions, not just an entirely non-material spirituality. I believe that love and faith have something to do with caring for one another and living in community rather than simply nurturing a relationship with God. I don’t mean to go on and on. The postmodernism I was encountering and wrestling with so much in the past year has value and good things to say, but I was drowning in it. This semester I have heard first-hand stories of some of the most sickening injustices our world has to offer. The semester has left me, of course, with all sorts of unanswered questions and all sorts of things to think about, but it has also left me with the sense that evil undoubtedly does exist (sorry, Nietzche), but that some people are trying to live lives of goodness in opposition. I hope to join them. I hope I have joined them!

Emily Moyer: This weekend I had the privilege of going to two birthday parties – both were for “quincieneras” (15 year olds). On Saturday was Rebeca’s and Diana’s. I asked my mom and sisters if I could borrow something to wear and we went through their closet and tried on many things but ended up borrowing a blouse of Deborah’s sister. Jeremias and Diego met Deborah and I to go all together. It was interesting walking through La Brigada, them in their dress shirts and ties and us in skirts and fancy tops. The church was beautiful. The flowers were gorgeous as well as the candelabras that adorned the front of the church. The girls looked beautiful in their dresses carrying bouquets of yellow rose buds. The singing, sermon and sharing of gifts were also so special. I came away from this delighted that there is such a celebration here – a celebration of young women’s life as well as her family and friends. I also came away missing my family. The rest of the evening was very special too – the beautiful and delicious cakes, the dancing, dinner and company of friends. I felt so honored to be a part of this all and can’t imagine how wonderful Rebeca and Diana felt at this celebration. The following day I went to Deborah’s sister Alba’s 15th birthday at her home. The courtyard was decorated with balloons, steramers and pica-pica. There was a pinata hanging from the clothesline. The guests were family and friends and especially a lot of children. There were games, a pinata and afterwards we had cake – after singing Happy Birthday. We also had horchata and later chuchitos. All was very tasty and I enjoyed eating and watching all the activity around me. Both parties were excellent experiences for me. In both I felt the importance of fellowship and family. I think there should be occasions like this in the United States – an occasion to really celebrate life -- more than just a birthday party but with church support too! top


Week 6, February 22, 2000

The theme for the sixth week in Guatemala was “Health and Development” with “mission” being a part of many discussions. Activities this week included:

  • a visit to CEDESCRI (Appropriate Technology Center)
  • a meeting with U.S. AID lawyer, Jeff Borns (Office of Democratic Initiatives)
  • a visit to the Proyecto Bella Esperanza, a building project of the Guatemala City Mennonite Church and MCC following Hurricane Mitch
  • a Semilla chapel on “Service and Mission” led by Hector Argueta
  • a 3-day trip to Alta Verapaz:

Activities included:

  • overnight stays at Bezaleel, the K’ekchi Mennonite education center
  • participation in the student worship service Saturday night and at the “revival meetings” of the Pocola community on Sunday
  • a meeting with Dennis and Lori Witmer, EMM missionaries a meeting with K’ekchi leaders of the Mennonite Church and Fundameno (education, health and land programs)

The following excerpts are from the journals of several of the students as they reflected on the theme and activities this week:

Lisa Gascho: I didn’t know a lot about Appropriate Technology (AT) before this cross-cultural. It is not an issue for me in the United States. I take all the appliances and conveniences I have for granted and forget that not everyone has an electric stove, medicine and a flushable toilet. I enjoyed the trip to the AT Center as well as reading the articles on AT in the CASAS’s reader. The reader defined AT as determining what is most needed among the people and then thinking about and approaching the problem in the most efficient way that is attainable to the person. It is the “idea of doing what you can with what you have.” I may think that an electric stove and a flushable toilet are necessary for me, but for those in the campo where that is not an option, a Lorena stove and dry latrine are drastic improvements on their way of life. It was helpful to see some of these AT projects in person…. It amazes me that all of the inventions give a little more “luxury” to life, but also recycle and conserve valuable resources. The Lorena stove not only makes cooking food easier and safer, it conserves the firewood. Dry latrines are also very interesting. I think they are a little gross to use and smell pretty bad, but they do have a lot of benefits. They help in basic sanitation and also provide a very unique way to fertilize. I never once thought that I would touch human poop in the form of dirt and put it on a garden! Also, the work with herbal plants as medicine is a good way to provide care for those who can’t afford health care or who like to heal naturally.

In the area of AT, I think that the U.S. is so interested in making life so comfortable that they lose out on a lot of ways to preserve our natural resources. I’m not saying exactly that I’d like to switch to a dry latrine, but I know that I am very wasteful with what I have. There are great lessons to be learned from AT of third world countries.

Jen Morey: Today was an awesome Valentines Day! I woke up feeling great because I got to open my Valentine cards from my friends. They were wonderful and put me in a smiley mood! Spanish class was so fun because we spent a lot to time decorating our rooms and thinking of ways to outdo everyone else. All the hard work paid off when our class won some chocolates -- Yum! The Valentine Party was so fun. First we did our skits. Justin and Abe dressed up like women and Lisa and Julie like men; they did a skit about dating which was so funny J I must say the guys looked pretty good in their dresses. The teachers called Justin “la chica en rojo”. Our class did a skit with Dutch Blitz; it wasn’t very good, but we didn’t know we needed one so it was last minute. Next, Nathan gave each of us a red rose; I love getting flowers (especially on V-Day). Then we exchanged gifts, which was quite interesting finding out who had your name. I got 3 chocolate candy bars, so I was very content. It was an exciting fiesta! top

After our party and lunch, we went to the U.S. AID building. I thought our speaker was really interesting. I liked the whole atmosphere. We were in a conference room with our visitor tags; I felt very important. It was really nice for a change to hear positive things our government is doing in Guatemala. We’ve learned all these negative concepts the U.S. government has supported in Guatemala throughout the war and frankly I feel ashamed of many of them, but this meeting was sort of a “new light” to feel proud of some U.S. programs in Guatemala.

Michelle Kuhns: Today we went to the Project Mitch – Bella Esperanza. It’s a program MCC was working with to build cement block houses for people who were severely affected by Hurricane Mitch in 1999 (they lived in the ravine beside the big Periferico bridge). I cannot imagine living with 3 other people in a house smaller than my dorm room! But, it was also a happy thing to see. After having heard so much about Mitch at church and on the news and helping to get donations and supplies for MCC from school, it was fulfilling to see something concrete being done with that money and still being used two years later. top

Monica Newcomer: Wow! What a weekend! I was so happy to be returning to the Coban area in Alta Verapaz where I had spent 5 years as a child with my parents who worked with MCC. Sunday was a very interesting day and started off pretty funny. We all got on the bus to head to church in the a.m. The only problem is that there is a steep hill leaving from the Bezaleel school. It had rained the night before so we only got about Ľ of the way up and couldn’t go any more so we backed all the way down and tried to get a running start. Everyone ran to the back of the bus so the back wheels had more traction. We were doing fine until about 50 ft from the top of the hill and then we just couldn’t go any more. So we got out to push, but I’m not a big fan of standing behind big buses on a steep hill that have a chance to roll back on me. No need to worry because all of a sudden about 50 guys from the school came running from all different directions to help us. They couldn’t push it either so they got a rope to pull the bus up. Talk about a fun picture -- the women on the bus for traction and the guys pulling on the rope. Soon we were on our way only 45 minutes late. We drove out to Pocola for a campana on these roads that used to be ever so familiar. Driving into Carcha, I thought I’d recognize a lot more. I don’t know if it’s just changed too much or if I just don’t remember?top

Anyway at Pocola, we were in this packed church with little benches and it was hot and stuffy and every now and then a slight breeze would come through the little window that was crowded with people looking in from the outside. Babies were crying and kids were running around. Dogs would come in but would soon be chased out by the deacon whose job was to keep the dogs from taking up too much space! Representatives from every church -- there were many meeting together for this special service – were given the chance to share a “little bit” whether that be in a greeting, a song (or 6 songs) or a miniature sermon. It was actually quite comical. They all had something to say about the “misioneros” that were visiting. Too bad I didn’t catch most of it as I’ve forgotten my K’ekchi. Finally one of the pastors came and told us we should go eat and come back later. So we went outside and almost couldn’t believe the 20 degree difference in temperature. There were at least as many people outside as there had been inside. It was weird to look around at people and wonder how many I’d known before and how many of the children I’d carried around as babies. We went into a dark little room with tables and makeshift benches for lunch that I knew would be caldo (soup broth) because I’d smelled it drafting through the window in church every so often. And oh, was it good! Greasy and hot broth with big chunks of beef (shup) and tortillas to go with it and sweet coffee! I was definitely enjoying myself!

Julie Kauffman: This trip has made me really think more about “mission”. It’s been a while now since I’ve wanted to do some sort of service or something other than your typical hospital job or suburban home, “all American” family. I’ve felt the urge to expand my horizons. Tonight made me feel like it was inevitable. Lori and Dennis Witmer are missionaries here in Carcha working a little with the Bezaleel school but she mostly works with women’s groups in some of the K’ekchi Mennonite churches. She works with things like self-esteem issues which is a real problem here. And, Dennis is more behind the scenes working with K’ekchi materials at the Bible Institute. They spoke with us on their lives as missionaries and the people here. It was really interesting to me. Afterwards I asked her about something she had said about changing since being here. She said she came in “knowing” what was right and wrong, more black and white and that turned into gray after she was here a little more and her world view was expanded. I asked her about going into missions already gray. I feel sometimes I should have some things figured out before I try to “live by example”. All I really know for sure is love is what is so important. Loving God with all your heart and serving your neighbor. top

Week 4 February 9, 2001

The theme for the fourth week in Guatemala was “Human Rights”. Activities this week included:

  • Visits with two families to hear their stories about the conflict and how it affected them personally (Hector and Gregoria in El Milagro and Julian in El Incienso);
  • A meeting with the Casa del Inmigrante Semilla chapel on “Living in the Midst of Death” ;
  • Weekend trip to Chontola and Chichicastenango to visit the widow’s cooperative “Ruth and Nohemi” and to shop on market day.

Several students along with Nathan and Elaine and CASAS teachers/staff attended the wake and funeral of our bus driver, Ernesto Cabrera, who was killed in an accident on Monday, January 29th on the South Coast while with another group. We miss him and his bus! top

The following excerpts are from the journals of four of the students as they continued reflecting on their living situations and the activities of the week:

Deborah Good It’s morning. By now I have accustomed to the noises that visit my room so much that I don’t even think about them. There’s the sound of distant and not-so-distant horns. This morning, I hear the horn of what I expect is the water truck weaving its way between people, “papas fritas” stands, and the occasional motor bike or car on the narrow streets of La Brigada. Then, on top of the horns and murmur of traffic, roosters all over the neighborhood whine with a cock-a-doodle-doo that sounds so sad and worn out, you would think they were mourning the suffering of the Guatemalan people. Dogs chime in from where they awake on streets and corners all around La Brigada. “Chuchos” they’re called – mutts, strays. None of these sounds wake me up any more like they did my first morning here. Now I am consistently jarred awake, sometimes as early as 5 or 5:30 by the sound of firecrackers set off to celebrate the arrival of someone’s birthday. I fall back to sleep without any trouble and await the sound of my travel alarm clock (at 6 or 6:30) telling me it’s time to get ready for school. Then, there’s also the sound of Luis’ pajaritos awaking in their cages just outside my room and the occasional cat – or other creature – that scampers across my tin roof, making a horrible racket. And at night, just about every night, I can hear music and/or loud preaching from “Manantial de las Ovejas”, the small evangelical church just up the block. No one here in Guatemala is selfish – we all share our sounds without apology. top

Emily Evans (Eva) We have just finished listening to a lecture on the Center of Migrant People. This is an organization that helps people that have been deported from Mexico return to their country of origin. It is sponsored by a section of the Catholic Church. When persons on their way to the U.S. are discovered in Mexico, they are dumped in Guatemala usually with only the clothes on their backs. The Center of Migrant People helps the deported by giving them a place to sleep and a bus ticket to the next safe house on the way back to their home country. Illegal immigration can be very dangerous. They are considered fair game: women are raped, men beaten and families robbed. Last year about 100 Guatemalans died on the way to the U.S. The people go because they have no food, work, home and no hope of things getting better where they are. The “American Dream” is not just for the States, it’s for all people and many of them hope to realize that dream in the U.S. Every month, Mexico deports about 3,000 people who are trying to reach the U.S. I have seen how little people have here. It’s hard to find work and hard to live off of what you do earn. I can understand the desire to go to the States where we are wealthier. But, I also understand why the U.S. can’t have an unchecked stream of people coming in. It would overtax social services, health care and public schools. The crime is not immigration; the cause of immigration is the crime. The U.S. has helped cause these problems and needs to help fix them. Forgiving international debt would be one way of helping. How can these poor countries advance when all of their money must go to paying off debt and interest? I’m learning many things about the political history of the U.S. and none of it is good. There is so much the people of the U.S. don’t know. We are never taught it in public schools and it’s not obvious in the news. It’s like there is a handful of people leading a blind mass who knows nothing and follows blithely along. It’s a sad picture of our nation.

Carrie Maust The trip to Chichicastenango this weekend was beautiful. Saturday started out a little rough -- soon after we got on the bus from La Brigada, we heard a shattering and the people in the bus crowded to the front. Our first reaction was to duck, only later did we see the large rocks that had been thrown through the back window by a group of teenagers. Thankfully, we were all safe; just a little shaken by the experience.

The 3 ˝ hour ride to Chichi passed by in a foggy blur and we met Pastor Diego at the entrance to Chontola. We rode for about 15 minutes down a bumpy dirt road and then went to the Methodist Church where Diego told us the history of this Quiche community and how the widow’s coop started. The beautiful streamers which hung from the church ceiling were in direct contrast to the dark tale he told us. One bullet-ridden metal beam still remained in the building where 20 years earlier 40 members of the community had been bombed by the military because they were suspected of being sympathetic to the guerrilla revolutionaries. By 1983, 85 women were widowed; their husbands killed by a civil patrol made up of their neighbors. The men were killed for not joining the civil patrol. The community people were then sequestered and made to live in a setting similar to the Nazi concentration camps. They were suspected of feeding the guerrillas and the reasoning of the military was that if you take the water from the fish, the fish will die.top

When the church was finally permitted by the army to hold a worship service, the pastor saw that this community of mothers and children needed more than the message of salvation and the after- life. They were surviving on nothing; the providers of the families were gone and many of the women had no hope left, needing even corn for their next meal. In May, 1986, the Ruth and Nohemi project was started by the Methodist church with 100 lbs of corn. The program didn’t only take care of the present needs of the women, but began to teach them skills which would make it possible to earn a living and be self-sufficient. We saw their beautiful weavings and fields of maize and shared a delicious lunch of fried chicken, rice, tortillas and vegetables. After buying to our hearts’ content, the group was able to talk with the widows and Pastor Diego and ask some of the questions we had been thinking. Many of the women have never been able to have proper burials for their husbands, though the bones are scattered in mass graves throughout the community. It’s evident that the fear and repression which haunted the community for so long is still present in the hearts of these women. top

Laura Souder I was in a dark mood Saturday morning and honestly didn’t feel like traveling again. But when we entered the widow’s house for lunch in Chontola, after filing down a dirt path for 5-10 minutes, my mood brightened. The women were gracious and kind and had prepared a wonderful lunch for our group. We spent a while admiring and purchasing the beautiful clothes and bags. After lunch, we had time to hear more of the stories of the women involved in the Ruth and Nohemi project. More than once, my eyes filled with tears as they told about losing their husbands during the war. The pain must be insurmountable. Some of them don’t know where there husband is – dead or alive – he just disappeared. It’s hard to find closure in a situation like that. top

The women were so reserved and soft spoken. They told of their tragedies in soft voices with tranquil expressions. It was fascinating to hear the Quiche language. The women would speak in Quiche, pastor Diego would translate into Spanish and Elaine would translate into English. Quiche sounds fascinating and completely foreign to me. It made me realize how much I really do understand of Spanish when I understood most of what pastor Diego said. That was nice. But wow, languages are fascinating. We had three languages in that group. How many are in the world? How does one’s language affect their thinking and outlook on the world? What goes on inside the head of someone who speaks Quiche as opposed to Chinese or Pennsylvania Dutch or English? Interesting…. Anyway, this day had a better ending than beginning. We had a great time of group sharing and singing after supper tonight in Chichi. We reflected on the past week, what we’ve felt as we’ve faced the heavy subject of “human rights”. And, what it means to be an American (U.S.) in Guatemala, knowing that the U.S.A. in part supported the human rights abuses to provide for it’s own citizens (me!).

Deborah Good and I stood on the steps of an ancient Mayan temple tonight and watched a priest prepare a ceremonial fire that included cigars, candles, herbs, sugar and 2 cans of fuel. The steps are right downtown and late into the night people were bustling around and setting up for the market day tomorrow. It was quite surreal to watch everything going on….the fire, the people from the campo in traditional dress trudging in with loads on their backs, hearing cell phones ringing, sitting on ancient Mayan steps leading to a Catholic church that was built on top of the ruins. Children with babies tied to their backs surrounded us to ask for quetzales. I felt badly that I honestly didn’t have any money on me, but even if I did, one quetzal wouldn’t have done much to help them. It would just reinforce their begging. But just to hear them say, “ soy pobre, amiga, un quetzal para comprar una tortilla, para escuela….etc. etc.” (I’m poor my friend, one quetzal to buy a tortilla, for the school, etc.) was very hard for me. I’m not used to facing this! top

Week 3 January 30, 2001

The theme for the third week in Guatemala was the "Mayas". Activities this week included :

1) an afternoon trip to San Antonio Aquas Calientes near Antigua where we were hosted by a Cakchiquel family. We enjoyed the pepian lunch, the marimba music, the hand-made artesania and modeling the traditional dress.
2) a 4-day trip to the Peten which included two nights at "Gringo Perdido" and visitng the Mayan ruins of Tikal and two nights at La Esmeralda, the community of returned refugees where students ate and slept with the families.
3) a lecture by Mario Higueros, the Semilla dean about the Mayan culture, their achievements, worldview and spirituality.

The following excerpts are from the journals of four of the students this week :

Erin Kauffman Friday we got up before sunrise (5) to head for Tikal - at this time of day it would be a bit cooler and we'd have the opportunity to see the jungle wake up. It was a beautiful day - the weather was gorgeous! We had a very knowledgeable and helpful guide - he had started giving tours when he was 15 years old! He shared many interesting things about the ruins and the plants and animals that live in the surrounding jungle. We were able to see and hear Howler monkeys defending their territory and some of us got to see some playful Spider monkeys as well. top

The ruins were amazing - they're so old and huge. I was trying to imagine how in the world the ancient Mayans were able to lift and work with such heavy stones to build temples that reach to the sky. Higher than the tallest trees in the jungle. It's amazing to think that Tikal was once alive with people - they lived, worked, and played here. I would have liked to spend more time there. Guess I'll just have to come back again someday. The two things I enjoyed most about Tikal were the incredible views from the tops of the pyramids and imagining what all the ruins that remain covered must look like. I remember thinking at one point that I would like to be an archaeologist for this reason.

Abram Dintaman Yesterday was the best day I have had in a very long time. We had time to explore the ruins of Tikal thouroughly. It was amazing to get a glimpse of the ancient Mayan civilization. The experience made me think a lot about the mortality of every great civilization and about the fairly inevitable reality that someday archeaologists from another civilization will analyze us and our acomplshments in the same way. Throughout the tour of Tikal, I felt a strong sense that many generations had lived their lives on this ground. As we learned about the Mayan culture, I could imagine what it would have been like to live in Tikal when it was a completly different world.

Justin Edris For two nights and two days, we spent time with members of the La Esmeralda community. My time there was exactly how I thought it would be. It was the stereotypical Guatemala that I had in my mind. There was no electricty in the homes and an outhouse for a bathroom which immediately changed the lives of the people living there. At around 6 o'clock the sun went down and supper was made and eaten by flashlight, fire or candle. top

The food there was so much better than I had envisioned. There were freshly made tortillas and plenty of other food to make the biggest man full. And always we were treated very well. I was really impressed with the amount of their small resources they gave to us. The second night, my (host) mom gave her cushioned bed to me and Jeremiah, while she squished into another bed with less padding with her three children.

We heard the complete stories of two couples as they adjusted to the fighting during the 1980's and their return in the 90's (to live in Guatemala). I couldn't believe that the goverment would just wipe out (villages) under the assumption that they were guerrillas. One night, I was walking back to my house in the dark, and I tried to imagine what it would be like to have to pick-up everything and flee through the mountains away from the Army at a young or old age. I just can't comprehend the emotion and pain they went through. The pain of seeing friends or family die or become lost forever. At church on Sunday, I noticed many different things. It was a Lutheran church with about thirty members, about the same as the church in Zone 6. There was a big difference though, in Zone 6 most of the members are women, where as in La Esmeralda, there was an equal number of men vs. women. Also, the music was simply five men playing stringed instruments. They lit candles and took an offering to help the poor. That was really touching. These people with the little they had, make room in their hearts and pockets to give to the poor.

Jeremiah Denlinger Our Sunday in La Esmeralda was unbelievable. It started out with an interesting Catholic church service and then a soccer tourney. The whole tournament was so Guatemalan as it was to start at 10 :00 a.m. but didn't actually begin until 11 :45. We (EMU/La Esmeralda team) didn't even play until 1 :30 and when we did, we didn't stop until after 4 :00 pm. EMU players included Deborah Good, Jen Morey, Julie Kauffman, Michelle Kuhns, Abram Dintaman, Justin Edris and myself. We lost the first game (1-0) and won the second on penalty kicks (3-2). The field was dirt, a few grass patches, a few ditches and a bunch of piles of horse crap. We didn't wear cleats, the sun was intense and we were beat by the end, but it was great and the crowd was so excited. I think the fact that females played with males made it all the more exciting. Deborah and Jen especially incited the crowd with their goal. top

Week 2 January 24, 2001

The theme for the second week in Guatemala was the Guatemalan "coyuntura" or the historical and current reality. In addition to hearing speakers and reading articles in the CASAS readers, the students were living the coyuntura as they spent more time with their families and traveled daily to and from CASAS in the public buses. The following are excerpts from the journals of three of the students for this week.

Janine Siegrist : Tuesday, January 16, 2001 This morning, a bunch of us had an interesting eperience. Our bus broke down and everybody had to get off. Some of our group crowded on another bus, but the rest of us decided to wait. As we waited, the bus was fixed and the driver allowed us to get back in. There were only five of us girls and the driver on the entire bus. It was such a switch from last night. He took us almost the entire way to CASAS and would not accept money when we got off. It was a huge blessing in my day to experience that gift of generosity and thoughtfulness.

The streets of the city and my neighborhood do not always seem to be the most welcoming place. Trash everywhere, stray dogs wander around, a lot of the buildings and houses are rickety and built somewhat haphazardly (or so it seems to me) and things just seem to be dirty. But once I step inside the houses and get to know the people, my perspective changes. It was a reminder to me that it is what is on the inside that counts, and where the true beauty comes from. top

Deborah Yoder : Wednesday, January 17, 2001 As I ride the bus from CASAS to my house in Zona 6, my mind feels cluttered with both useless thoughts as well as serious questions. Two men have already come on the bus in an attempt to earn money in some way - one by selling candy. All of these people are using any possible means to make a living. It is nothing like the life I am used to living. My heart hurts trying to understand why. I know there is no simple answer and that the commonly used excuse of the wealthy that they are lazy, is also not true.

Laura Souder: Last night, my sister came into the house crying with her friend, Danielle. I felt awkward, unsure of what was going on. Angela took me aside and explained that Danielle's boyfriend had been shot in his house, about a block or two away. He died on Thursday, but was not discovered until Saturday. This shocking and tragic news made me wonder -- when does the suffering stop? How is it that I have never dealt with poverty or tragic death, and these people deal with both? This also made me look at my neighborhood with slightly new eyes, knowing that the murder happened so close. It is kind of scary. But, I cannot be always paranoid, or I will never enjoy myself here. top

Tonight I went to a birthday party of Angela's sister. When we walked up everyone was sitting in the street, watching the pinata. Everybody was laughing. It looked like pure joy to be there. Then we all crowded into the living room and sat in a circle and sang "Happy Birthday" with the heaviest Spanish accent ever. I barely deciphered the words. The hostess came by with a large basket of sandwiches and fruit. It was delicious. I heartily enjoyed myself. I think I am getting used to not knowing people and still being able to enjoy myself.

Thursday, January 11th -- The Trip
It was a cold, but sunny morning as our group said goodbye to families, friends, faculty and staff at the EMU circle. After a prayer of blessing by Orv Gingerich, we loaded the bus and headed to Dulles International airport outside of Washington D.C. for our 12:30 p.m. departure. Our Continental connections took us through Houston, Texas, where we began to hear more Spanish being spoken by our traveling companions. Our three-hour wait in the Houston airport passed quickly in the "group lounge" that MTS had reserved for us. We were all surprised to discover a very nice, large room with tables for playing games and at least 15 sofas for reading and relaxing. We arrived safely in Guatemala City at 10:00 p.m. Guatemala time and successfully retrieved all of the luggage. Bob Brenneman, an EMU alumnus and current MCC worker with the CASAS (Central American Study and Service) program, met us at the airport and Don Ernesto took us in his school bus to the newly built and inaugurated SEMILLA/ CASAS center in Zona 11 where we spent the first night. top

Friday, January 12th -- CASAS - Spanish Tests
We awoke in the SEMILLA guesthouse to meet the myriad of people who were visiting, studying and working there. There were nearly 50 persons total from Canada to the southern tip of South America who were participating in one of the following groups: 1) TREK team from Canada, 2) AMBS theology class, or 3) an editorial team from Central and South America developing Sunday school curriculum for Spanish churches in Latin America. In addition, there were several North American volunteers helping with the finishing touches to the building project. In this multi-cultural environment, we had our first breakfast in Guatemala.

At 8:30 a.m., the EMU students met their Spanish teachers and took their placement exams. During the morning break time, we received a formal welcome from all the SEMILLA/CASAS staff and all the groups mentioned above were introduced to each other. After a delicious lunch of grilled beef steak, tortillas and rice, one student said, "It doesn't have to get any better than this. I'll be very happy with this new diet." In the afternoon, CASAS staff provided a general orientation to their program and issues about living and traveling by bus in Guatemala. At 4:00 p.m., the host families came to pick up their new adoptive daughters and sons. In the midst of many smiles, attempts at speaking Spanish and some apprehension, we said goodbye to the students as they left with their "new families" to learn to negotiate the bus system out to their communities and homes. top

Saturday, January 13th -- City Tour
EMU students, accompanied by a family member, returned to CASAS Saturday morning for a tour of Guatemala City, the capital and home for approximately three million inhabitants. In Don Ernesto's bus, we traveled to the city center stopping en route to see the squatter communities that have been built in the many ravines that surround the city and to visit the large relief map of Guatemala. At the Central Plaza, we spent time in the National Cathedral, the Central Market and the National Palace. At 11:30 a.m. we were on the second floor of the National Palace when a major earthquake shook Central America. In all of our orientation for the students, we had failed to mention that Central America was the site of many major earthquakes. We were all quite surprised by the LONG and STRONG shake and shocked by the moving floor, water and light fixtures. The swaying 2 ˝ ton chandelier in the reception room was quite impressive. Other than feeling dizzy, faint and weak in the legs, we were all fine. It was an unforgettable "welcome" for the group and a reminder that our time in Central America will be extraordinary. Guatemala suffered minor damages and loss of life compared to the major catastrophe experienced in the neighboring country of El Salvador. The quake measured 7.5 in El Salvador. There were casualties from collapsed buildings and in communities buried by landslides. The number of deaths continues to rise. Nathan joined a group of leaders from the Casa Horeb Mennonite church on Wednesday for a quick trip to El Salvador to investigate possible responses to the situation. top

Monday, January 15th -- Spanish and Coyuntura (Current Situation)
After spending the weekend with their host families and most attending a Spanish wor-ship service, the students arrived at CASAS eager to begin Spanish study. There are four classes with 2 students/class and two classes of 3 students/class. Everyone is learning! Monday afternoon we had a brief meeting together sharing one thing we liked and one thing we didn't like since arriving in Guatemala. This was a very animated discussion with many having more than one thing to share! We were impressed with the overall positive attitude and enthusiasm of the students. In the evening, Jeremias Ochoa, Director of Programs for World Vision in Guatemala, gave a dynamic presentation that included the history and the current social, political and economic situation in Guatemala. He helped us understand the contrasts and contra-dictions of the Guatemala reality. One of his helpful quotes was "every North has its South and every South has its North", meaning there are poor people in the U.S. just as there are wealthy people in Guatemala. When the questions ended, we all enjoyed Pollo Caribe before taking the students back to their communities.

Tuesday, January 16th -- More Spanish
Today was a day of Spanish study in the morning and free time in the afternoon to study some more! As the students found places to study in various parts of SEMILLA/ CASAS complex (roof, lounge, outdoor tables and benches, porches, classrooms, etc), we commented on what a gift it is for SEMILLA, CASAS and EMU to have this new facility. In addition to the individual student lockers, there is also more space for teachers and administrative staff who have all been very helpful and welcoming. It's been a good week in Guatemala and we're grateful! top

E-mail report: January 15, 2001

The sun is shining and it is a gorgeous morning in Guatemala City! The students all arrived safely and are in their classes learning Spanish. Most arrived smiling which is a good sign after the first weekend with their families. They are concerned that their familes in the U.S. may be worried about the news coming from Central America. Hopefully, you > received our phone message yesterday about the earthquake. Yes, we definitely felt the strong quake Saturday morning. We> were on the second floor of the National Palace. It was a LONG and STRONG shake and pretty impressive watching all the big "candelarios" swaying and moving, especially the 2 1/2 ton chandelier in the reception room. The water in the pools was "jumping". Other than feeling dizzy, faint and weak in the legs, we were all fine.

There were a few deaths and some damage in the eastern part of Guatemala; however, El Salvador was hit much harder. The number of deaths will likely increase as they continue working to uncover the houses in Santa Tecla that were buried. Please share this information with the families of the students.

Muchas gracias, Elena y Nathan Zook Barge top

Program summary

Participants in the Central America semester will experience a window into another world - the world of Guatemala and Cuba; a world with a diversity of people, religion, economic status and a history of revolutions.

Students will spend significant time with CASAS (Central American Study and Service), a cross-cultural study program in Guatemala. The first two months, participants will live with families in Guatemala City while studying Spanish and learning about the culture, history and issues facing the people of Guatemala. In addition, there will be a special focus on peace-building efforts by Catholic, Protestant and Mayan groups.

Following this time of intensive Spanish study, students will travel independently for one week within Guatemala or neighboring Mexico, Honduras, Belize or El Salvador. In the final 3 weeks

of the CASAS program, students will be placed with organizations throughout Guatemala for a service/learning assignment. Options include working in a health clinic, women's cooperative, appropriate technology center, orphanage, or in the construction of homes. The work setting is selected with students once they are in Guatemala.top

At the beginning of April, the group will spend two weeks in Cuba, a country quite different from Guatemala. The Martin Luther King Center will host our group as we learn about and experience the reality of Cuba and relate it to the Guatemalan experience.

The group will return to Guatemala in time for the Holy Week activities in Antigua and a final retreat at Lake Atitlan to reflect on the new relationships and understandings from the semester and discern individual/group responses.

Reports from the semester leaders and participants will be posted regularly throughout the semester.top


Week 1: January 8 to 10 -- Orientation on campus
Thursday, January 11 (12:40 p.m.) 8 a.m. departure from campus

Week 2 to 8: January 12 to March 3 -- Language & Guatemala study at CASAS

Week 9: March 4 to 11 -- Independent travel

Week 10 to 12: March 12 to 31 -- Service and learning assignment

Week 13 and 14: April 1 to 11 Cuba, Martin Luther King Center

April 12 to 14 - Holy Week in Antigua

Week 15: April 15 to 19 -- Final retreat at Lake Atitlan; goodbye to Guatemalan families

Friday, April 20: Arrive Wash. Dulles Airport, 4:59 pm.

Week 16: April 23 to 25 -- Re-entry/debriefing at EMU, chapel presentation & exams top