Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Week Three: Land of the Eternal Spring

Day 16

The Gapsters kicked off our third week in Guatemala with a return to Los Patojos school. Once again, we were reminded of how the school creates an environment that fosters development through education and play, rather than through drugs and gang involvement. In class, we have been learning about the theory of accompaniment that was originally proposed by Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez and Dr. Paul Farmer. The topic of accompaniment was particularly relevant to our class conversations revolving around Los Patojos, because the theory is centered in mutuality; we learn as much from those we are with as they learn from us. Our interactions with the children through sports, art, and music gave us the opportunity to impact each other’s lives through simple acts of relationship building, rather than through traditional service (e.g. building homes for Habitat for Humanity). As Paul Farmer wrote, “The process is humbling, since there is always an element of temporal and experiential mystery, of openness, in accompaniment.” These words were especially relevant when pondering the language barriers our students had to overcome while at Los Patojos. Instead of participating in service that does not require intentional interaction with those we were accompanying (such as serving/preparing meals or fixing houses), we embraced the universal language of love in accordance with the mission of Los Patojos. This language of love went above and beyond the necessity of verbal conversation. It forced us to use creativity, supplementing a lack of verbal communication with our actions and feelings.

Gapsters Playing Alongside The Children Of Los Patojos

During class, we had a debate on the positive and negative effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). NAFTA was first implemented as a way to open trade routes between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In theory, this trade agreement would allow goods and services to flow freely across national borders, thereby eliminating the import and export tariffs previously imposed on goods crossing national borders. The thought was by eliminating export taxes for goods being produced in Mexico, individual citizens would benefit because they would get a higher price for their goods when exporting them to developed countries such as the United States. Realistically, the agreement saw large corporations receiving benefits that greatly outnumbered those of small businesses or individuals. The aftermath of FTAA was similar to that of NAFTA. Developed countries were now able to outsource cheap labor in developing countries, eventually lowering wage standards, and monopolizing industries that effectively hindered the sustainability of small businesses.

Day 17

Day seventeen began with a tour of Guatemala City's National Palace of Culture. The Palace was constructed in 1943 under the order of Jorge Ubico, to serve as Guatemala's governmental headquarters. Ubico was an oppressive leader that mandated inhumane labor requirements for the unemployed, and forced prisoners to construct his grandeur Palace. Upon entering this massive space, we were easily swayed by the extravagant two and a half ton chandelier, finely crafted doors and pillars, the brilliantly polished floors, and a 24 carat gold ceiling. Further analysis of this lavish spending during a time of civil turmoil and governmental corruption lead to a more focused perspective on The Palace's questionable origins.

Chandelier Imported From New York Hanging In The Palace's Ambassador Hall

Coincidentally, we were at a point in our course material, specifically the course text Silence on the Mountain, that emphasized the Guatemalan government's desire to appear wealthy so as to maintain foreign investment fueling political efforts. The Palace was simply a reinforcement of the misrepresentation of Guatemala’s wealth. After continuing our tour, we stopped at the reception hall where a series of stained-glass windows displayed the ten values of Guatemalan government: progress, peace, labor, liberty, justice, honesty, concord, order, institute, and fortitude. We found it interesting that the building housed windows representing the moral values of the Guatemalan government that directly contradicted the government's actions during the civil war.

Stain Glass Windows Displaying Guatemala's Governmental Values

The National Palace has two large patios; one represented peace, and the other represented culture. The Patio of Peace displayed a mural of 29 hands holding up a white rose symbolizing the 28 tribes of indigenous Guatemalans living in harmony with the Spanish. Our tour guide helped us understand that this symbolic depiction was incredibly inaccurate. During the Spanish colonization, discrimination and targeting of indigenous peoples was overwhelmingly common. Many indigenous lives were lost during the Spanish colonization. The Guatemalan government, to this day, provides economic and social incentives to declare nationality as non-indigenous.

Today's activities exposed some pretty ugly truths in Guatemala's history. In addition to gaining more knowledge on national corruption, we learned about the 1996 Peace Accords signed in The National Palace, which technically ended the thirty-six year civil war. As we know from class discussions and site visits, these agreements have not yet been upheld by the government. No actions have been taken to try those responsible for the human rights violations during Guatemala’s internal war. This lack of accountability by those responsible for wartime atrocities is extremely unsettling for many Guatemalans. Fortunately, groups such as Los Hijos combat the attempts by the Guatemalan government to "overlook" and minimize the government's actions during the brutal civil war. Los Hijos was established by children of genocide victims as a way to not only to raise awareness of the atrocities committed by the government, but the group actively pushes back against the government's denials, attempting to holds those accountable for the human rights abuses that were committed, yet perhaps most poignantly, Los Hijos is committed to keeping the memory of their loved ones alive.

Paulo Leads A Los Hijos Tour Through Guatemala City

Los Hijos is attempting to reclaim public space by displaying victim's pictures and stories on city walls, and spreading their message of accountability by educating through walking tours, parades, museum displays, etc. Los Hijos is keeping the memory of disappeared individuals alive despite the relentless efforts by government to remove the posters from public places, and remove the disappearances from people's memories. By listening to the personal accounts of Paulo and his colleagues at Los Hijos, we now stand in solidarity with Guatemalans still searching for answers. With every group Los Hijos educates, their own mission is reinforced and

One Of The Many Walking Tour Displays Recognizing Guatemala's Disappeared

Days 18 & 19

Wednesday and Thursday, we commuted to Jocotenango to spend time with the children of Los Patojos. Most of our time was spent observing and supporting the students as they practiced for an upcoming talent show. It was uplifting to see how dedicated the children were as they practiced their performance sets many times over. Our applause and cheers were a fantastic trade for the incredible entertainment they excitedly provided for us. Time at Los Patojos was greatly anticipated, and even more so appreciated. How appropriate that our last visit to the school was on Thanksgiving Day!

In class, after our final visit to Los Patojos, we shared reflections on our experiences at The Palace and on our walking tour with Los Hijos. We coupled this debrief with a lesson on public speaking. Each student was required to read their reflection papers aloud to the class, as if they were presenting their reflection at a conference. In congruence with developing speaking skills, the activity allowed students an additional opportunity to process their feelings, thoughts, and concerns after a long day in Guatemala City.

Following class, we headed to the Santa Catalina Arch where we departed for a secret Thanksgiving dinner location. We crammed 22 people into one shuttle van, some on top of each other, to deliver pizza. Wait, what? Yes, we delivered a tasty looking combination pizza to a kindly looking man our way to the mystery destination. After an uphill drive filled with song and laughter, we arrived at Cerro San Cristobal, a farm to table restaurant with a mountainside view of Antigua. After exploring the grounds, and singing "Unwritten" as a group, we sat down for a wonderful dinner of pizza, pasta, nachos, smoothies, and more. When dinner was finished, we went around the table sharing our thank you's and appreciations from the previous year. Many were thankful for family, friends, health, education, the wonderful view, and the opportunity to travel freely. Overall, the students agreed that it was a memorable first thanksgiving away from home.

View Of Volcan De Fuego From Cerro San Cristobal

Day 20

After a wonderful Thanksgiving feast, the cohort split up to participate in artisan workshops. This round, everyone picked a workshop other than the sessions they were a part of last week. Some people crushed peanuts into peanut butter, others sewed together burlap or huipil bags, and some labored at woodworking or ironworking shops. Each student was able to create a keepsake as a reminder of the day's activities. It was a humbling experience to once again see how much work the artisan’s put into developing their hand-crafted products.

Roberto Watches Nate Form His Tray's Frame

Aerial View Of Guatemalan Peanut Butter Processing

Days 21 & 22

The Gap students split into two hiking groups. The first group hiked Pacaya, and the second group conquered Acatenango. On the way to Pacaya, Diego, our interpreter from Old Town Outfitters, showed us a little secret inside the Ring of Fire. There is a specific location on the main highway to Pacaya that creates a magnetic field strong enough to pull vehicles in neutral uphill towards the source of the magnetic energy. After experiencing this nifty science experiment, we set off to Pacaya's entrance point. Upon reaching the summit, we enjoyed a nice surprise of toasted marshmallows. There are two open vents pumping out hot air from magma chambers below the volcano's surface, allowing locals and hungry hikers to make a sweet treat in a unique way.

Pacaya Crew Roasting Marshmallows Over A Volcano Vent

After consuming the whole bag of 'mallows, we walked across a field of volcanic rock leftover from a 2012 lava flow where we visited a tiny stand called "The Lava Store". Because of its location (on an active volcano), the Lava Store was recognized by National Geographic as being one of the world's most unconventional shops. It sold silver earrings, branded coconut shell bracelets, and necklaces/rings/earrings embedded with volcanic rock. After our perusal of The Lava Store, we made a small climb to the top of Pacaya for a lunch of cold cut sandwiches, fresh guacamole, fruit, and aloe water. After, a long descent back to the bottom of the volcano, a relaxing drive back to San Miguel was greatly appreciated.

The Acatenango group hiked over the course of two days, guided by Mara, Oscar, and Rodrigo from Old Town Outfitters. The first portion of Saturday's six hour hike passed through the land of an 83 year old farmer named Don Martin. During the next four hours of the ascent, the group climbed through eroded gullies that was the trail through volcanic soil -- walled in by barbed wire to keep hikers out of the surrounding farmland -- and continued the ascent upward. Eventually the group entered a cloud forest, which was home to moss covered hardwoods, bamboo trees and verdant vibrant plant life. Cloud forest gave way to sparse evergreen forest. The hike was strenuous, and the group reached based camp, which was approximately at 11,700 ft. and there the group stopped to share an evening meal around a roaring campfire before attempting to summit Volcan Acantenango the following morning. 

Sunrise On Acatenango

After a night of rest (but not necessarily sleep), we had a 4 a.m. “voyageur start” reminiscent of our time with Outward Bound. Mara stayed back at base camp while Oscar and Rodrigo motivated us to reach the summit. At one point during the morning ascent we reached a dry section of the volcano where one step up meant two steps sliding back down. This one step forward, two steps back phenomenon was noted by our students as being analogical to systematic oppression discussed in this semester's coursework. After the dry patch, and before reaching the top of Acatenango, Oscar pointed out a crater formed by the volcano's most recent eruption in 1972. Each student stated that the hike's difficulty was no match for the beauty at the pinnacle's top most view. Our first three weeks in Guatemala have tested the students physically, mentally, and emotionally. Check back in next week to see how our final week unfolds!

Summit Of Acatenango

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Digging Deeper... Coming Into a More Crucial Understanding of Guatemala's History

First-Hand History: Learning Through Doing, Seeing and Feelings of Solidarity

Multi-Tasking: Artwork With Bean Sorting

Day 9
The students spent their ninth morning in Guatemala working and learning in the homes of four De la Gente co-op farmers. The first group of students was assigned the task of sorting coffee beans in preparation for roasting. The initial step was to sift the beans through a large table-top strainer, separating the product by size and eliminating beans that were too small. Once the beans were separated by size, the students began sorting for quality, removing those with defects or discoloration. While talking to families during the sorting process, we learned that defective beans become fertilizer for next years crop. This sustainable closed-cycle system was reminiscent of our experience at The Plant in Chicago. Every opportunity that the farmers have to reduce their reliance on external goods or services, in turn they increase their self-sufficiency. The second group prepared coffee beans by using a machine that removes the bean’s protective outer layer of parchment, readying them for sorting. De la Gente farmers use as little machinery as possible, but the parchment removal process is necessarily expedited by the machine’s efficiency. The third group opened peanut shells, sorting the peanuts by size, color, and overall quality. As is true with De la Gente coffee beans, the standard held by the cooperative farmers who make peanut butter is only possible because the sorting is done by hand, allowing for an intimate inspection of each nut, and bean. The last student group shaved kernels off of corn cobs, which would be crushed up for tortillas. As any Gap student will tell you, tortillas are an integral part of almost every traditional meal in Guatemala. The families we worked with shed light on the copious amount of time and effort that accompany products we consume on a daily basis. Many of us grab a cup of coffee or a jar of peanut butter and neglect to think about the people and time that went into making the product. This experience encouraged us to think about where we buy from, and the people behind each consumption. In class that afternoon, we discussed the history of Guatemala. We began with a debrief of Mayan life in 800 AD, and continued a conversational progression up to modern day Guatemala. One of the most memorable topics covered in class that day regarded the United States involvement in the 1954 Guatemalan coup. This involvement sparked a thought provoking discussion between students about the negative effects of cultural imperialism, and how the United States frequently intervenes when it benefits us economically, even if it is not in the public’s best interest (as is the case with Guatemala in the 1950’s). Leading up to the coup, democratic Guatemala began redistributing land to farmers in the middle and lower classes, stripping away used and abused land owned by the wealthy, and the United Fruit Company -- who owned 85% of Guatemala’s farmland. This redistribution of land enraged the United Fruit Company, who then called on their American allies for support. Many U.S. investors had large stock investments in the United Fruit Company, and when the stock started to bottom out -- due to the increasing wages the company executives had to make to their Guatemalan laborers (many of whom were indigenous peoples who held no political, social or economic power), the United States covertly authorized Operation PBSUCCESS, a Guatemalan military coup that replaced democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz with Carlos Castillo Armas, a dictator loyal to the U.S., as head of Guatemala’s new government. For the next thirty-six years, the country experienced a sequence of military juntas and abusive dictatorships that resulted in clandestine and horrific violence, public protests, and civil unrest. As we have seen in our daily travels, there is still a significant military presence within the cities, stemming from the original civil unrest back in the 50's,l alongside a nearly palpable distrust in the government and its military forces -- all of which is legitimate distrust.

Eric Learning How To Round Edges On His Mahogany Tray

Day 10
After digesting the lessons from class on day nine, we were viewing Guatemala through a new lense, focused by difficult truths. Armed with a more accurate understanding of Guatemalan history, we were once again able to immerse ourselves in local culture. The cohort split up into five groups, learning and crafting with local artisans on wood working, iron working, sewing of traditional Guatemalan shoulder bags, peanut butter processing, and making up-cycled burlap bags made from De Le Gente coffee sacks. Those who participated in iron working learned skills of the trade from Carlos, who has been iron working for twenty-nine years. Those who joined the woodworking session learned from Roberto, another craftsman with over twenty years of experience. The dedication and commitment shown by these artisans was matched only by their incredible patience when helping us through the arduous creation process. A common theme amongst student's post-workshop chatter referenced the difference between the Guatemalan emphasis on intricacies of the creation process, contrasted to a typical North American ideology that emphasizes efficiences-of-scale, uniform output, and cheap labor.

Claire Getting A Lesson On Chinese Yo-Yo

Days 11 and 12

Wednesday and Thursday started with trips to Jocotenango, which translates to "land of jocote". Jocote, a common fruit found in Central America, is equally as vibrant as the buildings that make up this Guatemalan municipality. Jocotenango is only nine square kilometers, but houses 60,000 people. On our first visit, we learned that Jocotenango is considered a sleeper town because most of its residents work in Antigua or Guatemala City. Our reason for traveling to this tiny town was to visit and work in a school called Los Patojos, translated to “the little ones.” Los Patojos was created ten years ago by Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes. Juan Pablo was a teacher within the Jocotenango community that saw too many students dealing with the negative forces of drugs, violence, and gangs -- which Juan Pablor had been exposed to twenty years prior -- he decided something had to change. Los Patojos was created as a safe place where students could step away from the violence, and avoid the temptation of drugs and gang involvement. Initially, Juan Pablo and his parents converted their home into a community center that offered an after school program. As it continued to develop, Los Patojos became a non-traditional school fashioned to counter the apathetic educational mindset due to a declining public school system. The Guatemalan Ministry of Education dedicates only .15 cents per student, per day, which is certainly reflected by the number of students who don't even make it past primary school, because it is more economical for them to start working, rather than getting a sub-standard education. School days at Los Patojos lack a typical level of structure (compared to our experience in the North American schooling system), because the staff believes that fun, the development of social skills, and community building are crucial to individual growth and fostering a sense of educational desire. Los Patojos has four pillars of development: health, education, nutrition, and art. The school has a small clinic with a doctor that sees students three days a week, free of charge. All of the 270 students receive two meals a day, which for some, are often the only meals they get. In addition to classroom work, students learn how to juggle, dance, paint, play the marimba (Guatemala’s national instrument), ride unicycles, play futbol, and more. The philosophy of the school is love—to love one another in a selfless way. Los Patojos prides itself in being a place where kids can feel safe to grow, think, and be themselves. With this ideology, Juan Pablo and his other colleagues are working with local universities to create a replicable system to implement in schools throughout Guatemala.

In 2014, thanks to his radical philosophy, hard work and passion for education, Juan Pablo was the first Latino to be nominated for the CNN Heroes award. The school is run entirely on donations, although one day they hope to be self sustaining. The CNN Heroes nomination, and the publicity followed, was pivotal for their development. Juan Pablo says that the purpose of developing their program is to empower the people of his country, reminding them that they have all the tools necessary to fix their problems. In the words of Juan Pablo, “You can’t run away from a problem. You have to face it head on.” We were afforded the opportunity to be a part of Los Patojos’ mission by cooking, singing, playing with, and accompanying the kids learning in the classroom. Los Patojos is living proof that this method of alternative education is effective and desirable.  

Students Preparing For Their Class Presentations

Thursday's class allowed us to relate our coursework to our first hand experiences from Los Patojos. We had a healthy competition between the guys and gals in which we presented our views on topics such as the global drug in the Latin American and U.S. economies, governmental corruption, and gang violence in Latin America. Gang prevalence in Latin America is directly linked to a lack of education and social services, and indirectly linked to the regularly occurring deportations of undocumented persons from the United States back to Latin America -- where these dispossessed youth are further disenfranchised from any viable (and legal) economic livelihood. The most profound example of deportations indirectly leading to Latin American gang activity occurred in 2008 under the Obama administration, where nearly 2 million people were transported out of the U.S. Frequently, however, many migrants were deported to countries other than that of their origin, where most were unable to establish community connections, and many faced language barriers, as they did not speak the language native to the area where they had been deported to.

Samuel From The Martyrs Museum Tells Us About His Father

Day 13
There is no shortage of educational moments in this program. Although we did not have formal class on Friday, we gained unique knowledge from our time in the community. We spent the day in Guatemala City expanding our knowledge of the human rights violations that accompanied Guatemala's Civil War. Our first stop was the Martyrs Museum where we met Samuel Villatoro, son of a disappeared martyr, and the museum's founder. Amancio, Samuel's father, was among the 45,000 disappeared people from the Guatemalan Civil war. Amancio was a revolutionary leader during the war, advocating for unions and civil rights. His involvement in social activism against the dictatorial regime made him a target. Amancio knew that his capture (disappearance) and death were imminent, so his family often moved around from house to house, hoping to avoid tracking. Samuel's mother would write down exactly what Amancio was wearing in the instance that he didn't come home that night. This went on for 4 years, until Amancio was discovered and forcibly taken from his home in January of 1982. According to military records, he was tortured for 57 days before his death on March 29th. In 2006, a group of forensic scientists uncovered Amancio’s body alongside five others in a ditch on an inactive military base. The forensic scientists that work with Samuel and his organization believe that these six victims were buried alive due to a lack of significant injuries or damage done to the bodies. A military diary was also discovered with the names of 183 other victims, including various codes that indicated whether they were executed, or if they provided useful counter-intelligence information (which would temporarily save them from being tortured). Only 6 of these cases have actually been tried by the Guatemalan judicial system and considered closed; most families still do not know where their loved ones are, or what happened to them.

It was mentioned that almost everyone in Guatemala knows someone who is among the disappeared: a neighbor, relative, or friend. While talking with the group, Samuel made it very clear that his agenda was not to make people cry and feel sorry for him, but rather, he originally opened the museum as a way to bring dignity to those who have been captured -- to all victims of disappearance. To this day, most of Guatemala's governmental body is either encouraging people to forget these past atrocities and move on, or are completely denying the genocides existence. Without a full confession from the government, without justice brought forth on those who committed the acts of terror, and without a tangible improvement to overall human rights in the country, Samuel and his team will not rest until truth and justice prevail.

After our visit at the museum, we headed to the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission to talk with Danya, a Representative for G.H.R.C. which was originally established in the U.S. In 1982, Sally Sogmen, a nun from Minnesota, had been traveling throughout Guatemala and saw the level of civil rights violations and the extreme violence that was plaguing many Guatemalans during that stage of the civil war. She went back to the U.S and began making connections with refugees, eventually opening an official office as a safe haven for those fleeing the civil war violence. In 2011, Ally and the G.H.R.C. saw the need to establish an official office in Guatemala because they were unable to effectively meet the needs of Guatemalans living outside of the states. According to Sally, the organization's focal points are militarization, women’s rights, decriminalization and impunity, truth, justice, historic memory, LGBT rights, and access to land and natural resources. In many ways this organization’s efforts parallel those of the Martyrs Museum. Specifically, in 1990, both the G.H.R.C. and supporters of the Martyr's Museum campaigned against the growing violence that was ravaging their country. Through these campaigns, both groups pressured the Guatemalan government to release classified documents of the disappeared, and such sensitive documents would allow the people to bring to trial those involved in the wartime atrocities. Once the documents were released and declassified, it was discovered that the CIA had authorized a program that trained Guatemalan police and military forces in methods of torture, which were then used on those who had been disappeared. After this information was made public, the United States government discontinued the program, denying any further involvement. Today, although the war has technically ended, the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission continues to document human rights abuses, and advocate for those who are facing civil injustices perpetuated by corrupt governmental powers.

Drive-By View Of Lake Atitlan And The Surrounding Volcanoes

Day 14
Saturday morning, after an incredibly powerful day spent at the Martyrs Museum and the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, the Gapsters were up and out by 5 a.m. We hit the road, destined for Lake Atitlan -- the deepest lake in Central America -- where we were given free time to immerse ourselves in more Guatemalan culture. We took full advantage of our opportunity to explore the town, meet some of the local population, eat traditional meals, hike at a nearby nature preserve, boat to surrounding towns, and swim in the uncharacteristically temperate lake. Because of its elevation, Atitlan should be too cold to swim in, but the surrounding volcanoes and geothermal activity helps keep the water warm. In addition to Saturday's fun and relaxation, we experienced first-hand how our course concepts of cultural imperialism and hegemony were certainly visible in the tourist hot spot of Panajachel. North American pop music played on almost all speakers, logos of North American sports teams were worn by young Guatemalans on every street, buses and taxis were decorated with stickers of North American cartoon characters, and CDs of Hollywood movies were being sold on every block. Overall it was hard not to recognize the influence that American consumerism has played in eroding the remaining native traditions and cultural identities of the 28 indigenous groups that make-up the fabric of Guatemala.

On our drive to and from the lake, we noticed large caravans of finely dressed Guatemalans loaded up in truck beds or packed into vans decorated with balloons and colorful trinkets. Our shuttle driver suggested that the caravans were attendees of weddings or quinceaneras. The number of times we have frequently observed Guatemalans gathering for weddings, birthdays, and holidays are evidence to fact that despite the cultural influence America's pop culture has had on Guatemala, they still place high priority on community and social investment in family and friends. As our next two weeks in Central America unfold, we hope to continue, and deepen, our understanding and respect for what it means to be a member of the small Guatemalan community of San Miguel Escobar and beyond.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Life in Guatemala

Guatemala: Week 1

Hiking Volcán de Agua -- En Route To Coffee Fields

Day 1

After a relaxing fall break spent with family and friends, the Gapsters were eager to meet up together again at the Milwaukee airport…even though it was at 4:00 in the morning. We had a successful trip through security and two very safe flights. We landed in Guatemala City, Guatemala at around 1 PM and were graciously picked up by the De La Gente Organization and driven to San Miguel Escobar, which would be our home for the next four weeks. De La Gente is a collective that works with coffee farmers in Guatemala to create economic opportunity that improves the quality of life for their families and communities. After settling in to the guest house we were given some rules and cultural guidelines about living in Central America, like the importance of not flushing the toilet paper, because of the sensitive plumbing system they have throughout Guatemala. That night we were warmly welcomed into the home of one of the farmers, Andreas, from the coffee cooperative to share dinner with his family. We had chicken with tomato, peppers, onion, and garlic as well as rice with corn and homemade tortillas. To drink we had a traditional, local homemade drink, made from hibiscus flowers. Muy delicioso!

Day 2

Monday morning we woke up to a homemade breakfast, prepared by Rosalina, and her mother, Amoria -- two local women who earn extra income by preparing food for locals traveling through the San Miguel area. We then began our day in the near city of Antigua. The first item on our agenda was to exchange money. Here we learned that about 7 quetzals are exchanged for 1 U.S. dollar. The Gapsters then began their walk to Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross). We walked through Santa Catalina, an arch, that the Catholic nuns in the late 1800's proceeded through to get from the convent to the monastic school.

Santa Catalina Arch Over the Cobblestone Road

It was a short but exhausting hike for most of us because of the altitude, but the view was worth it! Emmy, the director of Community Engagement at De La Gente, offered us some good background history of Antigua. We learned that the military is still somewhat of a daily presence throughout much of Guatemala, mostly a reminder of the country's tumultuous and violent past when the leftist guerrillas and the military were fighting over land rights. Hundreds of pictures were taken from the hill that gave you an amazing view of the whole city…but that wasn’t the only thing that was taken. A few students were shocked to find their bags missing during our time on the hill; devastated to find out all of the important information and items that were in them. Eventually, they were relieved… because Morgan and Dr. Fredrickson had their bags the whole time. We all learned a valuable lesson that day: how important it is to keep track of your things! We are in a foreign country and that could have been a very real harsh reality for any one of us had one of our bags been actually stolen.

Beautiful View From the San Francisco Ruins

After our hike, we made our way back down Cerro de la Cruz and were on our way to the San Francisco Ruins. Here, the Gapsters were allowed to freely roam the ruins and find what interested them the most. The ruins of the church were an interesting site to see. Most of us could not believe that the church was built in 1764 and parts of it were still standing. Next on the agenda was lunch at Sky City Café. Typical Guatemalan food, such as nachos and quesadillas, were a popular choice, as well as liquados (smoothies) made with fresh fruit. Afterwards, we enjoyed some free time to explore the city of Antigua. Lots of souvenirs, food, and gifts were bought. A few of us also encountered some of the vendors in the Parque Central (central park). Ask your student to share with you some of their stories! When our free time had come to an end we walked to a spot to get picked up by the 'chicken bus' that would take us back to San Miguel Escobar. Chicken buses are old school buses from the U.S. and Canada that are transformed by local tradesmen into brightly colored vehicles that are the central mode of transportation throughout the country. Although individually and privately owned, they are a rich addition to the colorful culture that makes up Guatemala. That evening we were invited to have dinner with another cooperative farmer and his family. Miguel and Amelia were so welcoming towards our group, and they were able to sit down at the table and have dinner with us: chicken in brown sauce, rice with corn and peppers, broccoli and carrot salad, homemade bread and tortillas, and homemade hibiscus drink. After our meal together, we were able to ask Miguel and Amelia some questions about De La Gente. We learned that we were speaking with one of the founders of De La Gente, who had been working with them for eleven years. It was heartwarming to hear about the opportunities that have been made available to the farmers. They have better living conditions and are even able to send their children to university, when most Guatemalans only receive a basic education.

Day 3

Tuesday morning again began with a delicious breakfast, homemade pancakes, made by Amoria and her daughter Rosalina. Emmy then got us acquainted with San Miguel Escobar and its history. She showed us were some important buildings were such as cooperative farmer’s houses, pharmacies, stores, and the central plaza. The story of how San Miguel Escobar got its name is something that Emmy shared with us. When a crater on top of the Volcan de Agua filled with water, the pressure was too great and a chunk fell off and took out the entire community. San Miguel Escobar was the man who helped to rebuild the city. Before this disaster, the city was the first capital of Guatemala, but because of the damage, the capital had to be moved to what is now Guatemala City. Our group walked through the 6th, 5th, 4th, and 3rd zones of Cuidad Vieja into the heart of the city. Here, we were allowed to venture around a bit before showing Emmy our directional skills by leading her back to our guest house in zone 6.

Cuidad Vieja Cathedral

For lunch, we were invited to eat with another cooperative farmer, Mercedes, where we enjoyed beans and rice, which are staples in many Latin American diets. We learned about the increasing opportunities that arise when these farmers join the co-op. Mercedes told us how it was possible for him to send his daughter to school, in fact, one of his daughters is now a teacher! Once we finished our lunch and conversation with the family, we were on our way to the market in Antigua for a scavenger hunt! The Gapsters split into three groups to try and find the ingredients for nachos, guacamole, liquados, and plantains y chocolate, which was to become that night's dinner. We were all successful and can’t wait to revisit the market again. Before we prepared dinner, we learned a little more about the coffee making process. Emmy shared some facts with us: roughly 10 million people depend on coffee for their livelihood, and the coffee trade originated in Ethiopia. Then we completed an activity where we learned all of the different steps involved in the global coffee trade. We were split up into 5 different groups, and each group was to take on the role of each link in the supply chain for the coffee trade. For example, one group represented the coffee exporters, another group represented the coffee roasters, while yet another group represented the coffee farmers themselves.The remaining two groups represented coffee retailers and the other, the actual shippers. Each group was then asked to justify why they felt they deserved a specific dollar amount for the job they were fulfilling within the coffee supply chain. The groups had to negotiate a dollar amount for their specific labors to bring the price to a set price of $2.75 per pound. After some friendly bickering, we finally came to a consensus, only to learn that sadly, the coffee farmers themselves only earn about .05 cents to the dollar for their labors. Emmy then explained the level of risk that is involved for the coffee farmers themselves, being subject to the ravages of natural disasters and price fluctuations in the global coffee market. This realization brought us back to a conversation we had at VOBS about perceived fear and actual fear. We tied this idea back to perceived risk and actual risk and how it relates to the coffee trade – and that most people at the retail and corporate end of the supply chain deal more with perceived risk, while most people at the opposite end of the supply chain, such as the farmers, deal with actual risk (such as an earthquake, drought, or natural pest).

Making The Ascent To Eduardo's Plot

Day 4

After another homemade breakfast this beautiful Wednesday morning, the Gapsters set out on a hike up to Eduardo’s coffee farm! It saddened us to hear that a fungus called Royo is affecting many of the coffee plants throughout Guatemala. Royo is a rust that infects the leaves of the plant, limiting its ability to carry out the vital process of photosynthesis, which will eventually lead to the plants' death. In some instances the coffee farmers are forced to use synthetic pesticides because the fungus can be so devastating. After learning a lot about the growing of the plants we hiked back down to Eduardo’s home to see and learn more about the processing of coffee. Here we learned that the beans must be de-pulped in a machine, fermented, washed, dried, and then a fine parchment like skin is removed from the actual bean (which is really a seed), then the beans are sorted by size and those that are defective (i.e. too small or cracked or discolored) are removed from the batch. Once each of these steps are performed, the beans are finally ready to roast. As a group, we washed and sorted some beans and then were able to see, and smell, them being roasted. After roasting, the beans were then ground down by a volcanic rock slate and a cylinder (also made of volcanic rock). Finally, we saw the grounds being mixed with boiling water. When mixed, if the water starts to foam that means its good quality coffee! After the grounds were strained, the coffee was ready to drink -- and it surely was delicious.  Manuel and his family then prepared lunch for us, which is another way they generate income for their families. We had a good time playing with the children and all of the cats they had.

Eduardo Explains The Intricacies of Coffee Farming

After lunch we headed back to the guest house and had a conversation with Andy, the Executive Director of De La Gente, about the coffee trade. He shared with us how coffee has been a part of the Guatemalan economy since the 1870’s. Over time, coffee became a prime export crop, but problems arose in the 1940's when big plantations -- who were often owned by foreigners -- were forcing indigenous peoples to work on the plantations. In effect, this was a form of forced labor, which the government knew about, but tacitly turned a blind eye to for many years. In an effort to empower those who have historically been oppressed and marginalized,  De La Gente (DLG) is an organization that is helping indigenous farmers become more economically stable by cutting out the role of the middle-man. First, by encouraging other farmers to join the coffee collective, which empowers them to engage in collective bargaining, because this increases the overall scale of their production, which then allows them to be more competitive when selling their coffee. DLG also invests in the farmers by offering professional development skills and working with them to establish quality-control measures. DLG also offers year-round cultural tours, which generates an additional sources of income for the farmers. Our visit to Guatemala will allow us to share with family and friends what we learned about the economic injustices in the global coffee trade. We ended our night with dinner at Froilan‘s house. It was another great meal to end another great day.

Day 5

After starting out Thursday with another homemade breakfast, this time crepes and fresh fruit, we dove into our first activity of the day: a cooking class! We learned how to make a traditional Guatemalan dish: Pepian from scratch, which is a traditional meal that is prepared for special celebrations. This included killing and plucking a live chicken, which taught us a valuable lesson about where our food comes from. So often in the U.S. we take for granted our food, being so far removed from the actual raising and cultivating of crops and livestock. Thursday was also our first class here in Guatemala! We had some great discussions about the more theoretical aspects of our experience here, such as: preferential option for the poor, cultural imperialism, bearing witness and accompaniment. After class we had some free time before meeting with a farmer for dinner again. We ended the night with some delicious cake in celebration of John's birthday! 

Students Preparing For Their First Class at El Sitio

Day 6 

The Gapsters started the day off right with a well-needed energizing breakfast before our hike to San Juan de Obispo. The views were amazing the whole way there. We ended the hike in the center of San Juan de Obispo with a picnic lunch and a visit to a small scale chocolate production facility. We learned about the process of making chocolate from cacao, where the individual seeds are removed from the pod, left to ferment, then are dried and roasted. After roasting the cacao nibs are melted into disc shaped forms that they then sell for hot chocolate or nibbling on directly. We had some free time in Antigua before it was time to pack up to prepare for our homestays. In groups of 3 or 4 we left the guest house at De La Gente to have a once in a lifetime experience living with a family from Guatemala. 

All Eyes On The Cacao

Friendly Reminder At Valhalla Macadamia Farm

Day 7

The Gapsters were not separated long before we came together again for a bike tour of the San Miguel valley and surrounding towns. It was about a 15-mile ride and was very challenging, but the views were worth it. It was also very interesting to learn that each town center has a church, a cross, a park, and a fountain -- all remnants from Guatemala's colonial Spanish past. Can't wait to see what next week will bring!


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

***Chicago Part 2***

"If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living." -- Gail Sheehy

A Friendly Reminder Outside Pui Tak School

Sunday: The Gap students kicked off week two by attending a Catholic mass sponsored by Chicago's Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach. AGLO Chicago was created in 1988 to connect the Catholic Church's ministry and pastoral outreach to the often marginalized LGBT community. This mass has been offered since 1971, and continues to grow in service to those who wish to reconcile their sexual orientation with their faith, without compromising one or the other. On their way to the mass, students took part in a walking group scavenger hunt to familiarize themselves with the vibrant street art, the diverse and historical architecture, and the ever changing environments in Chicago's neighborhoods. After their morning at the Kadampa Meditation Center, the AGLO mass, and the city scavenger hunt, students were certainly in tune with the eclectic nature of Chicago.

Writing Papers During Academic Advisement

Monday: Ann Hintz, Director of Academic Advisement, and Dr. Laura Fredrickson, Director of the Gap Experience at St. Norbert College, made the trip down to be with the students for their Academic Advising sessions starting Monday morning. Each student met with Ann and Laura individually to start solidifying plans for their time at St. Norbert College after the Gap semester. Students discussed their interests and concerns within the Gap program, before college, and outside of college, to make sure they were equipped with the tools they needed to be successful upon their return to St. Norbert in December. When the Gapsters were not meeting with Ann and Laura, they were working vigorously on papers, journal entries, and article assignments to stay on track with the program's academically infused experiential service-learning model. Monday was as much a learning day as it was an opportunity for students to catch up on school work for Dr. Egan-Ryan's class -- American Myths, Community and the Individual.

Steve Sharing Some Knowledge in Christ The King's Chapel

Tuesday: Students headed into the Austin neighborhood on the west side of Chicago for a visit to Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School -- one of thirty-two schools that make up the Cristo Rey Network. The Cristo Rey model of education is quite unique and is being used in economically challenged neighborhoods throughout the US. The Cristo Rey model empowers students from under served, low-income communities to develop their minds and hearts to become lifelong contributors to society. By providing students an extraordinary college preparatory education that includes a required four-year, integrated corporate work-study experience, students who graduate from a Cristo Rey high school are better prepared to succeed in college, and thereafter, to successfully enter into the workplace based on their previous 4-year work experience in the corporate sector.  Austin, as its residents will tell you, is historically plagued with street violence, poverty, and inadequate access to education. In an effort to empower the local community, the Jesuit order founded CTK School in the heart of Austin. Our students were able to see first hand how successful this school has been, particularly for its students, and the Chicago corporate world. Before the students were taken on a tour of the school, Steve, CTK's Director of Development, along with four students, met with the Gapsters to discuss the school's overall culture, its mission and purpose, and to share their personal stories of how they are achieving their goals during their time at CTK. Steve informed our students that 100% of Christ The King's graduates have been accepted to college. Out of that 100% acceptance rate, 93% have enrolled in a collegiate program. The school's population is comprised of 96% African American students, and 4% Hispanic students. As a condition of enrollment, each student is required to participate in the school's Corporate Work-Study Program, a program that partners with 200 Chicago area businesses, such as prestigious law firms, or distinguished marketing agencies, to name just a few. Students work one day a week, and one weekend a month during the school year, which then continues over the course of their four years in high school. Not only does this give CTK students solid 'real world' work experience, but additionally students are actually paid for their work, which helps to offset the cost of their tuition.

One Of The Street Memorials Highlighted in "Not Forgotten"

Wednesday: After breakfast, the students took the Orange Line (one of Chicago's train routes) downtown on their way to Roosevelt University's Gage Gallery. The Gage Gallery was sponsoring "Gone But Not Forgotten", an exhibit by Thomas Ferrella, and Anne-Marie Cusac, highlighting street memorials throughout Chicago. Through pictures and personal interviews with loved-ones, these memorials told a brief story of the deceased -- where they came from, who they were, how they died, and the sense of loss that was shared by the victims' family and friends. When first entering the gallery, eyes were drawn to photos of beautiful flowers, stuffed animals, glass bottles, posters, and artwork -- all a testimony to the life that was lost. Next, came a selection of audio clips which recounted personal stories of sorrow and mourning that were experienced by surviving loved ones. Many of those who were being memorialized died at the hands of street violence. Slowly, students started to read about the memorials. The interviews and stories the Gapsters read about allowed an intimate glimpse into the pain felt by those involved with each memorial. By the end of their stay, students were asking themselves, "Why such senseless violence?" The Gapsters hoped that this question, and many others, would be answered at their next two site visits.

Gap Crew Posing With Sr. Donna at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation 
Sr. Sharon of St. Leonard's Gives a Walking Tour
Thursday: Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation - After an intense Wednesday at the Gage Gallery, our students were ready for some answers, and a bit of good news. Thursday was a busy day, starting at Precious Blood (PBMR). While there, the students sat down with Sr. Donna, a member of the Precious Blood order who is responsible for the daily programming and community events at PBMR, to learn a bit more about the mission of the Precious Blood order. Some of the programmatic events include art workshops, media labs, job training, peace circles, and drum sessions -- all of which exemplify the Precious Blood order's commitment to restorative justice, rather than punitive justice. The activity that Sr. Donna spoke about most frequently was the Peace Circles that are part of the PBMR mission. Staying true to their commitment to restorative justice, PBMR uses these circles as a way to build relationships between local rival gang members; between families of crime victims and offenders; and between law enforcement and local community members. Often times, this method of restorative justice is used as an effective replacement or supplement to punitive justice, which notably lacks a healing component necessary for interpersonal growth, which is the solid foundation upon which positive societal change occurs. After speaking with Sr. Sharon, and learning that only 50% of the Peace Circle participants are court ordered, the students were convinced that even those who were committing the acts of violence wished to see it come to an end. The Gapsters learned that often times PBMR's programming is the only healthy alternative many young men have to joining street gangs and falling victim to community violence.

St. Leonard's - After their morning at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, the Gap group headed to St. Leonard's Ministries, where they were greeted by Sr. Sharon, the ministry's Volunteer Services Coordinator. Founded in 1954, St. Leonard's has provided interim housing and supportive services to formerly incarcerated men and women transitioning back to the community from Illinois prisons. The creation and development of St. Leonard's was the result of a number of factors: the rapid increases in unemployment due to international job outsourcing and technological advancements, the over-crowding of jails and prisons as a consequence of the war on drugs, and the splintering of gangs after the arrests of local gang leaders. With continually high unemployment rates, and soaring rates of incarceration due to drug addiction, Chicago sees a 60-80% recidivism rate overall of those who are sentenced to jail or prison. Comparatively, the rate of recidivism for those who transition back to society vis-a-vis the services offered through St. Leonard's Ministries is only 12% for men, and 5% for women. These statistics alone were enough to convince our students that the life-skills training programs, the AODA counseling and relapse prevention services, and the social and recreational opportunities provided by organizations such as PBMR and St. Leonard's are absolutely critical and necessary in order to bring about large scale change within communities historically oppressed by violence and addiction.

Attendees Waiting For The Prayer Vigil To Commence
Hillary and Gapsters Outside Cook Co. Courthouse

Friday: Prayer VigilOur final day in Chicago was spent re-kindling concepts and ideas surrounding issues that the Gap cohort learned about in New Mexico. The students were awake and ready to go by 5:45 a.m. so that they could attend an early morning Prayer Vigil for individuals being deported from Broadview Deportation Center. The vigil is put on by the Chicago Religious Leadership Network (CRLN) with the intention of supporting the families and friends of persons who are being deported due to their status of not being a legal citizen of the United States. The CRLN also attempts to move the needle on immigration reform through political action, actively encouraging participants to exercise their legal right of contacting both local and national governmental officials, expressing the critical need of immigration reform. As our Gapsters can tell you, of the more than 31,000 immigrants currently detained in the United States, nearly 10,000 spent more than a month in detention facilities, while some are being detained for more than a year (in certain cases up to five years) awaiting a verdict or resolution to their immigration case. Our students attended the vigil as a show of solidarity for the families being separated by deportation.

Taller de José - The students last visit in Chicago was to Taller de José Resource Center. Upon our arrival, the Gapsters were kindly greeted by Hillary, who would be our guide and agency spokesperson for the visit. Spending the afternoon with Hillary was a phenomenal way for the students to unpack their morning at the Prayer Vigil. Taller de José is an organization that helps connect over 1,100 clients to various legal and human resource agencies throughout greater Chicagoland. In a nutshell, Taller de' Jose accompanies and advises persons of Latino or Hispanic decent how to navigate the legal and social/human service systems that may be unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating for them to access. During her presentation and accompanying walking tour, Hillary gave the students a more in-depth understanding of why Taller de José offers such vital services. The organization is based in the Little Village neighborhood, which has a Hardship Index rating of 96/100. To give a comparison, Millennium Park (home of the Chicago Bean) has a rating of 4/100. This rating is derived by looking at a number of social indices such as: poverty rate (29.5%), average annual income ($10,867), unemployment rate (14.3%), high school education rate (54.8%), residential overcrowding rate (17.2%), and level of governmental aid (33.2%). After seeing these numbers, our students certainly understood the need for the companion or accompaniment services offered by Taller de José.

By the end of their time in Chicago, the Gapsters were optimistic about their ability to understand the complexities that many under served persons face who live in the greater Chicagoland area. Through rigorous nightly discussions and debriefings, students were encouraged to look at their own level of privilege, and assess where, and how, they might confront the many disparities for those who have historically been marginalized... both in regard to those in Chicago, but additionally, those in their own home communities. During this portion of their semester-long journey, students were exposed to some heavy hitting social issues, and often times found themselves uncomfortable, and did not enjoy sitting with those feelings. Many students were able to empathize, and identify with the pain and sorrow experienced by community members plagued by violence and poverty. However, at each step along the way, the skilled programming staff at the Br. David Darst Center, provided the students with tangible 'action steps' they might take to address some of the more pressing social injustices they encountered during their stay in Chicago  Looking toward the future, our Gapsters became confident in their abilities to effect larger social change. Next we head to Guatemala to learn more about global structural injustice and the historical ideologies that perpetuate these injustices.

Next up: Central America! Stay Tuned...

For more pictures of the Gapsters second week in Chicago, please follow the link below: