AU Ambassadors

Student Life at American University

An Alternative Break Trip to Guatemala

March 29, 2016|Posted in: Abroad Adventures

Sarah Persichetti is a freshman from Hamilton, New Jersey. She is an international studies major with a minor in law & society. This past spring break, she and a group of other AU students traveled to Guatemala to learn about the effect of large-scale developments on indigenous land rights.

Alternative breaks are a unique program where students have the opportunity to travel to a variety of both domestic and international locations over the course of winter, spring or summer break. They are student-led immersion trips that include interaction with the local culture; activism with a social justice theme; and focused that really challenge participants’ perspectives on the world.

This past spring break, a group of AU students, as part of the 10th delegation to Guatemala, focused on indigenous-land rights in the face of large scale development. As students, we rarely hear about the 36-year long civil war and genocide that occurred in Guatemala. Large companies, mostly international concerns, began development projects in Guatemala, infringing on indigenous land. There were multiple indigenous Mayan communities that had lived in rural Guatemala for generations that were not only displaced by these government actions, but were massacred by the Guatemalan government, which remains corrupt to this day. These massacres and immense land grabs have created issues of poverty, and struggles for economic sustainability.

The group hiked to the site of a massacre that took place during the Guatemalean Civil War. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Maizland

The group hiked to the site of a massacre that took place during the Guatemalan Civil War.
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Maizland.

We had the incredible opportunity of talking with the survivors of many of the massacres. We also spoke with organizations who are working toward the remembrance of the victims and for action to be taken today so that reparations can be made to survivors and the families of the victims. One day, we hiked to the top of Pak’oxom at Rio Negro, where one of the largest massacres of the civil war in which 177 women and children were murdered took place. We listened to the stories of those who lost their entire families during the conflict and saw families who were forced off of their native land into poverty because of these large scale development projects.

This alternative break focused on indigenous land rights in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Maizland.

This alternative break focused on indigenous land rights in Guatemala.
Photo courtesy of Lindsay Maizland.

Despite the hardships that the Guatemalan people have experienced and still continue to face today, it was inspiring and humbling to see the hope the people have in moving forward. We visited Quachuu Aloom, an organization of indigenous women who are working to preserve indigenous seeds that were destroyed during the war. They maintain local farms and help families to grow the indigenous seeds as well. We also visited the Nueva Esperanza School, where we met and spoke with teachers and students and helped them plant trees. We learned how they are preserving their cultural ways of living with the land, as well as creating sustainability for the future. Seeing how the people are remembering all they have lost by maintaining their cultural heritage gave us hope that not only will the conflict never be forgotten, but that one day the people may see full reparations from the government. With the experiences from our Alternative Break, our group hopes to take action at home by working toward a Guatemala where large development projects will not be forced upon the indigenous communities’ land.

I am so thankful for all of the amazing people I met during my week in Guatemala and all of the incredible adventures! By continuing to share the stories we heard, our group can continue to make people aware of the situation in Guatemala. I highly recommend participating in an Alternative Break while at AU!

To learn more about Sarah and the rest of the Ambassadors, click here.

Posted by Amelia Crabtree

Cacti, cows, and science lover