​Lynette’s Second Dispatch from Guatemala

USGE Member, Lynette Robinson, working with a colleague in Guatemala.

We’ve spent our last few days working with the Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) in the Guatemalan country side and have seen the positive impact they have had on the lives of the Guatemalan people. Along with scholarships and educations, the CCDA also provides technical advice, seeds for planting, compost as well as free workshops on how to use the compost helping the people in the country become self-sustainable.

We visited a coffee plantation (CCDA Beneficio in Atitlan) where we learned how to pick the “beans”, which translates to “grapes” in Spanish.

The CCDA encourages small producers to grow coffee organically by providing them with the knowledge about composting and the techniques for growing quality coffee. Because of the education received by the CCDA, coffee that is produced by small farmers like Doná Maria from Oro des Agua, where we helped harvest her coffee is considered to be officially organic and chemical free.

The fair trade, organically shade grown coffee that the CCDA produces is called Café Justicia. The sale of this coffee goes back into the cooperative which directly helps the community by providing scholarships, schools, medical centers and community centers. It was amazing to visit the plantation and see the coffee in its raw form and then be able to drink a fresh cup in the morning. This is probably the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. This fair trade coffee is for sale in Canada. To order please visit the PSAC Social Justice Fund at http://psac-sjf.org/ or send your order to stjeanj@psac-afpc.com. Café Justicia sells for $13 per pound and comes in both a medium or strong roast and in a bean or ground format.

We also visited a tilapia farm in Quixayá. This farm was first created by 22 women with the help of the CCDA. People in this community live in a mountainous area and make the best of the land that they own. As we made our way through the tropical forest, we ended up in a beautiful valley with fresh trickling water, which led us to the farm. The tilapia farm uses an aquaponics system that’s been put in place with the help of the CCDA’s technical advisors. The fish raised are primarily to feed their families and if there’s any left over, they will sell the fish in the communities. I felt incredibly proud of Doná Sandra while she explained her successful business. Guatemala isn’t known for the rights of women and she has really empowered the women of her community to know that they too can be a part of a cooperative like this which will help support their families and their communities. I felt even more proud when we had tilapia for lunch, knowing that this food was raised right here in the community. What also hit home is knowing that when big companies come into these communities to extract their resources it also has a huge impact on their water. It means small business owners like Doná Sandra could lose their self-sustaining businesses because the water would become polluted from the extraction of resources. This seems to be very common as palm oil companies have been sprouting up everywhere in Guatemala. 

We also had the opportunity to take part in other parts of CCDA’s mandate, namely, building schools, medical centers and community centers.

On our first day of building, we visited the community of Nueva Vida. This community was created in the 90’s as a joint effort by farm workers. When they were no longer getting paid by the private owner of a plantation they tore down their wooden houses piece by piece, and walked two kilometers to create their new community called Nueva Vida which directly translates to New Life. It’s in this community where we carried away mounds and mounds of dirt to help create the foundation for an extension to their school. Currently due to space issues, the school days are broken up to accommodate all the children. Elementary students go to school from 8am to 12pm and the older students attend from 1pm – 6pm. The school extension will allow both groups to attend school together during the day. This was an exhausting job. The dirt never seemed to end, but it was marvelous for the community members and especially the children to join us hand in hand while we carried sacs of dirt away. 

We also helped to complete a medical center in Quixiayá. We worked on this site on three (3) separate occasions. We helped to build the roof and two doors for the center. The new medical center was expected to be open and ready for service by the end of February 2016. The medical center will have health assistance and now a doctor.

On one of our travels, we visited a community in Patulul where we helped to build their community center. This community was recently uprooted from its previous location because the government approved the construction of a highway that when right through their community. This was probably the most remote area we visited and while the houses were said to be newer, the people there were still living in what we consider to be very cramped quarters. The community center will be used for women, and for organizing community events. We helped mix the concrete to be poured in the cinder blocks that would become the walls of the center (salon). While in Patulul we visited the school and were greeted by the school Director, the teachers and the students. As a group, we delivered donations of school supplies and a soccer ball and pump. The children seemed to be just as happy to receive the supplies as the teachers and principle were. 

Stay tuned for the last installment – which I’ll write on my return to Canada!

USGE member, Lynette Robinson, working to complete a medical center in Quixiayà.