La Escuela de la Montana (The Mountain School)

These posts are about my experiences studying Spanish and volunteering at La Escuela de la Montana (the Mountain School) in the rural communities of Nuevo San Jose and Fatima in Guatemala.

Writing about Guatemala

During my time in Guatemala in November and December 2012, I studied Spanish at La Esceuela de la Montana (the Mountain School), which partners with two local communities. Students at the Mountain School eat all their meals with members of these communities, and this practice is a valuable time to practice Spanish and gain insight into rural Guatemalan life. Over the course of my three weeks at the Mountain School, I came to learn how the two communities had come to reside in the area after struggling for their right to wages on coffee plantations. I thought that these stories were incredible testaments to the communities’ deep reserves of persistence in the face of oppression. I wanted to document these testimonies in writing so that the communities could have a written record of their history.

Aiming to be a “librarian” for their stories, I also wanted to translate the communities’ testimonies in English, and share the stories with English speakers who would be interested in studying at the Mountain School and/or learning about Guatemalan labor rights issues. When I first heard these testimonies in November, I had transcribed the stories in English, and with help from my Spanish teacher, I re-translated the testimonies into Spanish. My Spanish teacher, whose family was from the larger nearby town Columba, was eager to help me. Her enthusiasm gave me an additional idea–I could share the Spanish version of the testimonies with other Spanish teachers at the Mountain School and its sister school Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco (PLQ), who wanted to learn the history of the communities. I also thought that the teachers could read the Spanish translations with their students as a comprehension exercise.

When I returned to the United States, I sought further guidance regarding the content and grammar of the testimonies from the Mountain School’s co-founder, and I implemented her suggestions and published the testimonies at the end of May. Soon afterwards, my friend and Coordinator of the Mountain School contacted me and explained that although members of these communities wanted foreigners to learn their stories, they did not want their stories published online because they were afraid that making their stories accessible to all would put them at risk of threats and attacks from the coffee plantation owners who had exploited them.

I quickly deleted these testimonies from my blog. I realized that although I had given meticulous attention to the details of the testimonies in English and Spanish, I had failed to hear the communities. I had failed to comprehend the meaning of the risks they had taken to defend their right to work–risks that still loom in their lives over 20 years later.

To reflect on words from my blog post about the Genocide Trials for Efrain Rios Montt, I wrote that “I aspire to be a bridge” in sharing stories about Guatemalan human rights struggles. This incident reminded me of how conscious I need to be in my efforts to build and traverse this bridge. Without careful consideration and consultation with Guatemalans themselves, the information that I wish to share can have grave consequences.

My time in Guatemala

After returning from Guatemala, it feels difficult to find the suitable place to start describing my journey. Many shifts have occurred, both within my own journey, and in the world. A historic update that I will describe in my next post, Efrian Rios Montt and Jose Rodriguez Sanchez will stand trial for charges of  genocide.

Relating to the theme of hard-won justice, as I mentioned in my previous post, November 2012 also marked a journey for German Chub Choc. On November 23, 2012, German Chub Choc along with four other community members from El Estor traveled to Canada to seek justice in the Canadian Legal System for the harms HudBay Minerals committed against them. The other members of the delegation from El Estor were Community Leader Maria Cuc; Angelica Choc, who is the widow of murdered leader Adolfo Ich; Rosa Elbira and Margarita Caal, representing eleven women from the remote village of Lote 8. At the end of my post, I have linked to an article and two videos covering the delegation. These three sources all emphasize the great courage, patience, and persistence of the delegation for seeking justice in a foreign court.

My fellow students along with teachers, caretakers, and coordinators, standing in front of the Mountain School

My fellow students and I along with teachers, caretakers, and coordinators, standing in front of the Mountain School

To move onto my own journey to a foreign country, I studied at La Esceula de la Montaña/the Mountain School for three weeks. During those three weeks, I studied Spanish for four hours each day, and I ate all my meals with families who lived in two local communities, Fatima and Nuevo San Jose. The communities’ partnership with the School provides them with a stipend and gives us students an opportunity to learn about rural Guatemalan life. More than learn, I was tremendously humbled by the families’ hospitality and moved by their stories of how they came to live in the area. The residents of both Fatima and Nuevo San Jose originally lived and worked on coffee plantations where the plantation owners exploited them. After struggling for their rights to wages, both communities obtained hard-won victories whose terms required them to leave their homes and resettle elsewhere. I have written the full stories of Fatima and Nuevo San Jose as testimonies in English and Spanish.  The Spanish versions are in the process of being checked for accuracy by the communities, after which, I would be happy to share them on my blog.

I arrived at La Escuela de la Montana with a fifty pound tote bag, that one of the school’s caretakers, Ruben, generously carried from the Minerva Bus Terminal to the School’s Gate. The tote bag held 45 Spanish books, the majority of which were fiction and non fiction generously collected by my friend Agnes from the Racine Public Library in Wisconcin. I also brought books on the topics of Guatemalan and Latin American Human Rights donated by the Guatemalan Human Rights Collection, as well as Mayan story books and a Spanish translation of Louisa May Alcott´s ¨Little Women¨(Mujercitas), which my friend purchased from Guatemala City´s book fair in the Central Park (Parque Central).

I developed a plan to re-organize the various sections of the library in a classification system based on age level and Guatemala educational system. I chose this system after speaking with the library worker and Mountain School Coordinator and learning about the library’s goals to provide resources to help students with their homework and promote literacy among people of all ages.  The library implemented this classification plan in December, and books were easier for the community to locate and for the library worker to maintain. Now back in the United States, I am planning a fundraising and outreach campaign for the Community Library. I look forward to sharing updates on this project.

Learn more about The El Estor Delegation to Canada

1. The Canadian Channel CBC covered two news stories documenting the journey of the El Estor delegation to seek justice in Canada’s courts.  In addition to the five delegates, the story features Grahame Russell from Rights Action. CBC The National. “The Long Road.” and CBC The National.  “Seeking Justice”

2. Russell, Grahame. Rights Action. “Clashing World Views at the Crossroads.” December 20, 2012. Grahame Russell accompanied the El Estor Delegation to Canada, and recounts the experience in this thoughtful article. 

Learn more about The Mountain School & Otto Renee Castillo Library

1. La Escuela de la Montana. “Community Library.” December 26, 2011. This is the official website for La Escuela de la Montana (the Mountain School)’s Otto Renee Castillo Community Library.

Mi tiempo en Guatemala

Después mi retorno a Guatemala, parece difícil encontrar el lugar para comenzar a describir mi travesía. Hay muchos cambios, en mi travesía y en el mundo. Un cambio histórico que describiré en mi próximo mensaje, es que Efraín Ríos Montt y José Rodríguez Sánchez tendrán un juicio por genocidio.

En el tema de justicia, como dije en mi mensaje anterior, en Noviembre de 2012, German Chub Choc se embarcó en una travesía. El y otras cuatro personas de El Estor fueron a Canadá para buscar la justicia en el sistema legal de Canadá por los abusos que la compañía de minería HudBay Minerales cometió. Los cuatros otros, Los otros cuatro de la delegación eran el líder María Cuc; Angélica Choc, la viuda del líder Adolfo Ich; Rosa Elbira y Margarita Caal, las ultimas dos representaban a las once mujeres del Lote 8 que los policías de HudBay violaron. Al final de mi artículo, hay enlaces a un artículo y dos documentales que describían la delegación. Los tres describen el coraje, persistencia, y paciencia de la delegación por el acto de buscar justicia en un tribunal extranjero.

Para describir mi travesía en un país extranjero, estudié en La Escuela de la Montaña por tres semanas. Durante las tres semanas, estudiaba español por cuatro horas cada día, y comía todas las comidas con las familias que viven en dos comunidades locales que se llaman Fátima y Nuevo San José. Las comunidades tienen una relación con la Escuela en que las familias reciben un estipendio  y los estudiantes reciben una oportunidad para aprender sobre la vida rural Guatemalteca. Además de, estaba conmovida por la hospitalidad de las familias y sus testimonios sobre cómo se mudaron a las aldeas. Las personas de Fátima y Nuevo San José eran trabajadores en las fincas de café donde el dueño los explotaba. Después de una lucha por sus derechos y dinero, las comunidades obtuvieron la victoria que necesitaban y como consecuencia tuvieron que irse sus casa y encontrar una nueva comunidad para vivir. Escribí los testimonios de Fátima y Nuevo San José en inglés y español. Las versiones en español están  en el proceso de validación por las comunidades. Después, quiero compartir los testimonios en mi blog.

Llegue a La Escuela de la Montaña con un bolsa de cincuenta libras, y Rubén, un seguridad de la escuela la llevó de la terminal Minerva a la puerta de la Escuela. La bolsa tenía cuarenta y cinco libros dentro, la mayoría eran las novelas y los libros educativos que mi amiga Agnes recogió de la biblioteca pública de Wisconsin. Hay libros de los temas de la historia y los derechos humanos de Guatemala, que fueron donados por la Comisión de los derechos humanos de Guatemala. Mi amiga Kathryn compró los cuentos Mayas y las novelas en la feria en la Ciudad de Guatemala.

Creé un plan para reorganizar las secciones de la biblioteca en un sistema basado de la edad y el sistema educativo en Guatemala. Elegí ese sistema después de hablar con la mujer que trabaja en la biblioteca y la coordinadora de la Escuela. Ellas me dijeron sobre la meta de la biblioteca para dar los libros que ayudan los estudiantes con su tarea. Ellas quieren promocionar la alfabetización con la gente de todas las edades. En diciembre, la biblioteca implementó ese plan, y después los libros eran más fáciles para que  la comunidad los encontrara y para que  la bibliotecaria mantuviera. Ahora, estoy planeando una campaña para aumentar los fondos para la biblioteca. Espero compartir ese plan pronto.

Para aprender más sobre la delegación El Estor a Canadá

1. Dos documentales en la noticia de Canadá.Los documentas son en Ingles.“The Long Road.” and CBC The National.  “Seeking Justice”

2. Un artículo  en ingles por un director de Rights Action, Grame Russell, que acompañaba la delegación. Russell, Grahame. Rights Action. “Clashing World Views at the Crossroads.” Diciembre 20, 2012.

Para aprender más sobre la Escuela de la Montaña y la Biblioteca Comunitaria Otto Rene Castillo

1. La Escuela de la Montana. “Community Library.” Diciembre 26, 2011.

A new journey for EdgyAmelia

Over time the focus of my blog EdgyAmelia has expanded outward from its initial vision. I started my blog as a forum to share information regarding disability rights connected to the story of German Chub Choc. This blog began as a counterpoint to my Etsy Store EdgyAmelia, where I sold crafts to raise funds that would enable German Chub Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi human rights defender with a disability, to live more independently.

As my posts on EdgyAmelia increased, so did my interest in learning more about the forces that shaped German’s life. Now, I have the opportunity to put this interest into action. For the month of November, I will study Spanish at an Immersion School called La Esceula de la Montaña/the Mountain School, located in the mountainous coffee growing region Colomba. I will also contribute my expertise in library services as a volunteer at the Mountain School’s Community Library. I am excited to report that donations from the Racine Public Library and the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC) will add 39 books to the Community Library.

Following my month at the Mountain School, I will test out my newfound abilities in Spanish in a professional environment at Transitions Foundation, an organization that provides comprehensive rehabilitative, educational and vocational services to Guatemalans with disabilities. My interest in Transitions Foundation was sparked when I learned that German Chub Choc underwent rehab there, and grew when I met Co-Director John Bell during my delegation with GHRC.

To explain how my time in Guatemala will affect EdgyAmelia:

  • I have put my Etsy Store  on hiatus until my return to the United States
  • I will continue to use my blog to share my experiences in Guatemala, with an emphasis on Guatemalans with disabilities framed against broader issues in the disability rights movement

Although I have paused my blog posts from my most recent trip to Guatemala on the Guatemala Human Rights Commission’s Women in Resistance Delegation due to planning for my upcoming trip, my remaining delegation posts are outlined and forthcoming. I look forward to sharing my remaining stories from the memorable week.

As I draw this post to a close, I would like to circle back to the individual who set my journey into motion. In the past two months, exciting updates to German’s story have occurred. One such development is the arrest of Mynor Padilla, the private security guard hired by the nickel mining company HudBay Minerals, who shot German in an unprovoked attack in 2009. A second update is the upcoming release of the documentary film, Defensora, which chronicles German and his community’s pursuit of justice for the harms HudBay Minerals inflicted upon them. The trailer and more information regarding Defensora are available at this link:

Learn more about The Mountain School

Learn more about The Otto René Castillo Community Library

Learn more about Transitions Foundation