Welcome to our family blog!

We began in September 2010 by traveling a portion of the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route that leads to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago, Galicia, in the northwestern corner of Spain. The name of our blog is inspired by the camino, and we'll have many stories (cuentos) to tell! We spent 2010-2011 on an intentional international journey, living and working in Spanish-speaking countries. Since then, we are immersed back in our lives at home but will report on occasional openings and discoveries. Please join us!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

AVP among Quakers in Guatemala

My friend Minga and I traded our winter clothes for cool skirts and sandals, and went to Guatemala to offer workshops through the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP).  We offered the first one last weekend in Ipala, a city in southeast Guatemala.

Part of the AVP group

The workshop was very much appreciated. Thirty-one people received certificates and more attended for part of the time but were unable to complete the three-day commitment. Most of the people who participated were Quakers, connected to the local Friends Meeting. They hosted us and provided two large meeting spaces for us, enabling us to provide two concurrent workshops. The City of Ipala provided food for all the participants, a veritable banquet with lunch every day, and two “snacks” which generally consisted of something I might consider an entire meal: ham sandwiches, tortillas or empanadas, and soft drinks. This is the first workshop to be offered to Quakers in Guatemala, and perhaps the largest to be offered in Guatemala at one time. It was so wonderful to see the enthusiasm and commitment to offering the program.  It is also humbling, as well, to see the importance they place on the training and their hopes that it will make a difference in finding peaceful alternatives to the violence we all face.
Ipala is a close-knit community, though a city of 25,000. Most of the attendees knew each other, either through participation in the Quaker meeting, schools or university. In some cases, they were relatives. Sometimes when people know each other they are hesitant to share their personal stories in AVP. But many of the participants said they had shared in pairs some issues that they had not shared previously with others. Many of them said they appreciated most an exercise called Empathy, where participants assemble into groups of four people, and each writes a paragraph about an issue that they are working on. Then the papers are redistributed and each reads and suggests solutions to someone else’s issue.

AVP in action

We talked about the violence in families: abuse, abandonment (many of the participants had absent fathers or husbands) and absence of respectful communication. We practiced “I” messages, trying for clear communication without placing blame. We also had lots of fun exercises. The Guatemalan and North American facilitators worked together with good sharing of responsibilities. The Guatemalan participants put up with our imperfect Spanish and we all understood each other well. There was a funny moment when I gave my name as Martha Magnetica (Magnetic Martha) but it was understood as Martha Maniatica (Crazy Martha)! We had lots of laughs.
I had heard that the region is one with quite a bit of violence due to the drug trade, but we are so relieved to see that it seems to be – on the surface – less dangerous than we had feared. We made plans on the last day to hike up a nearby volcano, and were told that the biggest danger would be getting lost. So we were pleased that two of the workshop participants agreed to go with us. It was incredibly beautiful. We started very early in the morning, taking a bus out of town and hiking up the road through the “skirts” of the mountain. Lots of birds and flowering trees. The dry season is just beginning and many plants are blossoming. There were farmers working with horses, and little houses up in the hills.

Laguna on top of Ipala volcano

After an hour’s walk, we got to the top of the volcano where there was a pristine lake filling the now-dormant caldera. On one side was a moist mini-rainforest, with trees covered with bromeliads. On the other (windy) side, a few minutes’ walk away, was a dry cedar forest, where the wind whistled through the trees. No underbrush, only beautiful cedar trees and birds. Between the two was the clear lake with its cool clean water, where we swam and enjoyed a peaceful quiet Monday picnic. It was an idyllic place to rest our bodies and spirits after the workshop.

Karen, cocinera de calidad!

Now we are back in the larger city of Chiquimula, close to an hour's drive from Ipala by bus. We are staying with Karen, an active Quaker who has traveled a lot among Friends and understands well the needs that travelers have. She and her mother are extraordinary hosts, offering us sumptuous and healthy meals as well as helping situate us in the community. This morning we took a tour around the Quaker sites in the community: the large school, church and many other projects and missions, including a radio station and a museum!

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