Saturday, June 28, 2008

Human Rights Accompaniment Report: Katharine Laurie (Part 1) (2008)

Saludos calurosos a todas y a todos!

I want to thank all of you for the various forms of support you have shared, enabling me to be back in Guatemala embarking on a new job and a new life! I am going to try to be in touch with impressions and thoughts every month, although the nature of the work dictates that I may seem vague, or will not deal with certain issues....I hope to see many of you back in Canada, and would love to share more when doing so does not put individuals or the project I am working on in jeopardy.

I am still doing training, and feel excited to start work. My transition - from the snowy road trip with Mom, Dad and McKenzie (our dalmatian) from Edmonton to Phoenix, AZ, through quick visits with friends and colleagues from my time here last year, to the ongoing training program - has been eased by the presence of friends here waiting for me. It is strange to feel (relatively) safe and at home in a place where there are major security issues, but this is one of the luxuries that comes with lighter skin and a Canadian passport. Yet another reality that confirms my resolve that doing this job, helping create the space for Guatemalans to do their own work and follow their visions of development, is important and the right thing for me at this point in my life.

Below is a little blurb about my first day back in the country, visiting with friends near where I lived last year. I hope this finds all of you well and not suffering too much from the cold (for those braving the Canadian winter).



The beating sun dictates peoples seating in the open air concrete basketball court, the unlucky ones who have not found spots in the shade lining the western wall sit on the steps with folded multicoloured weavings sheltering their gazes. An unlikely place to find 150 community members gathered on a saturday afternoon. Yet for hours, person after person, men and women alike, move to the microphone to give their opinion about the water situation in their community. Who has been paying? Who should pay? What about differences in usage and the lots which have access but not even a home built yet? It continues until three possible ways of moving forward are decided upon, and people enthusiastically voice their support for one of the three options. The final decision is clear, and people linger to share news and ask after each others´ families as the meeting winds down.

For my first afternoon back in Guatemala this scene provides a stark contrast to the hype and hollowness of the primaries in the USA. Here is a group of people getting together to take an active role in their community. Sadly, it is probably a lack capacity (or willingness) on the part of various levels of government to provide services for people that brings this group together, but for me the impression is of civic and community participation in action. Whether it be to discuss the impacts of mining in their communities, protest increases in transit fares, or organize the distribution of water in their communities, many Guatemalans are standing up to protect their rights against the political corruption and economic power mongers (both domestic and international) which would have them keep quiet. The impression is that voting is just not enough: not here in Guatemala, nor in Canada where one does not have to fear intimidation or reprisals for using their voice.