Thursday, January 27, 2011

Delegation Reflections, by Emma Van Rooyen

This is a story about failure. I thought that I should begin by stating this outright, seeing as it is my own failure of communication that I need to talk to you about. I’ve been thinking about this failure a lot lately, especially after returning from a trip to Guatemala this past spring. The trip was a delegation of solidarity. A small group of Maritimers traveled through Guatemala for 2 weeks. We visited memorials, community organizations, church groups, women’s groups and families. We came to listen and learn.

Almost every group of the people we visited was, in some way, directly affected by the decisions that we make at home, both as individuals and as a country. One organization was sustained by the profits made by exporting Fair Trade coffee, while another was seeking the support of Canadian foreign policy to further their legal battle for justice and recognition after the atrocities committed during Guatemala’s 30-year civil war. We sat and we listened to their stories, sometimes we cried with them.

We became very attentive listeners. Especially when we arrived at the site of the Gold Corp mine. The Marlin mine, in San Miguel Ixtahuacan Guatemala is a Canadian owned silver and gold mine. The metals retrieved there are sent abroad, to make jewelry mostly.

Many members of the community oppose the mine, while others support it. The community has been brutally divided by this conflict, but none have felt the backlash as badly as the women. One woman told us how her brother had threatened to kill her because she opposed the mine, while he supported it. Another was fired from her job as a teacher because she questioned why the children were coming to school with open sores caused by pollution from the mine that has leached into the community’s drinking water.
The conversations that afternoon affected me deeply. The women willingly shared their pain with us. Their deepest sorrows were released to us, and we became their caretakers. The Women asked us to take their stories home and share them; to spread the pain thinly across many hearts, so that no one person had to carry it alone.

I swore to myself that I would carry these stories carefully, and share them often. I could not imagine letting down the hopes of these women who had so fully trusted me, without knowing so much as my name.
I returned raw and ill, weak and more than happy to enjoy the luxuries of home. I promised myself that I would rest, but I would not forget the women’s request.
When I recovered and came back to the world I tried to share the stories, to spread the burden. After all the women in San Miguel had not intended for any of us to carry it on our own. But it was difficult. I felt anger and frustration with those who didn’t seem willing to listen. I felt that I had failed the women of San Migel, I had not been able to share their message.

But I refuse to accept a reality where indigenous Guatemalans are treated as expendable second-class citizens. And so I stand here in solidarity with all of the poor and dispossessed people of the world.
I ask you to stand with us and join us in saying Ya Basta! C'est assez! Enough his enough!
Let us come together, to create hope through solidarity.