Hilary Hambrick Taft
Hilary Hambrick Taft
Guatemala 2013-2014
I am volunteering at the Monte Cristo Center in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. This family-run community development center provides education, healthcare, & vocational training to the surrounding community. I will assist with teaching English and computer literacy as well as possibly working on a micro-loan fund for local farmers. Read More About Hilary →

Up in Flames

           I’m a huge fan of the Hunger Games series. I saw the first film in France in 2012 and loved it so much that I immediatelybought the following two books and read them both in less than a week. So of course, when the second movie came out over Thanksgiving, we went to see it at our local Chimaltenango theatre (tickets plus popcorn for us both was less than $10... bet y’all are jealous of that...). The film was fantastic and lived up to the standards of the brilliantly written novels. When we returned to Cardenas’ house later that evening, I was surprised to see that Señor Mario had already bought a bootleg street version of “En Llamas”- the translation for “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” which roughly means “up in flames.” After our dinner we all sat down to watch the movie and I was excited to get to share one of my favorite stories with our Guatemala family.

            Little did I know the turn it would take. In the first thirty minutes of the movie, President Snow fears a revolt in the districts, so he sends “Peacekeepers” to punish the people and crush the little hope they have. In these scenes, the Peacekeepers storm the people’s houses, looting and burning all of their possessions. They march around kicking and punching the townspeople without reason. When Gale retaliates against them for their brutality, he ends up tied to a post in the town square where the head Peacekeeper is whipping him within an inch of his life. The scene ends when the head Peacekeeper yells, “Everyone back to their homes! If you step out of your home during curfew, you will be shot on sight!” In reply, Señor Mario casually says, “Oh, yeah, this happened here too.”


I scrambled to pause the video and turned to hear as Mario and Miky explained the nightmares they lived in during the armed conflict. They said that every night there was a curfew and no-one was allowed to leave their house, if you left, you would be shot. Miky said that while trapped in their homes they could hear the screams of the people being tortured in the streets, but you couldn’t leave to help them or even find out who was being attacked. They said that there were posts put up in the main areas of town where the “communist subversives” (i.e., priests, community leaders, professors) would be beaten, even killed. Signs were put up above the posts in all the languages of the region explaining that if you disobeyed as well, the same would happen to you.

Police burn homes GuatemalaStateofSiege

In their infinite wisdom, Miky and Mario concluded by saying, “It’s a shame because no one talks about our past. The ones who remember still have too much fear to talk, and the younger generation only knows the propaganda history that is taught by the government. This is why we have Monte Cristo- if we didn’t show the students the videos, didn’t share our story with them, they would have no idea of our past.”

I’m proud to be a part of this community at CEMOC. It’s a safe haven of truth inside of a country stifled with fear.  My love for the fictional “Hunger Games” is completely overshadowed by my love for the people who experienced it in real life. Even though everything they had went “up in flames,” they continue to fight for the rights of the persecuted.


Miky on the left speaking with the parents of the incoming class of students about the history of CEMOC being born out of the civil war peace accords of 1996 & the need for higher academic standards in order to have successful future generations.


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