The past month, we have learned an exponential amount about how Centro Educativo Monte Cristo (or CEMOC) operates.
(The courtyard of CEMOC).
In order to share this with you all, I feel that I must first explain the context in which they are operating, and then, what the center is doing to alleviate chronic poverty, and lastly, how Eric and I are attempting to contribute to their mission. In order to do this, I can’t fit all the information into one blog post… So here’s part one:
To start, I want to mention the complex recent history Guatemala experienced starting with the armed conflict that rattled all of Guatemala beginning in the 1950’s through the late 1990’s. It is a deeply complicated situation that I will try to sum up quickly and fairly. Essentially, during the Cold War era, the United States backed a coup of the Guatemalan government out of fear that the agrarian policies of the President Arbenz were the signs of a pro-communist government.
From a hindsight perspective, the agrarian policies of the 1950’s were not really communist at all, but instead a democratic government trying to allow poor Mayan subsistence farmers to have access to capital in order to own their own land. In the past, these farmers worked within a feudalistic system, which did not support the growth of the overall Guatemalan economy.
After the government coup in 1954, the Guatemalan military came to power for decades, and waged a “civil war against communist guerillas” in the highlands of Guatemala, the home of many indigenous Mayan communities. The army entered these communities and raped, pillaged, and massacred many Indian villages without cause.
Currently, I am reading “I, Rigoberta Menchu,” an autobiographical account of a young Mayan women and her struggle with poverty, land rights, and oppression during the height of the armed conflict. Her story is influential because most Mayans grow up knowing only their local language and are unable to communicate with other Mayans or Spanish-speakers. There is tremendous beauty in these languages that have been passed down for hundreds of years, but it is limiting for communication with the outside world.
In her book, Rigoberta discusses working on plantations for less than a penny a day, watching her little brother die of malnutrition, as well as the rich traditions of Mayan culture. Centuries of oppression for the Mayans of Guatemala have created deep distrust of outsiders, plus skepticism towards new ways of thinking.
The village of Monte Cristo is similar in many respects to the village Rigobeta grew up in. There are about 100 people that live here, and the majority of adults only speak their native language, Kaqchikel. This is the context in which CEMOC is working.