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Cultivating collective resilience in Guatemala  

In the Ixil Mayan communities of Quiché, young people are promoting food sovereignty through community organizing.

Two people in a greenhouse
 AFSC's Josseline Acuña (at right) speaks with a community member in a greenhouse in Nebaj.   Photo: Guatemala / AFSC

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Marta Corto is excited. In just a few weeks, she and her family will get to harvest the tomatoes they planted in June.

Marta, 22, lives in the Ixil Mayan community of Nebaj, Quiché in the highlands of western Guatemala. Located in one of the country’s most inaccessible areas, Nebaj is part of what’s known as the “Ixil region”—along with the communities of Cotzal and Chajul—that is home to about 72,000 people.

Here and throughout Guatemala, tomatoes are a key ingredient in tamales, stews, and other traditional dishes. But the wet season from May through October often brings heavy rains and storms, making delicate tomatoes extremely difficult to grow. And that means community members have had to buy their tomatoes from the market, which is expensive, especially during the Christmas season.  

Thanks to supporters like you, AFSC has helped build community greenhouses to help Marta and many other young Nebaj residents protect their crops from the elements. Community members are now growing tomatoes—as well as peppers and other vegetables. Not only are they able to provide more food for their families, they will soon be able to sell produce to others to boost their incomes. 

“I am very excited because soon I will have the first harvest, I know that it will be of benefit for family consumption and to sell in the community market,” Marta says. 

Like many rural areas of Guatemala, the Ixil communities have faced three major invasions and tremendous violence throughout their long history. That includes the arrival of the Spanish settlers in the early 16th century and the killings of seven Indigenous leaders who defended the territory against the Jorge Ubico dictatorship in 1936. In the 1980s, government military forces massacred thousands of Mayans—and displaced many more from their villages. In 1999, a truth commission found that the United States had provided funding and training to the military that committed acts of genocide and other human rights violations against Mayans during the internal armed conflict. 

The trauma of the genocide is still felt by Ixil survivors, their children, and their grandchildren. But today, community members are working to strengthen their connections with the lands their families had once been forced to flee. They are also organizing to protect their rights and ancestral values, in the face of what they name as a fourth invasion—the arrival of foreign extractive projects that further threaten their communities and worldview of life.

 AFSC/Guatemala 

AFSC provides support to young people organizing and advocating to transform systems of oppression in their communities. We work closely with local partner organization Chemol Txumb'al ("Youth that weave knowledge", in the Ixil Mayan language). The organization was founded by Ixil youth in 2009 to protest the construction of hydroelectric megaprojects in the region. These megaprojects have led to depletion of natural resources, environmental destruction, and displacement of communities—all to the benefit of foreign interests. 

Over the past two years, AFSC has worked with Chemol Txumb'al to provide popular education workshops to 55 Ixil youth. We examine capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy, and their impacts, the autonomy of Indigenous communities, and how people can organize and advocate to protect their human rights and build peace with justice.  

Now we are building on that work by helping community members in Nebaj construct greenhouses to improve food sovereignty. Residents also build their knowledge of agroecological techniques that focus on sustainability, respect for the land, and Indigenous farming practices. The project is also providing more opportunities for young people, who are often forced to migrate to support their families, so that they can deepen their roots in their territories with dignity.

To date, AFSC has helped to build greenhouses for 23 young families that benefit around 100 people. 

That includes community members like Jacinto Ceto, 25, who told us, “I feel inspired to continue working in agriculture because the opportunity is expanding beyond corn and beans. This is something that I like. It connects me with my culture and that I want to pass on to my son.”

Generous supporters like you make it possible for AFSC and our partners to help communities in Guatemala in their ongoing struggles—and build a more just, sustainable future. 

Thank you for your support!

About the Author

Josseline Acuña is regional officer of monitoring, evaluation and learning for AFSC in Latin America and the Caribbean. She is passionate about social justice work, especially with a youth focus that is her field of research.