Intern Journals: San Juan and the Amazing Story of Tinim Witz

Ever wonder what it is like to be an intern for Highland Support Project? Or maybe you would like to know more about some of the projects that HSP is involved in? Well you're in luck. My name is Corrie and I am here in Quezaltenango, Guatemala working with HSP's partner organization, AMA (Association of Women in the Highlands) and I am thrilled to tell you what I've been up to! A little about me first, I am currently wrapping up my undergrad in Global Studies at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles. I get to be here in Guatemala for five months on a study abroad program. I have a passion for women's rights, new cultures, and chocolate chip pancakes, and am really happy to have the change to intern here for the semester!  

The first thing you should know is that the city of Quetzaltenango and the women that work here at AMA could not be more beautiful. I am equally in awe of the stunning mountains that surround the city as the amazing women who have dedicated their time and talent to work with AMA. The second thing you should know is that AMA does some really incredible work promoting the health, education, and empowerment of indigenous women in the Highlands.

Pretty stunning, huh?

Pretty stunning, huh?

This past week, I went with one of the community facilitators, Violetta on her community visit to the municipality of San Juan Ostuncalco. One of the primary pueblos that AMA has focused on for the past few years, San Juan is comprised of a small town surrounded by smaller rural villages that are populated primarily by Mayan Mam people. We were there to conduct trainings for the women who had received new stoves. Violetta showed the ladies how to properly use, maintain, and clean them, as well as to answer any questions. These stoves are one of AMA’s projects to improve the health of the rural women and children by keeping smoke and toxic fumes out of their living space. In total, we met with about 10 beautiful women and their little ones. My favorite part of this visit was at the beginning when Violeta led the women in a silly song and dance to warm us up. Even though we all looked a little ridiculous, it was a joy to see women of all ages together laughing, dancing, and singing together. 

One of the daughters that came along with her mum to the stove training

One of the daughters that came along with her mum to the stove training

The next part of our day was a visit to poor rural community called Tinim Witz. I came to discover that this community had an incredible story of resilience, initiative, and determination. In 2014, HSP had connected with a woman from this community who was living in Virginia at that time. She reached out because she knew there not adequate educational opportunities for the children in her community. The only school building was a room made from wood that did little to protect the students and the materials from the harsh elements of the Highlands. Many children had to walk 30 minutes each way to get to the nearest school. So with the help of AMA and Vale Methodist Church, in one year, they people of Tinim Witz came together to construct the first three classrooms. In the following year, they construction continued with the second level and the addition of two more classrooms. The men and the women have come together to collectively take action for a different future. Part of what this school means for Tinim Witz is an opportunity to be recognized by the State as an aldea which allows inhabitants more access to state resources. To become an aldea there needs to be a center for health and a center for education with professional workers. However, only two people from Tinim Witz are currently enrolled in university. Generally students only reach the 6th grade and there generally has not been much value in the community for education. However, with now more than 90 students and five full-time teachers, the school of Tinim Witz is making progress toward transforming the lives of the members of the community, starting with the children. In addition to the school, there is a group of comadronas, midwives who serve as an integral part of the healthcare system in the community, that have organized to assist the mothers in Tinim Witz. The community members have also contacted a lawyer to inform the people in a series of talks about their rights as a community and how they are able to access the resources of the State.   

The kiddos at the new Tinim Witz school! See that building they're serving snack from? That was the old school building.

The kiddos at the new Tinim Witz school! See that building they're serving snack from? That was the old school building.

WOW, right? How incredible for a community to have mobilized themselves and participated in their own development in such a powerful way. They still have more to accomplish though. The community members are also hoping that the school can be used for secondary education in the afternoon, but before that can happen, the second level classrooms and computer room need to be completed, and the proper materials purchased, which cannot be done without continued funding and collaboration. But there is hope for Tinim Witz. As the director of the school said, the development of the school and of the community is an ongoing process, one that cannot be done all at once, and one cannot be done alone.

If you want any more information about AMA, HSP, interning with us, or supporting our projects, take a look around our website, or contact us! We would love to hear from you! 

Corrie Henderson