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Tara Ward, Mesoamerica Program Coordinator

Between November 25th and 29th, Horizons gathered together the directors of all our partner organizations at the edge of the awe inspiring Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to start planning for the next five years (2015-2020).

It was not an easy consultation with partners.  We spent much of the time analysing the difficult realities of the region. 

People’s minds were on the elections in Honduras. 

We spoke of the funding challenges our partners are already facing and the forthcoming challenges Horizons will also be facing.

Somehow though, we all left the workshop with a renewed sense of commitment, hope, and determination.

We as Horizons entered into the meeting with our cards on the table and our minds open.   We had not come with solutions in hand or with defined ideas of how to move forward. 

We came to listen and learn and hear from our partners.


We started out the workshop by gathering together at 6 am on Tuesday morning to open the workshop with a Mayan ceremony that lasted more than an hour.

We were led through a process of offerings to the 21 nahuals or energies of the Mayan cosmovision.  

As the fire grew and danced, I watched as people offered their candles to ask for different support through this process and the challenges to come... wisdom, kindness, intelligence, strength, vision... and resilience to face the future.

The workshop itself was three days of debate, discussion, analysis, arguments, tears, and laughter.

The first day was focused on analysing the regional context, the second day entered into the discussion of the reducing international development funding, and the final day was focused on creating joint solutions to continue our work to end social injustice and poverty in Central America and Mexico.

We will be sharing details of the workshop and planning in the months to come, but two moments stood out for me.

At the end of the second full day, I was sure we were going to all break down.

The reality of Central America and Mexico is grim at best.

There is increasing violence despite the fact that the civil wars ended more than a decade ago.  Honduras is now considered to be the murder capital of the world[1] and El Salvador has the highest rate of femicide on the planet.[2]

The levels of inequality and poverty are growing in spite of the macroeconomic indicators touted at the international level.  In Mexico, 37 percent of the population now lives in poverty compared to 31 percent in 2006.[3]  More than 50 percent of the Guatemala’s population lives below the poverty line and in Honduras and Nicaragua this rises to more than 60 percent.[4]

The financial crisis has doubly hit the region, first in the national economies and peoples the daily struggle to survive, and second through the cuts to funding from international donors to the very organizations that work to end poverty.

Organizations have had to cut programs, staff, and many have even had to close their doors.

However, there was a moment of catharsis that changed everything.  It happened slowly and late in the day on Wednesday as Horizons started to layout our reality.  We will lose 45 percent of our annual budget starting in 2015, but we remain committed to the Mesoamerican region and we made this clear to our partners.

Partners started to talk about experiences in seeking out funding.  They discussed the need to create a code of ethics for themselves to define who they receive funding from, so that even in desperation there is no need to sell their values. 

The refrain it is better to be small, but maintain ones integrity resonated throughout the discussion.

Patricia talked about the fact that we are a family and in times of crises families come together.  We each share what little we have to make sure our family can survive.

Partners started discussing and seeking out alliances.  Simple ways of helping each other like if there is an office for an international agency in one country, partners there can print and submit the proposals of other partners in person.  Or renting buses from sister organizations when organizing events.  Developing joint project proposals and sharing limited resources.

The second moment where I felt everyone begin to breathe differently was at the very end of the workshop.

It was when we asked partners to start to share their strategies and ideas with Horizons about how to fundraise, maximise resources, and continue to support their work.

Each person around the table had ideas and strategies.  They rattled off lists of their recommendations, organizations to approach, and ideas for income generating projects. 

Immediately, I had a stream of emails in my inbox from partners with links to funding agencies or calls for proposals.

We had started out the week reflecting around a fire about how in order to create change we need to always start with ourselves.  But as we closed it was clear to me that only by working together can we really make a difference.

We will share what little we have in our small, but mighty Horizons family.

[1] http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/2012-record-year-for-homicides-in-honduras

[2] http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/H-Research_Notes/SAS-Research-Note-14.pdf#sthash.gKZaapGw.dpuf

[3] http://www.cepal.org/publicaciones/xml/8/51768/SocialPanorama2013Briefing.pdf

[4] http://www.unhabitat.org/pmss/getElectronicVersion.aspx?nr=3386&alt=1


Tara Ward, Mesoamerica Program Coordinator

People often ask me what I do on field visits and I have a hard time putting into words what they are like. 

Usually they are a slightly manic combination of meetings with partners in their offices, attending events, visiting communities, speaking with project participants, and the inevitable early morning breakfast and late night dinner meetings. 

What has become clear to me is that you have to be prepared for anything.

So on November 18th, when we arrived at the Santa Maria Linguistic Project (PLSM) office for a day of meetings, I was not completely surprised when Obispo Rosales, the Director, took us a side and told us that about 11 am Patricia and I would be participating in a ceremony to celebrate the fact that three networks of teachers, who are engaged in promoting and supporting intercultural bilingual education, have now been legally registered in Guatemala.

In September of last year, when we were visiting PLSM, we met with a small group of teachers active in these networks.   As they told us their reality as educators in Guatemala living on wages that amount to less than half of a living wage, providing supplies with their own money, and creating classroom materials out of whatever they could find, their biggest concern was over a recent meeting with the Vice Minister of Education.

About a month before, they had been able to arrange for a meeting to discuss their concerns about the implementation of intercultural bilingual education in classrooms in Guatemala.  As they were speaking, the Vice Minister interrupted them and asked if they were a legally registered association.  When the teachers responded that they represented a network of over 700 teachers, the Vice Minister got up and said if they came back again and they were not a registered organization, they would be arrested and put in jail for five years.

That was just over a year ago, and now we were able to witness the celebration as the teachers received the network's registration papers.

As we snuck in to the meeting slightly late, Patricia and I were of course shuffled to the front of the room. 

Rosa Etelvina García, the lawyer who had helped guide the teachers through the complicated registration process and a Mayan woman in her traditional traje or dress, was reading out the legal rights and responsibilities teacher's networks now have.

Inevitably, we were asked to speak and were presented with a series of gifts.

As Patricia thanked them for the acknowledgement of Horizons support, she made it clear that it was actually their hard work that made this celebration possible.  She said it was thanks to the lawyer who was willing to donate a large portion of her services, it was thanks to the teachers themselves for being so committed to their students and education in Guatemala, and it was thanks to PLSM for their dedication to promoting Indigenous language and culture.

Later on in the week , we spoke again with Obispo about the importance of this step for the teachers networks, and he said what was the most important thing is that now with this formalized structure the teachers can continue their work to promote with or without PLSM... "they can now walk on their own".


Tara Ward, Mesoamerica Program Coordinator

Sergio, Patricia, and myself (Tara) are currently undertaking a three week field visit to Guatemala to meet with partners, see the impacts of the projects Horizons of Friendship supports in Guatemala, and host a regional consultation with all of our partners from Central America and Mexico in order to start planning for the future. These are some of our reflections from the field.

Welcome to Xelaju

Between November 13th and 15th, Horizons partner Pies de Occidente in Guatemala brought more than 140 people together to discuss the importance of recognizing Indigenous and Ancestral Health Systems. The goal of the event was to learn from similar experiences in the Latin American region, and debate the content of a bill Pies and other organizations will be proposing in Guatemala to protect such knowledge and health systems.

It all began with a welcome dinner when we arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xelaju or Xela for short) where we were treated to a traditional stew called Pepian. 

As we went around the table to introduce ourselves, I was once again overwhelmed by the knowledge and experience that surrounded me. 

To my left was a young Mayan Poqomam woman, who works with Indigenous and Afro-descendent Health Unit of the Guatemalan Government and is a GP with a Masters in Community Medicine. 

In front of me, a Quechua Doctor who has worked for years to have a Community and Inter-Cultural Medicine Specialty approved and recognised in Bolivia at the same level as other medical specialties such as gastroenterologists or gynecologists. 

To my right was the first and only Indigenous Mayan Mayor of Xela, Rigoberto Queme Chay, who would be leading and facilitating the conference. 

Not to mention Aura Pisquiy, the Executive Director of Pies, one of the very few Indigenous Mayan women in Guatemala who is a surgeon.

But again this is the point of Horizons’ learning networks, to bring together informed and engaged leaders and key actors to discuss, debate, and create joint strategies for change.

The Demand for Change – A Regional Exchange on Indigenous Medicine

The next day the conference was opened by two elders setting the stage for the event, and opening each participant to the potential of the exchange.

As the conference progressed, we were given an understanding of experiences in Bolivia, Nicaragua and Mexico in attempting a similar feat.

These experiences created a framework for any proposed bill in Guatemala including:

  • the importance of protecting ancestral knowledge from being appropriated by large pharmaceutical companies
  • ensuring that any such bill be recognised as state policy, not a governmental policy that can be changed after each election
  • the law must create a connection with the Public Health System
  • any implementation must be participative and respectful

Marco Antonio Valencia from Bolivia awed the crowd with history lesson spanning more than 500 years in less than 30 minutes.  In returning to the importance of Indigenous Health Systems at his conclusion, he stated that within these health systems health it is not just about medicating or treating illness when it presents itself, but living fully.  This is just one of the ways that Western health systems can learn from Indigenous knowledge and experience.

The conference facilitator Rigoberto Queme Chay stated that “Guatemala has a population that is by majority Indigenous, but has the least amount of legislation that recognises Indigenous peoples cultures, languages, and rights in all of Latin America.”

Another participant, Lourdes stated that in speaking about Indigenous peoples health indicators in Guatemala means we are speaking about the inequalities, racism and discrimination that persists today.

  • Eighty percent of the Indigenous people in Guatemala live in conditions of poverty or extreme poverty. 
  • 1 in every 5 indigenous children lives in conditions of chronic hunger. 
  • Indigenous women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than non-indigenous women.

Ultimately, Guatemala has the lowest health budget in all of the Latin America.

What became clear to me as the conference moved along was the importance of this idea and goal of creating this new legislation in Guatemala. 

Participants came from all over Guatemala including representatives from Garifuna and Xinca communities.  Through long-term alliances, Pies was able to ensure key governmental officials participation and public endorsement of the proposed legislation.

After expecting and planning for 60 participants, over the two days more than 140 people attended the exchange.  The staff of Pies had to run back and forth to ensure there was enough food, find more chairs, and open up the conference space to accommodate everyone.

At the end of the conference, Patricia and I were able to pull Aura from Pies aside and asked her how she was doing.  She sighed and thought for a moment, then smiled and said “satisfecha” or satisfied.