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Thursday, 27 February 2020 22:48

The Right to Stay in One’s Own Country

Written by Steve Barrett
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Steve Barrett – Guatemala Chapter

Steve has been in Guatemala for most of the last 40 years, working in education. Since 1989, he has collaborated with CEIPA as their educational consultant.

Frequently, in the context of the current worldwide immigration nightmare, the right of people to stay in their own countries and the obligation of the governments of those countries to fulfill their most basic human rights do not receive as much attention as they should. 

The Ecumenical Center for Pastoral Integration (CEIPA) in Quetzaltenango, in the southwestern region of Guatemala, has been working to defend the rights of working children and adolescents since 1989.  Children and adolescents, most of them of Maya-K’iche’ or Maya-Mam ethnicity, become well versed in their rights through a critical pedagogy on which the three programs that comprise CEIPA are based:  education, socio-productive training (vocational workshops), and political advocacy.  Children and adolescents are learning to become active citizens who work for change in their country.  The three programs offer a wide range of opportunities for children and youth.

Through CEIPA’s educational program, this graduate just finished the 9th grade, quite a feat for most youth in Guatemala.

Working children and youth who have aged out of the public-school system attend CEIPA’s three elementary schools, one of them located in the largest market of Quetzaltenango. Many students work there or in the adjoining bus terminal.  Classes for 7th through 9th grades, referred to as “básico” in Guatemala, are available on the grounds of the organization.  Students in the elementary program range from 9 to 17 years; those in the básico program are from 13 to the early 20s.  Students in the weekday program attend classes from 1:30-5:30, which does not interfere with their work schedules.  CEIPA also offers a weekend program for youth at both the elementary and básico levels.  Students in this program do not have the luxury of attending school during the week because of their work obligations but are able to attend classes all day on Saturdays.   

These students are engaged in CEIPA’s year-long cooking workshop.

The vocational education program offers a variety of workshops that students attend for an entire year.  Many of the participants in this program come from the surrounding municipalities and rural communities and did not attend one of the CEIPA schools.  The workshop offerings have varied over the years, according to the shifting needs of the local economy.  At the closing of the 2019 school year (classes in Guatemala begin in January and end in October, but in CEIPA they end in November), some 120 youth concluded workshops in cooking, baking, confectionery, sewing and dressmaking, and cosmetology.  Those who have successfully finished the program now have two options for the coming year:  they may receive support in finding work in their fields in established businesses, or they may receive supervision over a period of several months while starting and maintaining their own small businesses. 


Young people participate in a group community- building activity in CEIPA’s “socio-productivo” program.

CEIPA staff members who work in the political advocacy program divide their time among three subprograms:     

  • The formation and maintenance of children’s and youth councils that work alongside local government in several municipalities advocating for youth rights;
  • The human rights school, in which approximately 13,000 children and youth have participated since its inception in 2010; and
  • The writing of public policy to defend the rights of children and youth.
Certificates on completion of a CEIPA vocational program help students qualify for jobs.

Standing up for children and youth is particularly important in  Guatemala, where 51% of the population is under age 18 and 70% is under age 30.  Add to this that the average grade level completed is fifth grade elementary and that half of the population under age 5 is malnourished— the sixth highest rate of child malnutrition in the world.  In all three programs at CEIPA, students examine and question the context in which they live and seek solutions to their problems.  It is very much a pedagogy of questions, as Paulo Freire stated in Pedagogy of the Oppressed

For more information, you may contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  You can also check out the website at ceipa-ac.org.


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