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.
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.
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.
CEIPA staff members who work in the political advocacy program divide their time among three subprograms:
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.
Maryknoll Affiliate groups and Parish entities have been asking what it means to do mission in the modern day. Much has been said in recent years at Affiliate gatherings about the Third Wave, agreeing that we are in a new age of mission. There was a time when mission was the special domain of those in religious life. Bishop James E. Walsh of the North American Mission Society, better known as Maryknoll, once said, “To be a missioner is to go where you are needed but not wanted and to stay until you are wanted but not needed.” Pope Francis has called upon the church to begin a new chapter in evangelization; writing in Evangeli Gaudium, he reiterates the basic reality that we are all called to mission by virtue of our baptism. Thus, we must continue to go where we are needed—at home or abroad; perhaps wanted, perhaps not.
There are as many ways of doing mission as there are baptized individuals.
How do we do this? I believe the answer is personal and that many people are doing mission and not realizing it! My prime example of this is those who volunteer in our local parishes, working in the food pantries, teaching CCD, etc. If that’s not mission, nothing is.
Caminando Por La Paz focuses on education of children in one of the most marginalized barrios of Guatemala City. However, this Catholic Worker house, staffed by Affiliates from both Guatemala and Texas, uses a variety of ways to educate, including financial support, tutoring, healthy meals, community connections and spiritual activities, enrichment and development trips, and coffee sales.
Now, in 2017, 24 children in various schools, including four students in universities, receive financial support. Some children receive full scholarships while others receive only partial assistance, based on need.
Tutors work with the older children in the morning and the younger in the afternoon. The tutoring program, an important aspect of the educational effort, includes more than 60 kids and is growing. It is close to outgrowing the space available. As part of our tutoring program, we provide a nutritious meal before tutoring begins. Cross Catholic International provides partial support for the meals.
Although educating children remains our focus, we have provided several educational and spiritual trips for students and neighbors to allow them to better know their own culture and to build community. We have taken these biannual trips to Esquipulas and Antigua. We visited the revered black crucifix in the southern city of Esquipulas and took a guided walk in Antigua to visit locations related to the life of the local saint, Hermano Pedro. In addition to planned activities on the trips, some free time is allowed, and the day ends with a holy hour.
We also hold a holy hour each week at the Caminando Por La Paz house. The holy-hour format is simple: an opening prayer, the readings of the day, discussion, and a closing prayer. The number of neighbors participating varies and is slowly increasing.
We strive to be an important and accepted member of the community. A new program that we will continue in 2017 is shoe distribution. In 2016, we distributed shoes from Shoes to the World (http://www.shoestotheworld.org/) to about 200 neighborhood children.
We are very excited that MAC 2017 will be in Guatemala and have helped in the planning. We hope conference attendees can bring donations for our program. We need school and sports supplies, and more. You may download a list of needs (Click here.). We are praying for a super angel to help replace our aging pick-up truck and even to obtain another house to be used for tutoring and other programs. (Contact Ron with your questions or for financial donations.)
We look forward to seeing you at the conference and invite you to visit Caminando Por La Paz whenever you come to Guatemala.
The Guatemala Maryknoll Affiliates Chapter cordially invites you to the Verbo Encarnado Retreat Center (www.verboencarnado.com.gt). in Guatemala from November 9-12, 2017, for MAC 2017.
For the first time ever, our global vision takes us outside the US for the international Maryknoll Affiliate Conference (MAC).