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Focus of Inquiry/Course Vision

Hola amigxs,

Reading the Itinerary Yak, you might have been wondering why exactly we are going to certain places, what we are going to do there, and how it is all related. This yak is to answer those questions. Before making an itinerary, the i-team sits down to find an academic focus that reflects our individual backgrounds and knowledge and allows for a dynamic progression of the course. As educators, we also always consider how to relate our focus to the students’ own world. So, with all this in mind, we are excited to take a closer look at the following topics:


Human Rights, Sustainability, and Migration

We want to highlight the fact that a lack of (human) rights as well as global policies that are not sustainable play a huge role in  peoples’ desire to migrate. At the same time, the way migration is portrayed and handled by elites across the world, particularly in the U.S., decreases the observation of human rights.

As you probably know, tens of thousands of Guatemalans (and Central Americans in general) try to emigrate to the United States every year, taking great risks along the way and very often coming back disappointed, indebted, and emotionally and physically hurt. If they make it across the U.S. border, they regularly face difficult realities and many are returned back to their home countries.

Why do so many people leave their homes anyway?

As you can imagine, there are many reasons, but they are almost always related to the increasing impossibility of securing a livelihood. The department of Huehuetenango, where Todos Santos is located, has one of the highest rates of migration in the country. Most people here depend on subsistence farming – growing just about enough food to survive. At the same time, they also face the most immediate effects of climate change and bad governance. The former leads to them losing their ability to feed themselves, the latter prevents people from finding alternative sources of income. Additionally, rampant corruption often means no legal and social protection, and, as a result, land grabbing and other crimes.

Together, we want to look at how historical developments, from colonial times to the recent civil war, led to this situation and how modern politics intensify the situation today. We will hear first-hand accounts of people wanting to leave for a better life, of those left behind, and of people who (have been) returned. We will also learn about possible solutions, both within Guatemala and globally. There is, for example, the Red Kat, an organization based in Xela, that works with returned migrants and focuses on showing a path to a life with dignity in Guatemala. Or the Chico Mendes Project, which tries to battle climate change through reforestation and education in and around Pachaj. Or Doña Blanca Estela Colop, Nicté’s aunt, who fights for indigenous’ rights, especially indigenous women’s rights, and for the preservation of Mayan culture.

Although many go North, people migrate internally on an even bigger scale. While this is often due to the same factors mentioned above, we also want to connect with one of the most marginalized and discriminated against group of people: members of the LGBTQIX community. Persecuted by or banned from their own communities and stigmatized across all stratas of society, many move to Guatemala City. Though things are not necessarily easier here, they do have more access to support and activists groups doing the hard and incredibly inspiring work that it is to try to secure basic human rights. Often this is done through humor, as we shall see during the Pride Parade. To understand the context of this event, we will meet with leaders of this movement and hear their stories.

Much of the discrimination against LGBTQIX people is rooted in the century-old paternalistic structure of society, which has also led to the so-called machismo. This general disregard of women’s rights and dignity is a huge problem in Guatemala. Nicté, from the perspective of a freedom-loving, strong, successful and independent indigenous woman, will share her experiences with us – and we are sure all of you have stories and thoughts around this subject, too.

Now, you might think that this all sounds pretty heavy, and it is. But to every problem there is a solution. While it is necessary to see and understand the underlying causes and effects, we will always look at the bright side, at how amazing people stand up for themselves and others and how they show a path to a better future, one in which human rights are observed, in which we take care of our earth, and in which, as a result, migration at a large scale is not necessary any more.

We are super excited for the many discussions we hope to have with you all and for the learning that comes with them. In the next couple of days, we will share resources and pre-course assignments with you so we can jump right into the nitty-gritty when we meet in Guatemala.


Until then,

un abrazo muy fuerte,


Katherine, Nicté, and Jochen