Council on Anthropology and Education
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Jeff Goodman (Appalachian State University)
In 1995, towards the end of Guatemala’s 36-year long civil war, 86 indigenous Maya families returned from refugee camps in Mexico and settled the new community of La Esperanza in the northwestern highlands of Guatemala. That first year, at the community’s invitation, the first author worked as a human rights observer in La Esperanza. From the beginning, La Esperanza demonstrated a unique commitment to sustainability and education, banning the use of pesticides and the sale of junk food and alcohol due to their negative effects on the community’s health. In addition to providing primary education in Spanish and three Maya languages (K'anjobal, Q’eqchí, and Mam), La Esperanza developed the region’s only middle school to keep adolescents from having to leave the community for regional boarding schools. Currently, the curricula at Instituto Básico Madre Tierra (IBMT) emphasizes sustainable agriculture practices, Maya spirituality and intergenerational community knowledge building (Briseno, 2015). More importantly, perhaps, the school plays a critical role in helping youth remember the violence and genocide of the past while developing activist organizing strategies for the future (Bellino, 2017). This project draws on ethnographic interviews, archival photos, video, and participant observation to document how La Esperanza uses education to promote sustainability and self-determination. While this project is ongoing, initial findings indicate that community members locate IBMT at the center of their spiritual and political work. In an era of disruptive sociopolitical and environmental struggle, IBMT provides a powerful example of education as the practice of freedom and resistance.