For those who support Breaking the Silence (BTS) Guatemala initiatives, June 23 at St. James United Church hall in Antigonish was an opportunity to hear first-hand about work on the ground.
An excerpt from the BTS Tatamagouche Centre website provides an overview of the organization.
“During the 1980s in Guatemala, the army waged a genocidal war against Mayan communities and social activists. In 1988 Tatamagouche Centre began an active presence of mutual solidarity with these Guatemalan communities.
“We continue today through a Maritimes-wide network of volunteers, known as the Maritimes – Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS). We support Guatemalans struggling for political, social, economic and cultural justice and recognize that injustice results from structural inequalities both within and between countries. BTS is committed to supporting structural transformation both in Guatemala and in Canada.”
Jesus Tecu Osorio
For the June 23 event, Jesus Tecu Osorio, director of the New Hope Foundation in Rabinal, Guatemala spoke about the foundation, the schools it created to help the youth and his own experience living through the genocide. BTS has supported the foundation.
Osorio was joined by his wife Isabel Osorio Chen and their one-year daughter also named Isabel.
Osorio spoke through interpreter Lisa Rankin, a native of Mabou. Rankin is living and working in Guatemala for BTS and is a StFX graduate who was introduced to the country through the service learning program which she was a part of in 2008.
Rankin continued to translate as Osorio spoke to the Casket following the presentation.
“We came to look for solidarity and support from the Canadian people to help support our work,” he said of his family’s trip.
As for the already established support in the area, Osorio said the generousity doesn’t surprise him.
“Because, through many initiatives, Breaking the Silence, StFX Service Learning program, many people here have actually visited Río Negro and the New Hope Foundation and know our work,” he said.
“It really inspires us and brings our spirits up to know that it’s not only us who are worried about the development of our communities and education but there are also people here who support these initiatives.”
He talked about the foundation which he created in 1997, specifically its name – New Hope.
“The institute, the foundation, really does mean new hope for these young people in Rabinal and also a new path, new opportunity,” he said.
“What we really want to do is strengthen our capacity through the career or high school program we’ve developed which is rural development technician and then start investigating and developing the possibility of creating a university.
“So we have people here in Antigonish who are involved with the Breaking the Silence network and hopefully through them it would be possible to channel some support.”
Antigonish resident Kerry Berkvens was in the audience for Osorio’s talk and was a member of the most recent StFX Service Learning trip to Guatemala.
She talked about the experience.
“For someone like me who has lived her whole life in Antigonish and hasn’t left too often, my first experience traveling through Service Learning and Breaking the Silence, I got to really go into people’s homes and learn their stories directly from them,” Berkvens said. “It was an experience I wouldn’t get on my own. For me that really changed the way I look at other countries and learning about their history.”
Berkvens said she chose Guatemala from the other trips following a presentation on the various experiences.
“It was one which really struck me,” she said.
“It had the most interesting history and focus … not to say the other didn’t. But it was a little deeper, maybe, probably the heaviest … that interested me a lot. And I was interested in Breaking the Silence, they do a lot of human rights accompaniment and I was interested in that.”
Berkvens noted as well the travel plays into her career goals.
“I’m a nursing student and I’ve always considered international nursing,” she said. “Before that, I hadn’t travelled much so I didn’t really know. I was able to meet a nurse down there and that really hit home for me. It’s definitely something I’m really trying to pursue right now rather than a far off dream.”