Conservation Workshops for Chuj Women

Family_in_GuateIn San Mateo Ixtatán, a community served by our Cuchumatanes project, EcoLogic and its local partner, the Association of the Northern Frontier (MFN), have pioneered a new component to our forest guardian training program: a woman-centric series of workshops to promote environmental awareness and resource conservation.

Many of the people we work with in this area are Chuj, a Maya people who have lived in Northern Guatemala and Mexico for thousands of years, and who have, against formidable odds, retained their language and aspects of their traditional culture. The Chuj were reduced to poverty by the taking of their communal lands by Spanish colonial authorities of the 17th and 18th centuries, and they were also deeply and adversely affected by the 35-year Guatemalan civil war, during which time the military government perceived them as “internal enemies.”

While Chuj women have historically participated in society on nearly equal footing with men, these days many Chuj women are confined to the home, have limited access to community services including healthcare and education, and speak limited if any Spanish; many are illiterate. Our workshops begin by helping husbands and their wives understand why it is important that women gain an understanding of conservation activities—after all it is the women who literally feed the fires at home, given women are usually in charge of collecting firewood and cooking the family’s food. Gradually we try to get both men and women accustomed to women gaining autonomy to collaborate together and have a meaningful impact on resource management. Many women who attend our workshops go on to join women-only groups that meet to participate in reforestation and land maintenance activities.

The three women pictured here, María Lucas Jacinto, Isabela Alonzo Martín, and Micaela Alonzo Pérez, meet with 8-10 other women three to five times a month, to visit the forest location pictured as well as other sites, to collect trash, clear paths, create fire breaks, and thin the trees selectively to encourage the growth of those remaining while obtaining firewood. Isabela, a nineteen-year-old bilingual Chuj woman who is currently attending university, is a school teacher as well as San Mateo Ixtatán’s coordinator of the recently created municipal “office of the woman.” Isabela collaborates regularly with EcoLogic Field Technician Yovany Díaz, and the two are working hard to identify and develop activities and workshops that will strengthen the role of Chuj women in social, political and environmental decisions and activities. Says Yovany, “EcoLogic’s workshops have many benefits including boosting women’s self-esteem and participation in society. This has advantages because it helps women take a more active role in daily activities and decisions which directly helps to protect the natural environment in and around San Mateo Ixtatán. I hope EcoLogic and our partner MFN continue to develop and support these women’s groups, because they act with a passion and resolute commitment to protect the trees, water and animals of this area. Their success can only make matters better for everyone here in San Mateo.”