Welcome to the Santa Anita la Union Blog

January 13, 2009

This blog was created to serve as a resource for volunteers and visitors to the Santa Anita community by providing a forum for people to share experiences they’ve had at Santa Anita. In addition to testimonials, this blog will also serve as forum for discussion on ways in which individuals can continue to offer support and mutual aide to the  Santa Anita community when they return home.  

Interested in posting: e-mail your stories, photos and comments to: santaanitafincablog@gmail.com

WHAT IS SANTA ANITA LA UNION?

Santa Anita la Unión is an organic coffee and banana growing community formed of ex-guerilla combatants who fought during the 36-year internal armed conflict that ravaged Guatemala until 1996.  For more information visit: http://www.santaanitafincacom

Movies for the volunteers

January 10, 2010

Finally there is a project which works the other way around. Santa Anita has given the volunteers a belated Christmas-present. The community now offers something for the evenings to the volunteers staying in “la casa grande”: A neat selection of 41 movies and 13documentaries. Movies from all genres from biographies to science fiction, allow everyone to find something interesting.

Besides that, the “Rodrigo Asturias” internet café celebrates its one year anniversary. The computers were a generous donation in January 2009 from a Boston group that frequently helps and visits the community of Santa Anita. Since the opening of the internet café, Santa Anita has been connected to the world even more and the people of Santa Anita no longer have to go to Colomba to access the internet. Six computers are available and various teenagers volunteer there to offer service throughout the day. Still, the people of Santa Anita – especially the kids – have yet to get used to computers and the benefits the internet can offer. For this reason a volunteer from Xela offers computer classes every Friday.

Murals – great importance for Santa Anita

January 10, 2010

Through out the world, murals are used to convey a variety of messages and are painted for different reasons. Murals can express feelings, have a political message or tell a story in history. They are creative ways to communicate emotions, culture, thoughts, ideas and life. The art of painting murals can be a way to heal from tragedy or to express hope. In Guatemala, you can find colorful murals located all over the community of Santa Anita. What makes the murals in Santa Anita special is that the work is a collaboration of international visitors and local community members.

The first and most impressive mural was painted in 2007 on “La Casa Grande” located in the heart of Santa Anita. This house was the first home settled by the people of Santa Anita. It has since then been converted into a hostel for visitors and volunteers. The mural tells a story; illustrating some of the atrocities of the civil war and how many people fled the country as refugees. The mural portrays the story of Santa Anita and how members of the community left and then returned to Guatemala after the peace accords were signed.

Last week, community members and volunteers joined together to paint new murals on the church. Santa Anita celebrated the new year with visitors from the United States which included a group of high school students from Los Angeles and the directors of the documentary “Voice of a Mountain.” This documentary features the stories of many members in the community and explains the events that took place during the civil war. For two days everyone helped paint murals on the church. All the art was chosen by the community and the art includes various religious figures and saints. Two special figures currently on the church are the Virgin of Santa Ana and the Virgin of Guadalupe, originally from Mexico. Mexico has influenced the people here because many people from Santa Anita lived in Mexico as refugees. We welcome you to visit us in Santa Anita!

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The virgin of Guadalupe on the right-hand side and the virgin of Santa Anna on the left-hand side.

“El espiritu santo
Nos da a cada uno diversos dones
Para servicio de los demas
Asi construimos
La iglesia!”





“We live to fight, We live to succeed”

Rodrigo Asturias was born in Guatemala City in 1939, the first-born son of Nobel Prize-winning author Miguel Ángel Asturias. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the Guatemalan Workers Party ( PGT) guerrilla group. During this time he was arrested, tried, and jailed, after which he spent seven years in exile in Mexico. He returned to Guatemala in 1971 and helped form the Revolutionary Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA). He fought under the nom de guerre Gaspar Ilom, which he took from a character in Hombres de maíz, one of his father’s novels. When four guerrilla groups, including these two, combined to create the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in 1982, Asturias emerged as one of the four leaders of its general command. He was the only one of the leaders not to participate in signing the peace agreement reached with the government in the early 1990s. He died in 2005.


Building bridges between the cultures. This mural was painted by a group of teenagers from Boston, USA. The bridge serves as tow different intentions. First of all some of the teenagers were involved in an accident in which the bridge collapsed and injured some of them. Secondly it connects guatemala (left-hand side) and the USA (right-hand side). “America” is covered with hands of all the teenagers who participated in the mural, coming from different countries.

A poem, written by a close friend of the community:

“Green children from the mountains

It has been almost a decade of fresh memories like the morning perfume

the laughts of the mayas are today in my nostalic eardrums

and smiles, quetzales, volcanoes, coffee plantation

stroke your day and remind me that

our town will better die with wild courage than beeing a slave!”



In memory of a young girl, who died at the age of 19.

a mural which was painted for the 10 year anniverairy of Santa Anita

Santa Anita in the press!

January 4, 2010

The Big World Magazine, which writes articles about topics in all over the world, dedicated one to Santa Anita.

To find out more check out the article “From Guerilleros to Cafeteros” on their homepage:

http://www.bigworldmagazine.com/from-guerilleros-to-cafeteros/

Banana Bread Baked by the Women of Santa Anita Now Available in Xela Every Wednesday…

February 27, 2009

imagen-0442The woman of Santa Anita started baking banana bread in their community for sale in Xela last week. They prepared twenty-five loafs of fresh banana bread made with organic bananas and transported them over the mountain to sell in the language schools on Wednesday morning. The first weeks sales were a delicious success. The woman sold all the bread they baked and brought home Q325 in profit for their community, roughly 40 U.S. dollars. Santa Anita Banana Bread is available in Xela every Wednesday for Q25 a loaf. It can be purchased at the following language schools between 10:30 and 11:00 am.,  Proyecto Linguistico, Celas Maya, and Casa Xelaju…

Canto a la Mujer

February 23, 2009

Canto a la Mujer

por, Ana

 

A esas mujeres

merecedoras,

del perdón y la dignidad.

Luchadoras,

de una guerra,

atroz, injusta y sin razón.

Historia pasada

que nunca doidgran,

mujeres línders de la Humanidad,

en una vida

que contesamente,

pudieron caminar.

Luchadoras de sue derechos

y la liberdad.

Malores  ídeas

de la Humanidad.

Merecedoras del perdón

y la felicidad.    

Challenges the Community of Santa Anita Faces…

February 4, 2009

The abandoned coffee finca which became Santa Anita la Union was obtained by the community with a high interest loan from a government bank. After ten years of producing organic fair trade coffee and bananas they have only been able to pay off a fraction of the interest on this loan, which in total is over 300,000 U.S dollars.

According to the Fair Trade Federation, “Fair trade is an alternative way of doing business, one that builds equitable long term partnerships between consumers and producers.” The fair trade model is based on seven principles; fair wages, cooperative workplaces, consumer education, environmental sustainability, finaical and technical support, respect for cultural identity, and public accountability. In theory these principals are in practice at Santa Anita. Though in reality, even with the coffee harvest being exported on the fair trade market, a family at Santa Anita lives on less than twelve hundred U.S. dollars a year. A day’s wages total a meager $3.25.

With market certifiers loosening the draw strings on fair trade standards in recent years to allow retail giants like Wal-Mart and Starbucks to deceptively dress their products in the same conscientious packaging with no commitment to justice on the other end of the supply chain, each harvest becomes more difficult for growing communities like Santa Anita. The market price on fair trade coffee has not risen in the past ten years. Farmers are paid an average of $1.26 per pound, much of which goes to covering labelling and export costs. Large scale fincas, contracting with big retail buyers produce enough coffee to cover these costs and generate significant profit, while small scale operations like Santa Anita struggle to hang on.

Despite growing pressure as the tightening vice of global capitalism continues to threaten their livelihood, the people of Santa Anita are determined to survive. For the thirty two families who live on the finca, life at Santa Anita is the closest thing to a dream realized that they’ve know. The debt aside, they have their own land – a seemingly simple privilege that they fought for over 35 years to obtain. They no longer are subjected to slave labor, indentured servitude, malnutrition and disease, common aspects of the plantation life many of them once knew. International solidarity organizations have provided them with the resources to construct two schools, a day care center, a pharmacy and an eco-tourism project. They will tell you they’ve, “come a long way from the oppression and exploitation they fought against during the war.”

In their hearts the people of Santa Anita are victorious. Their vision “is to provide their children with an excellent education so they may be able to pursue a profession and someday return Santa Anita to benefit their people.”

Still, poverty is real. As a result some members of the community have chosen to migrate to other cities in Guatemala or to other countries in search of work. This has raised concerns about the community’s ability to maintain it’s cultural identity.

Though migration has become an interim solution to economic crisis for many families at Santa Anita, community members fear the impact of a long term cycle of migration will be more costly than it’s worth. Not only does migration separate many families at Santa Anita, but with it also comes the double-edged survival trait of assimilation. In the absence of their traditional Mayan customs, migrants from Santa Anita and other similar communities find themselves adapting to urban lifestyles in order to avoid discrimination in the workplace.

The future of Santa Anita is dependent upon the future of its children. Many community elders fear the youth of Santa Anita will become part the cycle of migration, leaving Santa Anita before completing high school to escape poverty. Without sufficient schooling to access university classes, the youth won’t be able to pursue professions to benefit their community, curtaining one of the founding visions of Santa Anita.

Santa Anita welcomes visitors and volunteers who wish to offer support and share in the evolution of the community. For more information about how you can become involved with assisting in the development of sustainable long term solutions here visit: http://www.santaanitafinca.com

For more information about the pros and cons of fair trade coffee visit the following links:

http://www.laborrights.org/creating-a-sweatfree-world/1481

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_5322.cfm

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_4738.cfm

post written by, Chris Heneghan

Talking With Doña Gloria…

January 19, 2009

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Doña Gloria was a radio operator in the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit, a guerrilla battalion during Guatemala’s 36 year civil war. She’s currently Director of Hospitality, for the ecotourism program at Santa Anita la Unión. I sat down with her recently to talk about ecotourism at Santa Anita. Here is what she had to say.

Santa Anita la Unión blog: What is the reason the community of Santa Anita decided to establish the ecotourism program?

Doña Gloria: Ten years ago when we came here this place was an abandon coffee farm. We started growing organic coffee and bananas. The business of farming, even with fair trade export standards was not providing the people here with sufficient wages to survive. Santa Anita is a place of natural beauty. We knew this and wanted to share it with people. We established the ecotourism program to generate extra money for the community and share our ways of life with visitors. You won’t find fancy hotels here. We want our guest to experience nature the same way we do, when we work in the fields each day. Because we are farmers many of use refer to the business as agro-tourism instead of ecotourism.

Santa Anita La Unión blog: How is Santa Anita different from other ecotourism/ agro-tourism destinations?

Doña Gloria: Santa Anita is different because of its history. We are ex-guerrilla fighters. All other communities have their own histories as well.

Santa Anita la Unión blog: What hopes does the community of Santa Anita have for the ecotourism / agro-tourism program in the future?

Doña Gloria: Currently the ecotourism program is run entirely by the women in the community. Our hope is, in the future we will be able to employ many of the younger women in the community. They can gain new skills by working with us.

Santa Anita la Unión blog: What are some of the successes the ecotourism / agro-tourism program has had?

Doña Gloria: A number of people have visited Santa Anita. With this has come a lot of outside support for our community.

Santa Anita la Unión blog: What are some of the problems with the ecotourism / agro-tourism program?

Doña Gloria: We have had trouble doing sufficient publicity. At times we do not have enough space to accommodate larger groups of volunteers. We currently have room for twenty-five people and would like to expand that capacity in the future.

Santa Anita la Unión blog: Does the community as a whole have any mixed feelings about the start up of the ecotourism / argro-tourism program?

Doña Gloria: No, because when the community receives guests, the whole community benefits from having them here.

Santa Anita la Unión blog: What can visitors to the Santa Anita do when the leave to continue to offer support and mutual aide to the community.

Doña Gloria: When people leave they can tell other people about Santa Anita. They can talk to them about our history and the needs of this community.

post written by, Chris Heneghan

translated by, Laura Von Dohlen

photo by, Lauren Bennett

Santa Anita La Union Redefines Ecotourism…

January 18, 2009

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The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as, “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” This idea appeals many socially conscious individuals because it incorporates travel to exotic locations with service projects, education and unique cultural experiences.

However, part of the problem with ecotourism is that outside of what TIES states on it’s web-site, you won’t find an actual definition for the word ecotourism anywhere. In some places I’ve travelled local tour operators consider it to be renting you a gas guzzling four wheel drive jeep to drive through jungle for the day.

Regardless, ecotourism brings with it certain characteristics of voyeurism. Its growing popularity has become an outlet for westerners looking for adventurous ways to escape their daily routines for two weeks a year, without making a long term commitment to the places they visit.

The desire for short term volunteer opportunities in impoverished rural Central American communities has created a kind of fast food market for ecotourism in Guatemala. Communities that are struggling to maintain traditional cultures often agree to host and feed volunteers as a quick way to generate desperately needed revenues. In many cases this is done without first developing a concrete plan for how outside resources and ideas can benefit their communities. To many foreigners this sort of advertising is an invitation to shoot photographs of peoples everyday lives without consent. This creates feelings resentment by residents within communities open to ecotourism towards visitors, who without knowing it behave as if it is their right to make a spectacle of people who’ve not been afforded the same privileges they have.

The short-term influx of quick revenue and foreigners though ecotourism has brought a number of communities more trouble than it’s been worth. Often projects are started and never completed and promises are made and never followed through on. Santa Anita is working to change this, by focusing on clearly defining what ecotourism means to them as a community. The ecotourism program was created and is managed by the women of Santa-Anita, who intend it to serve, the dual purpose of providing funds for community development and increased income for members of the community.” The community views ecotourism as, “a way for finca members to share their knowledge and stories and as well as a way for groups and individuals to participate and learn about the community, its agriculture, and its history.”

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Members of the Santa Anita view volunteer work as an act of solidarity in accordance with the visions, goals and directly democratic approach to government within their community. After talking with the women who run Santa Anita’s ecotourism program about their efforts give new meaning to the term ecotourism, and establish parameters for how volunteer labor can be best used within their community, I found that a rough guide to what Santa Anita expected to gain by opening the community to foreigners existed in their minds but nothing was written down.

One of the main concerns expressed by the women was a desire to learn how to create models of self sufficiency within the community, to serve as a means for continuing to promote and generate revenue through ecotourism without dependence on outside assistance.

They explained there is really no need for long term volunteers to come Santa Anita to do work for the community. What is needed is for people to come to Santa Anita and share with the community new skills which will benefit the people of Santa Anita in the future.

For example the community of Santa Anita does not need a somebody to provide technical support for their web-site and respond to e-mails about volunteer inquiries. What the community of Santa Anita needs, is somebody who is willing to give workshops and training on how to use a computer, check e-mails and maintain a web-site. So when they leave, the people of Santa Anita will have knowledge of how to maintain their own web-site, and respond to e-mails from interested volunteers.

Another concern expressed in line with the context of this article was a desire to eliminate the voyeuristic aspects of ecotourism. This can be accomplished by encouraging volunteers to continue to offer support and mutual aide to the Santa Anita community when they return home to their communities. By extending the volunteer experience beyond Santa Anita and into peoples home communities volunteers can become part of building a stronger solidarity movement with Guatemalan coffee farmers and banana growers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I’m opening up the comment section to discussion about things that volunteers can continue to do to support Santa Anita when the return to their home communities?If you’ve volunteered at Santa Anita for any period of time please take a moment to think about this and post a reply with three simple things you can do to continue to offer mutual aide to Santa Anita from your home community.

post written by, Chris Heneghan