Below I have provided short articles about two case studies I have completed on nonprofits associated with Guatemala. One organization is a prominent Guatemalan membership association that is indigenous-organized and indigenous-led. This first short piece explains the relevance of indigenous organizations within the adaptive environment of the post-conflict Guatemalan nonprofit sector. The second article welcomes a new type of transnational nonprofit organization -- an organization whose leadership and membership is native to Guatemala which uses today's ease of communication and ready access to travel as a means to pursue their nonprofit mission. These new faces show us that the transnational nonprofit organization may no longer be what we typically envision and indicates transnational nonprofit work may be changing. Together, these articles welcome voices to the conversation that will potentially help us ask new questions about new possibilities for the sector that seeks to solve the world's biggest social problems.
The Relevance of Indigenous Organizations
AJR emphasizes remembering through testimonios as a means of resistance against government impunity and continued motivation toward justice. In order to meet its mission. Organizational funding is primarily provided by three INGOs from Norway, Ireland, and Sweden. AJR works collaboratively with various Guatemalan and international organizations with more prominent collaborations being Centro de Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (Guatemala-based Center for Legal Action on Human Rights, CALDH) serving as AJR’s lawyer, Acompañamiento Internacional en Guatemala (Guatemala-based ACOGUATE) providing security through presence and witness for the organization, and Network in Solidarity with People in Guatemala (U.S.-based, NISGUA) acting as public information liaison between AJR and the United States. Yet, it is AJR’s stridency to remain indigenous-organized and indigenous-led but embracing collective action that enables strategies utilizing local to global capabilities.
Looking at AJR provides an understanding of the nonprofit sector’s interaction with violent conflict and peace, an interaction not typically discussed in nonprofit scholarship. Research findings from our case study of AJR (McDonald, Mitchell, Elliott, 2015) indicate post-conflict processes may have the ability to allow local, perhaps subjugated, peoples a way to create tension and disruption within traditional structures, opening space for new definitions and ideas, if the influence of the more powerful larger and international nonprofits is controlled and/or negotiated. These are relatively positive findings in light of opposition to neoliberal policy. Yet, we issue caution. Our findings do not indicate how AJR upholds (knowingly or unknowingly) the still prominent traditional Guatemalan elite structures. Additionally, this article is only a slight glimpse into these types of negotiations that are redefining the Guatemalan nonprofit sector. Ultimately, the power of the AJR case rests in demonstrating the relevance of indigenous-organized, indigenous-led nonprofit organizations, and the importance of maintaining strong indigenous organizational agency and autonomy within collaborative processes undertaken by those most greatly affected by violent conflict.
A condensed version of the AJR article will appear in the Spring 2016 edition of Alliance for Peacbuilding's (AfP) Peacebuilding Post.
The Experts in Our Backyards
Edwin Villela, President of Help for Schools and a Guatemalan native, immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s, during the worst period of the country's civil war. He worked in the Los Angeles manufacturing sector while attending community college language classes, subsequently pursuing and obtaining a real estate license. Traveling throughout Guatemala after the war, Edwin found progress but also much need. Edwin and others from the southern California Guatemalan community organized to send assistance. In 2008, the group elected to establish a formalize their endeavors. The group created a registered 501(c)(3) organization to help rural schools in Guatemala believing education is key to sustainable development. Help for Schools identifies need through word of mouth, recommendations, and news reports. The organization collects donations in California travelling to Guatemala with supplies once a year. Beginning with basic school and teaching supplies, the organization soon began providing classrooms, kitchens, and sanitary facilities. Edwin explains Help for Schools would come into a village to see students and teacher sitting under a tree asking, “Who can learn like this?” The organization works collaboratively with village leadership to plan what is needed and arrange for the delivery of supplies. In some cases the villagers, from the young to the elders, meet the supplies at a drop off location then carry the supplies up the steep mountainsides, everything from paper, pencils, backpacks, and chairs, to concrete blocks and rebar. The villagers build the facilities needed. Edwin says the work is worth it to see the kids and the community so happy.
International nonprofit sector conversation typically buries native or indigenous contributions. I argue this burying restricts our understanding how the sector works and hinders our ability to see changes and adaptations occurring within the sector. My current research (Mitchell, 2015) suggests leaders like Edwin may have certain characteristics (such as education) and abilities (such as effective network building) supporting a creative opportunity to take action. There is much to learn about these leaders and organizations; yet, their presence potentially transforms the conversation. These individuals are the in-country nonprofit experts in our own backyards.
A condensed version of the Help for Schools article will appear in the Fall 2015 edition of Alliance for Peacbuilding's (AfP) Peacebuilding Post.
For information regarding Guatemala's internal war, DemocracyNow has a recent two-part podcast, The Rise of America's Secret Government: The Deadly Legacy of Ex-CIA Director Allen Dulles, providing a good history lesson about U.S.-based United Fruit and CIA involvement, and how this legacy impacts modern Guatemala.