Written by: Lorianne Dueck
After hearing stories from my brothers, friends and family who had visited Guatemala – I finally experienced the beauty and struggle on a trip to the field with IJM Canada.
When I joined IJM Canada during the pandemic, international travel seemed like a dream. And yet, in 2022 with restrictions receding and opportunities to connect with field staff opening up, it was time to plan a trip.
After months of planning and zoom calls, on August 7, 2022 I landed in Guatemala City with my colleagues, both excited and nervous about the activities that were to take place over the next six days.
The hugs started immediately after stepping out of the airport. My friend Cristina Ramirez greeted me with excitement and affection – finally reunited after months of virtual interactions. We continued to the restaurant where those who had arrived prior were eating lunch, which initiated another round of warm embraces, handshakes and greetings. We were strangers from two different countries, and yet our united desire to see communities protected and live with love and intention broke through any social anxiety - the fresh tortillas helped too.
Unity and commitment were evident in every aspect of our trip, from the friendships formed between travelers to the alignment seen between IJM and the Guatemalan government. I was blown away.
IJM’s strategic decision to collaborate with like-minded partners allowed for more women and children to receive access to justice services and trauma-informed care. Partner organizations like Advancing Ministries of the Gospel (AMG) and Oasis were chosen based on their rigor and victim-centered approach – all done with the community in mind.
Dia de Gozo
On our fourth day, were invited to join a “day of joy” a graduation ceremony at AMG for six youth/young adults who had reached a significant milestone in their restoration journey. We were not aware of the crimes committed against them, but we knew they were survivors of violence. As I sat at my table, eating lunch and joking around with Juan* and his mom, I felt out of place. The room was beautifully decorated, and the atmosphere was full of nervous anticipation as the survivors waited to be called up to the stage. AMG had so much love for the children, the parents were so proud, and the survivors were eager to receive the justice they were due. What was I doing there?
I had not been a part of their lives in any physical way, and yet I was here, enjoying their celebration. This was an intimate moment: survivors received a cape and special pin engraved with the words “I am a hero.” AMG’s social worker read the meaning of their name for them and highlighted the resilience, perseverance and love they had seen grow over the last three years.
And then AMG and the parents went up to the microphone to thank us.
Because our presence on that day was felt as a loud and international YES, this was an important event, and every survivor deserves to be celebrated. This celebration was made possible with funds from the Canadian team, but we were the ones who left changed.
Apoyo para todos
I was deeply impacted by our visit to the Victim’s Institute. This government created institution opened its doors to the public in 2020. In partnership with IJM and the government of Guatemala, this facility allows for anyone – regardless of income, demographic, or ethnicity – to receive free victim services. Whether that be a physical checkup, legal assistance, or counselling, any victim of violence who walks through the doors will receive quality controlled, compassion-filled and trauma-informed care. While the institute currently has locations in five departments (similar to provinces), the Victim’s Institute team is advocating for budget increases to expand into each of Guatemala’s 22 departments. The Director shared a story of how the trajectory of a victim’s life was forever changed because of the support they experienced at the Victim’s Institute. This was one of many stories.
Cerro de la Cruz
At 6:30 am on our final day in Guatemala, our team decided to go on a hike to Cerro de la Cruz. Anyone who knows me knows that I only wake up early for flights and special occasions, and today was a special occasion.
We started slowly, waking up as we travelled cement ramps and stairs being cleaned by the groundkeepers. Winding across the mountain we walked in and out of trees, anticipating the view that awaited us. Suddenly the path ended in a construction zone, the view blocked off by wire fences and pictures of the lookout area that was to come. We followed dirt trails that had appeared alongside the fences that united us again with the cobblestone path. From our new vantage point, we could see above the construction site, marvelling at the volcanoes surrounding the picturesque town of Antigua. We arrived and descended together, savouring our last moments in Guatemala before returning to Canada.
I have been working at IJM Canada for almost two years, but things seemed different now. It has been over a month since I left Guatemala and I am still reflecting on what I heard and saw. For six days, our teams bridged language barriers and cultural differences with the help of translators and a listening posture. We bridged gaps in understanding through presentations and explanations. But spiritually and emotionally, we arrived already connected – and still are.
During the trip, our team felt the weight of injustice, saw the effects of violence, was inspired by the passion of survivors and was inspired by the resilience of IJM Guatemala and their partners. Like the path to Cerro de la Cruz, IJM Guatemala is building the path to protection, moving towards protecting 9.2M people from violence. The path may be under construction, but it is better than it was and IJM is committed to its improvement. Why? Because of the view.
A future without violence for women and children, where all are protected and free to thrive.
Want to join me and my IJM colleagues around the work to help build the path to protection? Become a monthly Freedom Partner to help strengthen justice systems so that women and children never have to experience violence in the first place. Click here to sign up now.