A New Breed of Guatemalan Millennials
As a new generation of young adults we’ve glimpsed at how we can bring our experiences and knowledge back to Guatemala.
I was born in Guatemala in 1996, the same year the Guatemalan Peace Accords were signed, ending its 36-year civil war with some 200,000 civilians dead or disappeared.
The hope was that with this peace, there would come a new dawn, with opportunities and a better life for all Guatemalans.
Today Guatemala’s population is 17+ million people. Within this population the stats are still far too high regarding illiteracy, extreme poverty, malnutrition, lack of clean water, health care and other basic services. For huge numbers of Guatemalans this dream of a better life is still not a reality.
My father is Guatemalan, my mother is British. I am one of many who spent our childhoods growing up in this country. We’re Spanish speakers with at least one second language. As kids we explored mountains, swam and kayaked around Lake Atitlán, biked down volcanoes, took surf trips to the beach and weeklong treks to Petén, Tikal and El Mirador, and went spelunking in Semuc Champey. We were also afforded a wider view of the world through our expat parent and extended families.
Many of us have lived and studied in countries the world over. And this is not to exclude Guatemalans who’ve also been given the same opportunity. As a new generation of young adults we’ve glimpsed at how we can bring our experiences and knowledge back to Guatemala and also encourage others to join us.
Every summer, a group of young university students travel from countries including Wales, Germany, Spain, Canada, Holland and the U.S. to begin implementing sustainable initiatives throughout the summer months.
We come with newfound knowledge on environmental protection, international law, sustainability, healthcare, architecture, economic development and most importantly with a vision. A Guatemala where every child has access to education, where every Guatemalan is guaranteed healthcare and most certainly environmental protection.
We collaborate with each other, providing one another with logistical support and discussions on the ways of changing systems that are abusive to Guatemalan people. Our commitment, ambition, and dreams drive us onward.
This isn’t to say that the hundreds and hundreds of service organizations are not working hard to do their part. They are brilliant and dedicated men and women doing all they can to bring relief and improvements to our country. However, sustainable change in the country that focuses on ideological shifts and equitable change has been negligible and sluggish.
As well, sometimes NGOs lack the cultural understandings that are necessary in order to improve Guatemala’s situation on a truly fundamental and systemic level. Visits by foreign medical teams, while they are certainly helpful and life changing/saving for those they treat, the programs are often unable to address the undermining issue of why the government does not provide healthcare to its people — despite being promised within our constitution.
Food donations, again lifesaving, do not address the agricultural quagmire that Guatemala finds itself in, and why so many people living in rural areas are losing their land to multi-national corporations. There are also issues of job availability; university students who hail from some of Guatemala’s most desolate regions with degrees in various professions are unable to return to their hometowns to practice their newfound expertise. Often their only option is to look for employment abroad or live in a much larger Guatemalan city.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Guatemala no longer needs more of the “same thing” — Guatemala needs a big change. A change that will be brought about by younger generations, the millennials who strive to find meaning in all that they do. The change is coming from my friends, from you, from all of us. We can no longer continue to go down the path of least resistance but must rather focus on the larger powers at play and begin to apply our knowledge and vision to change our beautiful Guatemala.
REVUE article by Marcus Alburez Myers
The author has worked with the Strauss Foundation as well as the Clinton Global Initiative and Rigoberta Menchu’s Foundation in the creation of a malaria prevention and treatment program. Currently, he is developing a healthcare education training program for young indigenous women.