Mayan culture in Guatemala
There’s something magical about Guatemala – maybe it’s the striking volcanos, the super-friendly people, or the colorful Mayan textiles you can find basically everywhere around the country. After going once to work with a Mayan community in Lake Atitlan, I swore to myself I’d come back to soak in the cool morning air and immerse myself in one of the most fascinating cultures I’d ever experienced once again. Two visits later and I’m still craving the choco-bananas and morning buzz of Guatemala’s towns.
In my few visits, I’ve had the exciting opportunity to get to know different Mayan communities in a couple of different ways. Spanning four different languages – Quiche, Kaqchikel, Ixil, and Mam – I’ve learned that these different populations have their own beliefs and traditions, despite all being captured under the umbrella term of “Mayan.” Here I’ll attempt to share with you some of the ways I got to explore Mayan culture throughout the country of Guatemala, and how you, too, can learn about these unique groups of people.
Working with Mayan Communities in San Lucas Toliman
For two summers in a row, I was part of a college group that helped out with community projects in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. Though “voluntourism” is a contentious topic, our school group primarily went for the educational component of learning about the conflicts in Guatemala in the 1980s. We spent months preparing beforehand, each week learning about a different piece of Guatemalan history and culture, and getting ourselves ready to spend two weeks amongst community members in Lake Atitlan. Each summer, we traveled to San Lucas Toliman, lived like the locals do, and helped out with community projects such as building a women’s center or constructing a collective latrine. A truly humbling experience, there are things I would have done differently, but I don’t at all regret immersing myself in the community and learning throughout the process.
There are many ways to give back to the communities here that were once ravaged by civil war. If you have a specific area of expertise, such as medical training or microfinance experience, you can give back by using your skills to help people in need. There are many medical groups that make trips to Guatemala, as medical care is scarce and expensive for citizens there.
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