Thursday, January 9, 2014

A mob, a massacre, a mudslide, and MCC


During the civil war, Santiago Atitlan, like many areas of Guatemala, felt the weight of heavy military presence. The particular area where the Peace Park now sits was a military zone, a “temporary” base that remained for more than ten years. 

On the night of December 1, 1990, an incident changed this place forever. There are different accounts of how it all started, but a young person was shot by the military after a skirmish with the new military commander. Neighbors went to the town square and rang the church bells to gather a group to address the military. A large group of local indigenous men, women and children formed (between 3000 and 6000) and headed to the base. The mayor asked for the commander to be turned over, and in the course of a few minutes the soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing 13 people, including some children and a young boy of five years old. 

The site where 5 year old Nicholas was shot by soldiers on December 2, 1990.
This incident received national attention, and in a short time the president ordered the military to leave. Santiago Atitlan has the distinction of being the only large town in the country where the military left during the civil war. 
The Peace Park: ANADESA staff telling the story of  the massacre on December 2, 1990.
The Peace Park includes the letter from the President ordering the military to leave as well as the gravestones of all 13 people who died. Each gravestone is placed in the exact location that each body was found. (For more information about the history of this area, go here.) Some call this history a massacre. Others label it an uprising, as the "mob" was carrying sticks and stones and were ready to take action.

Mass is held here the 2nd of every month, and every December 2nd there is a service to commemorate the events. 


During Hurricane Stan in 2005 there was torrential rainfall for several days around Santiago Atitlan. Finally, in the middle of one terrible night, the rain caused a severe mudslide on the side of a volcano. The mud spewed down the volcano, covering houses, schools, and killing hundreds of people sleeping in their homes. 
An abandoned home.
Many of the survivors relocated to a nearby town, leaving hundreds of damaged homes behind.
This plaque from the house above indicates that it was built just a year before the mudslide destroyed it. 
MCC in Santiago Atitlan

MCC works with ANADESA, a local organization in Santiago Atitlan that emerged out of the aftermath of the mudslide and Hurricane Stan.

ANADESA focuses on community education, with an after school program for children, as well as adult education programs. The literacy rate among adults is extremely low in this area.

Today, ANADESA has a co-op where men and women make jewelry to sell to visitors. They make all-natural shampoo, disenfectant, and candles as well. ANADESA offers educational tours of the area and home stay experiences where one can stay with a local indigenous family. 

On our visit, we took a walk through the areas damaged by the mudslide. 
 Homes abandoned after Hurricane Stan in 2005
They seemed like ghost towns. Empty, abandoned houses spotted the countryside, the ominous, dormant volcano sitting quietly behind. The quiet was eery. 
The mudslide started up on this volcano.
The government refuses to help rebuild in this area because it's a high risk zone, although it seems to many that anything near a volcano is in a high risk zone. 

Recently, ANADESA moved its offices from the directors house (see my last post) to a newly constructed building with plans to continue to expand. The office is right next to Atitlan’s Peace Park.

Here they sell products from the co-op.

Bracelets and necklaces.
Key chains.

One our staff's host families makes jewelry for the co-op.
Lake Atitlan is surrounded by three volcanos. Santiago Atitlan has a rich history and is one of the few towns where many of the men still wear the indigenous dress.
Men's pants for sale.
This area is known for the beautiful embroidery work of birds and bright purple colors in the clothes.
We currently send one young adult here every year as part of the MCC young adult live and serve program. We have an opening for next year if you know anyone who might be a good fit! Check out our current staff person's blog. He has some great stories of living and working near Lake Atitlan.
Avocado day at the central market in Santiago Atitlan.


Mary Nowlin Bendfeldt said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I will be in your area with some Harrisonburg, VA, teachers in March. A couple of us were wondering about church services in the area. My husband and I were MCC East Africa where our children were born. I think fondly of other young families doing the same kinds of things. Blessings! Mary Bendfeldt

Melissa Chapman said...

Hi Mary, We would love to give you more information. Our email is guatemalareps at mcc dot org Let us know if you are around!