Finding hope in the heartbreak of sexual violence in Guatemala

Travel-study seminar offered Oct. 12–21, 2015

July 14, 2015

Traditional weaving in Guatemala.

Traditional weaving in Guatemala. —iStock

LOUISVILLE

“Listening to and accompanying the women of Guatemala can change your life,” says Shannon Beck, Presbyterian World Mission reconciliation catalyst.

Beck is leading a 10-day travel-study seminar to Guatemala, Oct. 12–21, at the request of the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) and the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG).

“Nothing replaces getting to know the life stories of those you minister with,” Beck says.

The trip—Heartbreak and Hope: Responding to Sexual Violence in Guatemala—will focus on hearing the stories of women who have survived sexual violence and learning about the efforts of CEDEPCA, IENPG and other organizations to stop the violence. The trip application deadline is July 22.

Sandi Thompson-Royer, mission co-worker with Presbyterian World Mission, is following her call to mission by helping women survivors of sexual violence in Guatemala realize their worth to God. “The women in Guatemala teach their daughters to weave,” Thompson-Royer says. “As they weave, they pray for the hopes and dreams they have for themselves and their country.” She says she’d like every woman in Guatemala to become empowered to achieve her hopes and dreams.

According to the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, nearly 45 percent of Guatemalan women have suffered some instance of violence in their lifetime. The country’s 36-year internal armed conflict, in which the Associated Press reported 200,000 mostly indigenous Mayan civilians were killed, may have ended, but the violence has not.

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. —Judy Moore

Women are abused verbally, emotionally, physically, and/or sexually on a routine basis in Guatemala. Added to that, femicide, the killing of infants, girls and women because they are female is on the rise.

“There are women being killed every single day in Guatemala,” says Thompson-Royer. According to CEDEPCA, domestic violence is so rooted in society in all its forms that many women assume the violence is a normal part of life. “This experience will provide time to discuss solutions and the progress being made to end violence in Guatemala.”

CEDEPCA and IENPG work to empower women to take leadership in their churches and communities, to understand laws that help them, and to transform their reality of violence into a culture of peace.

Leslie Vogel, a Presbyterian World Mission co-worker working with CEDEPCA, will be part of the seminar leadership team. Participants will visit CEDEPCA’s office, explore popular sites, and study the rich cultural history of Guatemala. 

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Shannon Beck, Presbyterian World Mission reconciliation catalyst, answered a few common questions about the trip:

Why is it important for people to go to Guatemala?

  • To stand in solidarity with Guatemalan women and our partners who are working to stop sexual violence
  • To develop friendships with Presbyterian partners, mission co-workers and other travelers.
  • To hear stories of need and empowerment firsthand

What will the days be like?

  • Each day we will learn from CEDEPCA staff and constituents, women of the Sinodica (Presbyterian women in Guatemala), Presbyterian World Mission co-workers and other partners engaged in stopping sexual violence.
  • Through artistic expression, the sharing of meals, conversation, visits, and through other means, we will listen to those whose lives are most affected by violence and develop an understanding of the history of Guatemala, its cultures and spiritual and political background.
  • Currently we are scheduled to spend time in Coban, Guatemala City and Antigua, although that schedule may shift.

What is sexual violence like in Guatemala?

  • The femicide rate is rising each year.
  • Incest, often from a stepfather or another family member, is one of the most common forms of sexual violence.
  • Support, healing, and trauma recovery efforts are still necessary, nearly two decades after a devastating, 36-year internal armed conflict in Guatemala.
  • Girls as young as 11 are married to older men in some of the rural communities.

What will be some of the long-term takeaways?

  • We will be empowered to share stories in the most respectful ways, while discovering practical ways to support our partners’ work.
  • We will develop cross-cultural relationships.
  • We will learn to see the United States through Guatemalan eyes.
  • We will learn how to make authentic homemade tortillas.
  • We will return with a vision for engaging our community in God’s mission.