This page is the result of a trip made to the Ixcán region of Guatemala in January 1998 by me, Jim Schenck. The views, photographs and opinions are my own and not necessarily those of the Cooperative Housing Foundation who is implementing the project nor the US Agency for International Development who is sponsoring the project through a cooperative agreement with CHF. This trip allowed a quick view, over a limited time, to get to know some of the project staff and see part of the project's work in a remote northern zone of Guatemala. Neither CHF nor USAID is responsible for any inaccuracies on this web site.
You can either read the text and follow the links to individual photographs, go to the photographic index and view the images that interest you, or start with the first photograph and follow them sequentially. The text below has the basic goal of the project, its activities and an explanation linked to the photographs. Each photograph is on an individual page with a caption at the top. The photographs are JPEGS at high quality, vary from about 35K to 60K, and look best on a monitor displaying thousands or, preferably, millions of colors.
Go to Photograph Index
Go Directly to First Photograph
The Communities in Transition project works in the Ixcán, Guatemala which is located in the northern part of the Department of Quiche, bordering Mexico. The area was colonized in the seventies and was the site of some of the greatest conflict during the undeclared civil war in Guatemala. The populations living in the area are all originally from different parts of Guatemala and seven indigenous language groups are represented. During the last twenty years, different groups dealt with the civil unrest in different ways. Some went to Mexico and have only recently returned, some took to the hills and tried to avoid contact with all outsiders, some stayed, some were militarized by the armed forces, etc. Now with the Peace Accords signed in December 1996, the people of the Ixcán are working to make a better life for themselves and their families.
The Communities in Transition project's original goal was to improve the living conditions of rural populations most affected by decades of conflict by supporting the development of productive income-generating activities. Although the goal remains, the variety of activities to achieve the goal has grown since the project began in October 1995. The CIT project now groups its activities in four main areas:
1. Strengthening of NGOs through the Promotion of Productive Activities;
(Includes Village Banking and income-generating activities.)
2. Agroforestry and Environmental Education;
(Includes the promotion of sustainable, organic agroforestry farming.)
3. Infrastructure, Rehabilitation and Municipal Strengthening;
(Includes community projects such as women's centers, training centers, pedestrian bridges, vehicle bridges, schools, health posts, community latrine projects, potable water systems, road drainage works, repair of landing strips and community buildings. These projects are participatively selected by the communities and include community resources.)
4. Community Associations, Municipal Strengthening and Conflict Resolution (Roads).
(Includes the formation and strengthening of the Ixcán Road Maintenance Association with representation of all the Ixcán Micro-Regions.)
The photographs on this web site concentrate mainly on activities number one and number two. The activities under numbers three and four are just as important, but I had less opportunity to photograph examples of them during this visit.
One gets to the Ixcán by crossing the border from Mexico, taking a fourteen hour bus ride (if it is dry) from Coban, or through Guatemala City. From the airport in Guatemala, light planes fly to the Ixcán Monday through Friday. While I was there, a company named Tikal Jets flew a Czech turboprop to the military base at Playa Grande on Mondays and Fridays. As you approach the dirt landing strip, you cross the Río Chixoy. The original town of Playa Grande was located next to the Playa Grande military base, but during the eighties was moved westward. It is still officially Playa Grande, Ixcán but is more commonly known as Cantabal.
The original offices for the CHF Communities in Transition are located in the United Nations compound, but as the project has expanded, other CHF/CIT offices have been set-up a few blocks up the street from the UN. If these two offices aren't sufficient, there is an informal, alternate office halfway between the official offices. Its advantages include plenty of fresh air, cold soda pop and it is one place where the cellular phone seems to work. In the alternate office picture are Steve Huffstutlar, Director of the CIT Project, Wilson Castañeda and Jorge Dubon. Wilson is the Agroforestry/Long-Term Crops Manager and Jorge is the Infrastructure Coordinator. Lourdes Santos is the Agroforestry and Environmental Education Assistant and works with Wilson.
The CIT project manages the ICTA (Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia Agrícola) experimental farm. New agroforestry demonstration plots and tree nurseries have been prepared at the farm with crops that have the potential to be economically viable in the Ixcán. Although research on pejibaye (palm heart), vanilla and other crops for production is taking place, the emphasis is on organic agroforestry production techniques which are sustainable in the Ixcán.
Nine agroforestry promoters are working in different parts of the Ixcán with farmers to provide an alternative to the traditional slash burn agriculture which is not sustainable nor ecologically viable. Don Pablo farms in the village of Monte Alegre. He had a track record as an innovative farmer, but had little experience nor technical assistance in agroforestry.CIT/CHF promoter Rolando Guillén helped Don Pablo to establish part of his land (1/2 manzana) in production using an agroforestry system. It allows him to have forest cover and produce pine, gourds and chili all at the same time on the same plot of land. He has stated in uncertain terms that he will not return to slash burn agriculture because of the practical results he has seen on his own land. Another farmer, Juan, is using agroforestry techniques to cultivate pineapple in a sustainable way that increases soil fertility. Returning from Juan's property we passed a typical house in the Monte Alegre community. In addition to environmental education workshops and the training of teachers in environmental education, the Communities In Transition project also does environmental interpretation with community members.
In January 1998, Steve was working to help the newly formed Ixcán Road Maintenance Association begin its mandate and order road maintenance machinery. Two pre-fabricated steel Bailey Bridges were on order and scheduled to arrive in-country in February. Steve worked with with a consultant to make sure everything was ready for the bridge installations once they arrived. This included procuring wood rollers to position the bridges in place once they were assembled.
Delia Nuñez is the Community Bank/Women's Group Manager. She has helped start-up six village banks whose clients/members are women as well as work to strengthen the local non-governmental organization CESIDE which directly works with the village banks. The Nueva Jerusalem Village Bank is one of the five village banks established during 1997. In January 1998, the sixth Ixcán village bank, the Virginia Nueva Vida Village Bank was inaugurated. At the inauguration, CESIDE Promoters reviewed the operations of a village bank. The President of the new bank discussed the responsibilities and privileges of the bank's members. Each member received her bank book and loan check from the village bank President. Another member receives her loan and bank book. After all the other members, the President receives her bank book and loan. The principal activities that the village bank loans are used for include: aviculture (chicken-raising), vegetable commerce, small animal husbandry (pigs), small stores, traditional grain commerce (corn and beans), imported clothes commerce, tortilla preparation and sales, home bread production for sale, and other activities including indigenous textile weaving.
There are many more activities and a lot more effort going on in the Ixcán than could be shared in these pictures. However, I hope that this look at the Communities In Transition project gives some idea as to the commitment of the project team and the people of the area to make life better in the Ixcán.
The above was written the beginning of 1998. The following links are on this web site.
Go to Bridge Site and Mayaland - June 1999
Go to AMVI Gravel Extraction - Chixoy River - June 1999
Go to La Quema - Slash & Burn Agriculture - June 1999
Go to Ixcan Emergency Food Relief - Hurricane Mitch
Go to Jim & Michaele's Home Page
Cooperative Housing Foundation Home Page
U.S. Agency for International Development
All web pages and photographs Copyright James S. Schenck