By Joanne Jefferson Special to the Truro Daily News
TATAMAGOUCHE - A remarkable east coast volunteer organization is hosting a celebration this summer and some of the invited guests will be travelling thousands of miles to be at the party.
In March, members of a Breaking The Silence delegation climbed to Pacoxom, Guatemala, for an all-night commemoration of the massacre of women and children in that county in March of 1982. SUBMITTED PHOTO
The Maritimes Guatemala Breaking the Silence Solidarity Network (BTS) is turning 25, and they’re honouring the anniversary with a gathering at their home base in Tatamagouche.
BTS is a network of volunteers throughout the Maritimes that creates solidarity partnerships with organizations in Guatemala, providing advocacy, lobbying, and accompaniment in support of political, economic and social justice.
Kathryn Anderson, one of the founding members of BTS, says she feels “amazement and gratitude” about the organization’s anniversary. “Who knows what can happen when you start something, simply because it needs to happen and the moment is right?” she said.
Anderson’s introduction to Guatemala came in 1983 when she was an observer at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Vancouver. There she heard stories from Guatemalans about assassinations, disappearances, and torture in that country. She joined a solidarity group at that time, working to provide support to the people of Guatemala.
In 1988, when Anderson took a position at the Tatamagouche Centre, the timing was right to form the base for a new Maritimes solidarity network, and BTS was born.
Anderson points to three major accomplishments of the organization within 25 years of work: throughout the 90s the network offered solidarity and accompaniment to refugees returning to Guatemala from Mexico as survivors of genocide; the organization created an Internship program which sent many young Canadians to Guatemala for nine-month work periods, enabling the organization to build stronger relationships with partners; and there are now two BTS co-ordinators hired to support work in Canada and in Guatemala.
One of the ways the network engages Canadians is by organizing delegations – small groups who travel with BTS guides to learn first hand how people in Guatemala are struggling to create a more peaceful, prosperous and just society. BTS delegations have been visiting Guatemala regularly since 1991.
I was fortunate to be a member of a recent delegation of nine people from the Maritimes, Ontario, Saskatchewan and B.C. who spent 10 days in Guatemala in March. We visited a number of BTS partner organizations throughout the country, including community groups working to resist the toxic and violent impacts of a silver mine operated by Canadian company Tahoe Resources, which is now facing a lawsuit launched in B.C. by Guatemalan citizens.
After being invited into people’s homes, sitting with them to eat a meal, meeting their children, hearing their stories of survival and struggle, each of the delegates feels connected to those people and their histories. Every member of our delegation is now following up with projects like writing articles and letters, speaking to groups, raising funds, hosting Guatemalans from partner organizations and informing other Canadians about what we witnessed.
The network also organizes visits to the Maritimes for members of their partner organizations, to carry out educational presentations and to meet Maritimers. Three of the people I met during the March delegation – Leocadio Juracan, Isabel Osorio, and Jesus Tecú Osorio – will be at the Tatamagouche Centre to participate in the BTS anniversary celebrations. While in Canada, they will also be traveling around the region for speaking engagements and special events.
Leocadio Juracan is the coordinator of the Comite Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA), an organization that processes and markets fairly traded coffee and other products from Guatemalan farmers. BTS has worked with the CCDA since 2000 in developing a fair-trade coffee exportation relationship, through JustUs! coffee roasters based in Nova Scotia.
Jesus and Isabel Osoria are survivors of the Rio Negro Massacre and have been active in various community development projects including education, legal services and economic sustainability. Jesus founded the New Hope Foundation, which now operates a school for youth from their region.
For Kathryn Anderson, the presence of these three members of the network is one aspect of the anniversary celebrations she is most excited about. She says the gathering will be “a chance to renew commitments and re-connect with folks who have been involved in delegations, accompaniment, and internships since we began.”
When asked about what she sees in the next five years for BTS, Anderson says, “I envision continued work on mining and genocide cases, a renewed Internship program, and increased work in Canada, whether it be to support aboriginal groups in their struggle or advocacy around federal government priorities and policies and their impacts on Guatemala.”
While her own work will be much more in the background than it was for the first 25 years of the organization’s history, Anderson will be keeping a grandmotherly watch over BTS as the network continues to grow and develop.
From Friday, June 27 to June 29, BTS members will be gathering at the Tatamagouche Centre to celebrate 25 years. For more information about the network and the gathering, visit the organization’s website at www.breakingthesilenceblog.com.