Zoe BeansFood sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, gender equity and women’s health, the struggle against mega mine and hydroelectric dam projects – these are the “themes” of Ceiba’s work, the passions of my dedicated co-workers, and the topics that I am lucky enough to be learning about here in Guatemala.

Simply providing the themes of Ceiba’s work does not do them justice though. I have found that it is Ceiba’s overarching philosophy and approach that makes their work so important. Ceiba recognizes the interconnections between environmental and social issues and, thus, makes efforts to integrate their various projects and work teams. I remember being struck during my first day assisting with Ceiba’s “Sustainability School”, when a co-worker, after talking about organic farming and avocado trees, brought up the next sustainability theme with the students – it was machoism and gender equity. How incredible is that? Youth are learning that gender equity is a critical part of sustainability, right up there with organic farming, waste reduction, and regulating resource extraction activities. I wish that was the case with environmental/sustainability education in Canada.

Ceiba also believes that in order to overcome Guatemala’s challenges, wholly new alternatives are needed – for politics, economics, technology, etc. Ceiba promotes options for these new alternatives, and in some cases, even test-drives them! At San Lorenzo, Ceiba’s organic farm and rural property, they are experimenting with small-scale, “appropriate” technologies for wastewater treatment, hydroponics (growing food in water), natural fertilizer production, and “eco-building” (building with blocks of compressed recycled paper). Just last week I was there with my co-workers swinging a pickaxe, creating a terrace that will be used to experiment with food production on steep, rocky slopes.

As part of the Communications Team, I have been lucky enough to learn from and, in some cases, lend a hand with projects and events related to each of Ceiba’s main work themes. I have created a website for a very interesting and important school that Ceiba works with – a school for rural, resource-poor indigenous youth, which incorporates Maya culture, language, history, values, and Cosmovision into the curriculum. I am currently assisting them with efforts to attract volunteers and to secure funding. I have also developed eco-education activities to be used by Ceiba’s “Sustainability School” – the program I mentioned earlier, which involves weekly visits to schools to promote learning around the topic of “sustainability”.

Currently my main projects are two documentary films – one about the social and environmental impacts of sugar plantations, and one about the use of native corn varieties by small-scale farmers. Getting film footage for these documentaries has provided me with invaluable insight into the lives of rural Guatemalan people. I’ve been amazed and inspired by the determination, resilience, kindness, and collective spirit of the people I have been lucky enough to meet and interview.

Time has been flying and these film projects will likely take me right up to the end of the internship (along with translation tasks and media monitoring work that I do most weeks). It will be very hard to say goodbye to my co-workers at Ceiba, and my friends in Chimaltenango. However, I am comforted knowing that the work I have witnessed and been involved in and the people I have met and formed relationships with, has all become part of my understanding of social justice, of the world, and of myself. And I am confident that I will be able to apply those understandings to my work for positive change, wherever it is that I go from here.