I am a cooperant at the New Hope Foundation, Rio Negro, located in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz.

What an honour it is to be welcomed into the learning community of the Intercultural Bilingual Community Education Centre (CECBI, Centro Educativo Comunitario Bilingüe Intercultural). CECBI is the middle and high school that evolved out of the New Hope Foundation’s (FNE) first initiatives in the late 90s! What began as a series of scholarships grew into a physical learning centre in 2003, with a single class of students. In fact, it was a delegation of BTS volunteer carpenters that built some of the wooden classrooms that students continue to learn in.

Jose, Andrea, Alicia, Maria (CECBI students) and Romi (BTS Cooperant) discussing seed sowing before we plant.

Now, 21 years later, CECBI has an enrolment of 91 students, has changed a whole lot, received accolades of success, and faces new challenges into 2024. Students are mostly Maya Achi, mostly from rural areas near Rabinal, though two of the boarding students are Maya Q’eqchi. CECBI offers an alternative education based in:

  • Maya cosmovision & cultural practices;
  • Historical memory of the Maya genocide;
  • Applied land-based learning; and
  • and Participative methodologies (all topics that are absent from public education).

It’s the season to prepare the land for sowing.

Students installing irrigation systems at CECBI, made possible by the foundation’s newly installed, solar-powered well.

Every morning, the green-and-red-painted school bus winds its way through the narrow streets of Rabinal, picking up younger students across town, driving past the FNE’s office headquarters out of the small city and making its way up the hill to nearby village of Correlabaj. This is where the CECBI school is located, nestled in a dry rural valley between steep mountain ridges, five kilometres outside of Rabinal. By the time the bus arrives at 7:30 a.m., most of the older students are already there and have their motorcycles lined up near the gate. The handful of boarding students have had breakfast in the school canteen, only a few steps from their dorms.

CECBI, as seen from a mountain trail. It’s the dry season, so many plants shed their leaves.

Some of the wooden classrooms by the playing field.

Most days I bike the distance (some of the older students do too), but on Wednesdays, in order to bring my guitar, I ride the bus too! We’re starting up a midweek ‘musical café’ during recess and lunch to bring more life and engagement to the CECBI library.

Romi on their bike, lent to them by teacher Jose Leon.

Guadalupe performing a song by Kevin Kaarl.

Though students started school in mid-January, I began my cooperant placement on February 5th. Since then, I’ve been orienting and observing the goings on and routines of the school, helping out with small projects like library organizing or farm workdays, and other special events. Walking with the school community and supporting in small ways has been helpful for me in getting clarity about some of the larger projects being requested from me, and the larger BTS organization, during my stay with FNE.

In a recent meeting with the FNE Director, Gloria and CECBI Principal, Olga, we worked through some objectives, protocols and first steps towards:

  1. Documenting and gathering evidence of FNE’s history and current situation and centralizing an archive;
  2. Supporting the FNE’s fundraising efforts through translation, documentation and outreach; and
  3. Working with the CECBI community to create feedback and consultation mechanisms for students and staff to inform school services and direction.

I’ll be sharing more with the BTS network about how all these projects go. In an effort to stay balanced, I’m going to keep my hands in the soil at the medicine garden outside the school’s clinic, jam on Wednesdays at the musical cafes, and keenly attend the variety of special events students participate in.

One such event was the commemoration of the Xococ massacre, where parents and grandparents of staff and students were assassinated by the Guatemalan government on February 13th, 42 years ago in 1982. Students in their final year prepared presentations to accompany the Mayan Ceremony held at the exhumation site, about an hour’s bus ride away. The entire student body attended.

The following day the students self-organized a ‘rally,’ where everyone got muddy and had a blast. The youth also held the staple Valentine’s Day high school dance, after changing out of their muddy clothes, of course.

I’m looking forward to keeping you all updated on a monthly basis about the goings on in this tremendous learning community, doing important political work with the youth of vibrant Rabinal, on Maya Achi territory.