In Guatemala, Students Learn to Cultivate Community Across Borders

In Guatemala, Students Learn to Cultivate Community Across Borders

At its core, the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness and Social Action is about connection. Whether it’s providing USD students with life-changing immersion experiences around the globe, or forming authentic and lasting relationships with communities here in San Diego, the center cultivates a deeper respect for the dignity and worth of all people, in all places.

“Our work is about establishing community-based programs; linking both students and faculty to what we call the wisdom that exists in communities,” says Mulvaney Center Assistant Director Maria Silva. “Every community, everywhere, has its own unique identity, and there is so much we can learn from just listening.”

Take, for example, a recent trip to the town of La Blanca in Northwest Guatemala. Developed as part of the Mulvaney Center’s border immersion program, the objective was to learn about the complex issue of immigration through the lens of the families and loved ones immigrants leave behind. Silva and her CASA colleagues have noted an increase in immigration from Central American countries to the United States, and identified La Blanca as an ideal case study of a community from which to base their research.

“La Blanca is situated on the border of Mexico, so it’s become part of the pathway from Central America to the U.S.,” Silva explains. “We wanted to get a better understanding of what issues are leading to these recent immigration patterns, and if there are sustainable solutions to those issues.”

With the help of a Guatemalan national currently residing in USD’s neighboring community of Linda Vista, Silva and a group of USD students were able to stay with a family living in La Blanca, and learn firsthand what types of struggles the community faces on a daily basis. Sadly, organized crime and gang-related violence are prevalent in La Blanca, and those issues, combined with the lack of economic opportunity, are the major push factors in driving people north.

“Many of the residents work on banana plantations, and the long hours coupled with the poor pay make it difficult to earn enough money for families to live off of,” Silva explains. “People need to find a way to put food on the table, which can make them more susceptible to crime elements in the area. It’s also the reason why families will head north to the U.S. to find work, and send money home to support their families.”

While the trip to Guatemala left an immediate and lasting impression on all who participated, Silva knows it’s not enough just to visit. Developing solutions to challenging socio-economic issues and helping communities move forward has been, and always will be priority one for the Mulvaney Center.

“We talked a lot with the student group about the reconciliation phase; taking the knowledge we were supplied and advocating for the community in any way we can,” she says. “The beauty of this work is establishing relationships. We’re not going to forget. We’re going to keep working since we were all transformed at such a deep level.”

— Mike Sauer

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