Tag Archives: Service-Learning

chimps & change & roots & shoots

This weekend I was in the presence of a living legend – Dr. Jane Goodall. My aunt sits on the board of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), so the family had the privilege not only of sitting in the second row at her Convocation Hall lecture on Friday night, but also of spending an afternoon with her at an intimate event at my grandparents’ home. I even had an opportunity to ask her a question – I asked about her choice of words – she always speaks of animals using the words “personality, mind and feelings.” I wondered about her conscious use of these three terms, and she answered that they are her way of pointing out the arrogance of humanity, her way of fighting against what the scientific establishment told her was wrong (use numbers not names for the chimpanzees, don’t attribute “human” emotions to these beasts, etc.).

What amazed me the most about Dr. Jane is how present she is, how she looks every person in the eye and answers their questions – particularly the questions asked by children in the audience – with sincerity and patience. Despite traveling 300 days a year, she never seems distracted or too busy to share a moment. This presence is something I will try to emulate in my interactions with my students.

Another thing I want to do as a teacher is start a Roots & Shoots chapter wherever I end up working next year. Here’s a cute video from explaining what Roots & Shoots does around the world, made by students who are part of a Roots & Shoots group in Delaware.

Last week the Huffington Post had a good interview with Dr. Jane.

I grabbed an autographed copy of her book, Harvest for Hope. Looking forward to reading what the good doctor has to say about food.


The Guatemala Project: student-driven social action

Social action is often discussed in high schools but rarely do schools undertake meaningful, sustainable, student-driven social action projects. The school where I did my student-teaching last November runs several exemplary social action projects, including The Guatemala Project. I sat in on several of their lunchtime meetings and was impressed with the students’ dedication – this project goes beyond selling beans.

The students work with the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), an organization whose mission is to promote the development of campesino communities in Guatemala. The organization promotes land reform, campaigns for human rights, and creates economic and educational opportunities for Guatemalan agricultural workers and their families. Canadian students involved with the Guatemala Project learn about the history of the Central American country and about the injustices that many Mayan campesinos face today. The students raise money for the CCDA by selling fair-trade, organic Cafe Justicia beans, and raise awareness by featuring speakers from the CCDA at school events. The Guatemala Project has sent groups of Canadian students to Guatemala to volunteer on service projects. The group also lobbies the Canadian and Guatemalan governments on behalf of activists being persecuted for their work.

…which brings me to the purpose of this post.  A former student of mine sent out an e-mail recently, urging Canadians to take action on behalf one of the CCDA’s leading activists. Please read the text of the e-mail below and, if you have a moment, copy the text of the letter into an e-mail and send it on to the addresses below.

For more on Cafe Justicia and the CCDA, check out this Rabble podcast: Cafe Justicia | rabble.ca or this video

URGENT: Social Injustice in Guatemala.
Take action now with our email campaign.

The UFA Guatemala Project has a long-standing partnership with an organization in Guatemala called the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA). The National Coordinator of the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), Leocadio Juracán, and his family have been forced to go into hiding following a series of threats against them in the past week.

Since May 1, 2008, the CCDA has denounced several acts of violence against the organization, and has yet to hear a response from the appropriate authorities.  On May 1, 2008, national coordinator of the CCDA, Leocadio Juracán Salomé, and other associates were threatened when the car they were driving in was shot at six times, following the signing of the Rural Development Framework Agreement with Alvaro Colom, the President of Guatemala.  In February, 2009, after a press conference where the CCDA criticized the Guatemalan State’s refusal to proceed with the draft of the Integrated Rural Development Law, the Coordinator received a death threat by phone. Most recently, following a series of actions at the national and international level to pressure the Guatemalan Congress regarding the Integrated Rural Development Law, in November, 2009 27 bags of green coffee were stolen from the CCDA (Café Justicia) processing centre in Cerro de Oro, Santiago Atitlan. These acts have all been reported to the National Civil Police, but to date, no investigation has been carried out.

Recent Attacks

On February 2, 2010, the Campesino Committee of the Highlands, (CCDA), as a member of the Labour, Indigenous and Peasant Movement of Guatemala (MSICG) presented the report: “Guatemala: The Price of Labour Freedom,” and denounced the numerous attacks and violence directed toward the labour, indigenous, and campesino sectors.  One week later, on the morning of Wednesday, February 10, CCDA staff became aware that 182 100-pound bags of coffee (worth approx. CAD$35,000) had been stolen from their processing centre during the previous night. The processing centre is where small coffee producers, and associates of the organization, sell their fair-trade coffee to the CCDA. The National Civil Police were immediately called.  Nonetheless, the Criminal Investigation Division did not arrive on the scene until five days later.  At the scene of the crime, a circle with cement blocks had been made.  In the middle of the circle half-full bottles of liquor and beer were left along with cigarettes that had been lit but not smoked.

In the days that followed the robbery, the CCDA, with the support of MSICG, publicly denounced the incidents both nationally and internationally. On Saturday, February 13, the CCDA received letters that threatened the National Coordinator of the CCDA, Leocadio Juracán, at both the coffee processing centre where the robbery had occurred, and at their office in the community of Quixaya. The same letter was received at both locations. Given the severity of the threats, and to ensure the physical safety of the Juracán family, Leocadio, his wife and children fled their home and took refuge near Guatemala City. On Sunday, February 14, another letter, written in a similar style, was left under the door of the house in Guatemala City where Leocadio’s daughter was living. The letter threatened both Leocadio and his daughter.  The letters and the coffee robbery are seen as attempts to destabilize the organization, weaken its base and debilitate the labour, indigenous and campesino movement. These acts are seen as a strategy to weaken the CCDA, through the destruction of its economic sustainability, Café Justicia, which is the source of income to strengthen its work in rural communities.


To: fdeleon@mingob.gob.gt; gmazariegos@pdh.org.gt; Ruth_delvalle@copredeh.gob.gt

Cc: leeann.mckechnie@international.gc.ca; ccda_cafe_justicia@yahoo.com


To Whom It May Concern,

I write this letter with great concern regarding the most recent attacks against the Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA), in particular the robbery of over 18,000 pounds of green coffee (café pergamino) and letters that have threatened the physical integrity of Leocadio Juracán, the National Coordinator of the CCDA and his family.  Since 2008, the CCDA has denounced attacks against its members and to date, no investigation has been carried out by the Public Prosecutors Office (Ministerio Público). Given the severity of the recent events, I strongly urge the Ministerio Público to fully investigate these crimes in order to arrest and prosecute the material and intellectual authors of these events.

I also strongly urge the appropriate State Authorities to ensure the life, safety and physical integrity of the leadership and associates of the CCDA be guaranteed, as well as all members of the Juracán family.

I strongly urge the Ministerio Público and the Ministerio de Gobernación, with the support of the PDH and COPREDEH, to investigate these acts against the CCDA, and the Juracán family, so that those defending human rights in Guatemala can work free of persecution and that aggressions against human rights defenders do not remain in impunity.


On behalf of the Guatemala Project and the CCDA thank you all for your support around this issue.