Peacebuilding in Guatemala

Friends Peace Teams (FPT) is a non-denominational organization promoting peace building, reconciliation and healing in conflict-torn regions. Founded on the Quaker values of peace and conflict resolution, Peacebuilding en las Americas, FPT’s initiative in Central America and Colombia, promotes non-violence through the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) and  healing workshops for victims of trauma.

FPT-Guatemala works to create venues for peace in a society that has been chronically immersed in violence. Guatemalans still bear the recent memory of a brutal civil war marred by human rights abuses and state-sponsored terror. Although peace accords signed in 1996 officially ended Guatemala’s civil war, its violent legacy remains. A powerful criminal cartel and weak institutions have emerged from the vestiges of the Civil War’s security apparatus, creating space for the development of a deteriorating security situation. Displaying one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America, Guatemala is trapped in a spiral of violence that is exacerbated by a cycle of impunity, gang violence, drug trafficking and political corruption.

Cycles of violence in Guatemala are politically charged and made worse by chronic poverty, historic marginalization of indigenous groups and a deep class divide. Given the complexity of Guatemala’s security situation, it is difficult to envision ways to break the cycle of violence. One approach that has shown signs of success is to target violence at the communal level through initiatives that provide communities with the necessary tools to address conflict through non-violent means. Peace within the family nucleus is conducive to peace within communities, which in turn may promote peace among communities.

Peacebuilding en las Americas-Guatemala employs the Alternatives to Violence Program to convert cycles of violence into cycles of cooperation and mutual understanding. Originally developed per request of long-term prisoners in the New York prison system, AVP is a series of workshops that  teach conflict resolution skills and community building. AVP sessions focus on four central pillars to promote non-violence: affirmation, communication, cooperation and creative conflict resolution. The highest level workshops train participants to serve as AVP facilitators in their own communities. The program empowers individuals by providing them with tools to make cooperation, mutual respect and peaceful resolution to conflict regular behaviors in their lives.

AVP was introduced to Guatemala as a response to the severe violence that has plagued the country. The focus here has been to conduct workshops and to train women as AVP facilitators. By training Guatemalans to facilitate sessions themselves, they can shape the workshops to make them culturally respectful and to meet the specific needs of their communities. Sessions are community-led, allowing for each community to develop its own approach towards peace.  AVP teaches participants to recognize their own ability to choose non-violence, to construct positive and peaceful relationships and to advocate for communal peace. Stories of successful implementation of AVP across the region pay testament to the benefits of harnessing the intrinsic good of people to achieve peace.

As the program continues to develop in Guatemala, new spaces are opening for AVP to evolve. New workshops are being developed to train youths in non-violence, and healing workshops for victims of trauma will be introduced within the next few months. As a volunteer for Peacebuilding en las Americas, I will be directly involved in the development and implementation of AVP sessions and workshops for healing from trauma. Additional tasks will address the organization’s immediate needs. Among these are assisting with the translation of AVP workshop manuals for youth from English to Spanish and working to create a stronger sense of continuity for trained facilitators, to ensure that they continue to use their peacebuilding skills long after training.