Update from Guatemala – Monday, 9/5/2015 @ 11 p.m.
Rabbi Englander's Blog

Update from Guatemala – Monday, 9/5/2015 @ 11 p.m.

To begin a short post tonight, as it is late and the end of a long day, the first thing to note is that it was our first full day with the extraordinary president of AJWS, Ruth Messinger, who joined our group and will be here for the rest of the trip. Every interaction with Ruth is informative and most are also inspiring. She is a font of information and a model of passion for her important work and real-world (and sometimes New York style hard-nosed) compassion for those organizations AJWS helps to fund in the developing world. We happened to be together in a small group with representatives of the grantee we met with today, and it was an instruction manual entry in leadership. And today is Ruth’s 17th anniversary working with AJWS – mazal tov! All of the AJWS staff with the trip, those in-country and those travelling from abroad, are simply great.

We began the morning sharing stories of self, telling what and who inspires us to spend some time doing this work. Many stories were as beautiful as they were personal, and it was a group-bonding experience as well as a teaching moment. We met with AJWS grantee Red de Jovenes, a group that is so far away (multiple hours by car, I forget how many) that they had to stay overnight in Guatemala City to make the meeting. The organization does exceptional work to educate and empower women. Though the stories shared were many, one thing said sticks with me these hours later. Before the organization made inroads into their community, women simply accepted not being listened to and even being coerced and abused in so many ways as what was normal. Through these local advocates (and they are all local) they have learned that it is not only not ‘normal’, but that it is not acceptable. It is a long road to travel, and often a difficult one. Going from being told that “your ideas simply don’t count” to taking on leadership and activist roles and for some even running for office does not happen easily or quickly. But thanks to these brave and inspiring women, it is happening even in some of the outlying areas of the country.

I learned just how outlying when we had our first cultural excursion. Did you know that the largest 3D relief map of any country in the world (that is to say, a physical representation of a country in map form) is in Guatemala and is of Guatemala? Neither did I! The parallel many rabbis mentioned is the model of ancient Jerusalem at the Holyland Hotel. It is much larger than that – hundreds of feet in length and width, with even the mountains and volcanoes represented to scale. There are 30 foot high viewing towers so the full scope can be appreciated. Each town is labelled so we could see where we were and where we are going tomorrow and for the rest of the week.

We went to the central square, an open area flanked by the National Palace (today the National Palace for Culture) and the National Cathedral of Guatemala. I have pictures (for another time). We also had some shopping time in a local market – some did more damage than others. Perhaps most interesting is that the grantees from the morning program joined us on our small bus for the tour of the national square – for some it was their very first time there! I hope they felt that making the trip was worth their while – it certainly meant a great deal to us.

Quote of the day, from our local guide (nickname: Rambo – no joke – and as ex-Guatemalan special forces, and someone who did multiple training stints of undetermined content in Israel – it fits!) – when someone on the bus thought he misplaced something, Rambo said: “Nothing gets lost in Guatemala. It only changes ownership!”

Good night/good morning from Guatemala City.