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How much do you know about Chajul?

We’re guessing very little! Chajul is one of three Maya Ixil villages in the Department of Quiché. Steeped in the indigenous Maya tradition, it’s people are known for their longstanding defiance to outside influences, their close ties to the land and corn, and their beautiful red textiles woven by both men and women. Chajul has the distinction of being one of the last communities to hold out against the Spanish conquistadores in the 1500’s. They are smart, tough, and fiercely independent. They have fought hard for their indigenous rights and they have suffered for 500+ years from the prejudice and dominance of Spanish and Guatemala Ladino governments. 

exhumed skeleton

Survivors and Their Children

Chajul was one of the communties most impacted by Guatemala’s historically very recent 36 plus year civil war. Members born before the peace accords (signed in 1996) experienced years of unprecedented violence, large scaled massacres, starvation, and razing of entire villages. The people here have lived through things most of us can never even imagine; many alive in the community today have these incredibly traumatic memories of the Civil War, from living in daily fear for their lives to having to watch or do terrible things.

Almost half of the community fled from the government’s lethal army, hiding in the rugged mountains and high jungles or fleeing to Mexico throughout the conflict. Neighbors were forced to kill one another. These experiences continue to weigh heavy on the shoulders of the survivors and their children. In a large part because of this, alcoholism is rampant as is domestic violence and sexual violence against women and children. Suicide is not uncommon.

While rich in cultural Maya heritage, even now 93% of Chajulenses live under the line of poverty (less than $2USD/day income). Chajul continues to be primarily an agrarian society – growing corn, coffee, and subsistence crops that are efficient often only enough to feed their family. Today, the community is plagued by inadequate education and health and social services. Despite somewhat improved opportunities for children to attend school past the 2nd grade,  literacy remains low. Chajul further suffers from common preventable health concerns such as respiratory illness, intestinal disease, tuberculosis, malnutrition, and death during childbirth. Malnutrition and diarrhea continue to be the main reasons for childhood death. 

Education in Chajul

The Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t the first time this community experienced a halt in education. Because schools were shut down for extended periods of time during the Civil War, the majority of adults have a second grade education or less. More opportunity for schooling exists now, but only 11% of students graduate from middle school and only 3% graduate from high school. Out of those small percentages, less than 50% of them are girls (Limitless Horizons education report). Even when youth are lucky enough to graduate from high school or even college, there is no infrastructure for work, leaving most young people unemployed and discouraged. More children would like to attend school, but their families cannot afford the costs of school uniforms and tuition and oftentimes need their children to work alongside them in their fields.

curious girl looks into camera

Supporting Human Rights, Education, and Social Services

Despite these challenges, the Maya Ixil proudly display their Ixil heritage through their actions and words. There are high hopes that life will improve and that they will be integral members of Guatemalan society. Mundo Exchange has been working with the Maya Ixil for over 25 years, often with our volunteers, and partnering with local NGOs who value and actively work on projects supporting human rights, education, and social services. We work closely with local community leaders who guide our projects and ensure that we are doing work that will make a long-lasting and positive difference for children and their families.