GuatemalaLand of Eternal Spring
Chajul has the distinction of being one of the last communities to hold out against the Spanish conquistadores in the 1500s. They are smart, tough, and fiercely independent.
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 1500s. 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 Guatemalan Ladino governments.
Chajul was one of the communities most impacted by Guatemala’s 36 plus years of 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. 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.
While rich in Maya heritage, 93% of Chajulenses live under the line of poverty.
While rich in cultural Maya heritage, 93% of Chajulenses live under the line of poverty (less that $2.00/day income). Chajul continues to be primarily an agrarian society, growing corn, coffee, and subsistence crops that are sufficient often only 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 rates are 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. Alcoholism is rampant as is domestic violence and sexual violence against women and children. Suicide is not uncommon.
Because schools were shut down 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 (even less for 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 need their children to work alongside them in their fields. 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 volunteers have been working with the Maya Ixil for over 25 years, partnering with local NGOs working on projects that support 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.