Welcome to Cotzal

Written by
FH staff writer
Published on
October 20, 2020 at 4:37:00 PM PDT October 20, 2020 at 4:37:00 PM PDTth, October 20, 2020 at 4:37:00 PM PDT

Tucked away in the remote valleys of north western Guatemala lies San Juan Cotzal. Its mountainous region and foggy, pine-forested slopes are home to a cluster of nine communities: Los Angeles, Tixelap, Quisis, Chichel Chisis, Santa Avelina, Ojo de Agua, Vichibala, and San Felipe Chenla. 

Predominantly an indigenous population, families have farmed and traded along Cotzal’s dales for possibly centuries. Their history and culture runs through intricately woven clothing, love of traditional music, spicy foods laden with chiles, and a distinct language–the Ixil language–that sounds nothing like the national language of Spanish. 

But behind the idyllic scenery and smiling faces, a history of trauma exists. The brutal civil war that spanned 36 years (1960-1996) and killed more than 200,000 people continues to disproportionately affect rural indigenous communities. Oppression and tragedy have families stuck in cycles of poverty. 

At the start of 2019, the communities of Cotzal rallied with FH and began their 10 year journey towards graduation from poverty. The first stages of partnership are patient ones; FH staff take time to listen and build strong relationships with leaders, teachers, parents, and pastors. 

These first steps are not glamorous–schools and water wells aren’t erected quickly, nor may be what’s actually needed–but these steps are foundational to stimulating change that will last. It’s about taking time to be unified over the right solutions. Together they identify what’s at the root of their poverty, focus on where they are strong, and form a plan for vibrant, resilient communities. 

So, get to know Cotzal! Families there are proud of their community and are excited for transformation as they begin their journey from stuck to thriving.

About San Juan Cotzal 

• 9 Communities: Chisis, Chichel, Los Angeles, Ojo de Agua, Quisis, Tixelap, San Felipe Chenla, Santa Avelina, Vichibala 

• 13,102 people 

• 1,785 children under 5 

• 3,921 school-aged children 

• 2,516 households 

• livelihoods: subsistence farming, day labour, weaving 

• common foods: corn, beans, peas, tomatoes 

• avg. daily temperature: highs 20-24°C, Lows 9-12°C

What do you like most about your community?

“I am thankful I was born in this beautiful community–we have land where we can grow our own food, and we fight to survive. God has blessed us because we harvest corn twice a year, we plant beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, oranges, sugar cane, peaches, custard apples and coffee–this is what I like about this beautiful community.” — Gaspar Gómez Córdova, Chichel

What do you love most about your country?

"I love that it is a country where there are people who are eager to move forward; that we have beautiful landscapes such as rivers, lakes, seas, waterfalls, and also different cultures and traditions." — Sebastian Cruz Pacheco, Vichivala

“I like to see the mountains—in the community we have some beautiful landscapes. But what I like the most is the unity and warmth in families.” — Andrés Pacheco Cruz, Chisis

What is a "normal" day like for you?

“Getting up every day, cleaning the house, preparing food, going to the field to collect some firewood and taking care of the children–that is our day to day. Sundays are usually when we can spend more time together as a family, preparing the food for Sunday lunch, and sometimes we going to nearby places, to have a little fun with the children.” — Ana Toma Rodríguez, Ojo de Agua

What is your biggest concern? 

"There are many people who are suffering, because there is no income for them, because in this moment of confinement they cannot go elsewhere to look for a job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has affected especially children because they no longer attend classes." — Jacinto Isaías Sajic, Quisis

What changes are you hoping to see now that FH is working in your community? 

"Mainly to understand that God created us with a purpose, and that we can work together for our community and be able to see a developed community, with educational opportunities and behavior changes." — Jacinto Isaías Sajic, Quisis

“The hope is that FH will share new ideas with us so we can learn to move forward together with our children and be able to discover God's plans for our lives. In addition I hope for support with some infrastructure projects for the benefit of our children and families.” — Teresa Chamay López, Tixelap

What are your hopes for the children and families? 

"That they develop well and fully in all areas; I don’t want more malnutrition in our community; I also dream that the youth can graduate at a university and become good professionals to help with the development of our community." — Hipólito Sambrano Córdova, Santa Avelina 

"My hope for the children is that they value themselves because there is a future in them. I do not want them to distance themselves from God because God is the best and for the families. I want them to value their children as an image and likeness of God, that is my desire.” — Ana Toma Rodríguez, Ojo de Agua

How can we pray for you? 

"Pray for the leadership, the pastors of the religious churches, families, for the youth, for our crops, and for our Cotzal people." — Sebastian Cruz Pacheco, Vichivala

Why they're stuck: 

Cotzal was dragged through a 36-year civil war, resulting in decimated communities suffering from a loss of culture and trust. 

• 76% of people suffer from chronic malnutrition 

• education for children is undervalued 

• 22% of students drop out or fail to move to the next grade 

• 64.5% literacy rate 

• agriculture produces low yields 

• women lack opportunity to save or earn an income 

• 2% of women participate in formal leadership 

• most families live on less than $140 per month 

• leadership lacks problem solving tools 

What opportunities they have:

Local FH staff are building relationships with local leaders, pastors, mothers, and farmers. There is a desire for change and willingness to try new things. 

• elementary schools in each community

• health centres in most communities

• fertile soil in a mild climate with frequent rain

• access to electricity

• active church communities

• strong network of mothers

• leaders are motivated to enact change

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