For the past 23 years, residents of Oberlin, OH--together with students, faculty and staff of Oberlin College--have organized the Santa Elena Project of Accompaniment, remaining steadfast in its mission to support education in the returned refugee communities of Santa Elena 20 de Octubre and Copal AA La Esperanza in northern Guatemala, in addition to providing support for accompaniers working to protect human rights defenders through NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with Guatemala). This year has brought remarkable challenges to this work in the form of the global novel coronavirus pandemic, however, our commitment to the communities we support and their commitment to education and their tireless advocacy for human rights has not wavered. In fulfilling our mission this year, we undertook the following activities:
Provided funding for educational infrastructure in Santa Elena and Copal AA: In May of 2020, SEPA provided funds in the amount of $2700 to Santa Elena for repairs to the schoolhouse’s leaking roof. We also provided $9000 to Copal AA to construct an addition to their community middle school (Instutito Basico Nuevo Amanecer), which will house their library and computer center. While the middle school is community-operated and does not receive any funding from the education ministry in Coban, the education ministry threatened to de-certify the middle school if on-site facilities for their computer center were not built. Despite already having serviceable a serviceable computer center at the school’s office building, the school board is seeking to cooperate with the educational ministry and construct new facilities for their computer center.
Provided salaries for three teachers in Copal AA’s community middle school: SEPA provided $13,436 in funds for the salaries of three of Copal AA’s middle school teachers. This amounts to roughly a third of the school’s operating costs. In the past two years, the school has been able to diversify its funding. In addition to funding from SEPA, it also receives some funds through Heather Dean’s direct fundraising efforts, as well as support from Appalachian State University, which is now sending delegations to Copal AA, in addition to funding from students’ tuition and fundraising conducted by parents of students.
Sponsored two accompaniers through NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala): SEPA sponsored two accompaniers this fiscal year, Tal Netter-Sweet and Nicole Estrada, both recent graduates of Oberlin College and Oberlin Students in Solidarity with Guatemala alumni. Through NISGUA, these accompaniers act as human rights monitors, providing a measure of protection to Maya human rights defenders who have been threatened due to their activism. This year, $3710 was provided in stipends, which funded nearly a year of in-country dissuasive presence provided by our human rights accompaniers.
Scholarships for Santa Elena students: Given that the government only funds an elementary school at Santa Elena, SEPA provides funds for students to continue their education past 6th grade by attending middle and high school in the nearest city. This year, $7,200 was provided in scholarships to students.
Stipend for Santa Elena school director and teachers: SEPA provided $2738 for ongoing training and related travel expenses for Santa Elena’s teachers, which has helped the government-funded elementary school attract additional monies for school programs.
All of these activities were made possible by your generosity: in supporting us through direct donations, attending the Annual Dinner (special thanks to Steve Volk for his talk at this year’s record-breaking dinner!), and offering your patronage to the SEPA stand at the farmer’s market. This coming year is sure to bring many challenges, as we wind down our Bed and Breakfast fundraiser and try to seek new ways to fundraise through the farmer’s market with a volunteer base that is largely in a high-risk category for Covid-19 and is currently unable to serve on a weekly basis in a public-facing role.
What we know is that your support is more crucial than ever.
Thank you for your support of Copal AA, Santa Elena, and the ties that connect us all.