Proyecto Lingüistico Quetzalteco de Español
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Since 1988, the non-profit Proyecto Lingüístico Quetzalteco de Español (PLQE) has provided socially responsible Spanish language studies in the highland city of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Quetzaltenango (more commonly called Xela, pronounced "Shay-la") is Guatemala's second largest city and is located in the heart of the Sierra Madre mountains, 2,330 meters (7,652 feet) above sea level. The Santa Maria volcano (3,772 meters tall) watches over the town. Days are warm and breezy, and evenings are cool, becoming chilly during the winter months between December and February.

Queltzaltenango is characterized by colonial-era buildings, quiet parks, plazas, open-air markets, and narrow stone-paved streets. It is the home of four universities, several technical schools, a sports complex, and a municipal arts theater, as well as several Latin American poets, painters, and writers. The Quetzaltecos, or residents of Quetzaltenango, who are a warm, friendly people, provide unlimited opportunities for students to pratice their Spanish.

Xela central plaza

PLQE is located in Zona 1, on 5a Calle, a short walk from the Parque Central. In Zona 1, there are numerous restaurants, bars, cafes and internet centers--in short, everything you need to relax, meet people, and stay in touch with your friends and family back home. There are two alternative cinemas in town which feature a range of English and Spanish language movies. Further out of the center are two larger markets, and even a few shopping malls and mainstream movie theatres.

There are plenty of things to do within easy reach of Quetzaltenango. Perhaps the most famous destination--and deservedly so--are the Fuentes Georginas, a wonderfully relaxing set of volcanic hotsprings set in a mountainous rainforest. Those who want to soak longer than an afternoon may stay the night in one of the bungalows near the hotsprings. Zunil, a town at the foothills of the volcano that feeds the Georginas, is famous for its devotion to the Mayan/Catholic deity Maximon, or San Simon, who spends a year at a time in local homes, receiving gifts of alcohol, cigarettes and lit candles in exchange for favors. The town also features a woman-run weaving cooperative. On the other side of Quetzaltenango is the pueblo of Salcaja, renowned for its textile production and for its Cathedral, the oldest in Guatemala. A bit further off is the Laguna de Chicabal, a beautiful nature reserve and lake nestled in temperate forests. Apart from these commonly visited sites, PLQE also arranges weekly trips to places of cultural and social interest, such as the community radio station in Santiago de Atitlan, or centers of traditional medicine located in outlying villages.

Escuela de la Montaña
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Placing an emphasis on human rights and social justice, La Hermandad Educativa has developed and supported projects in rural communities and with grassroots organizations using funds generated by the success of the Spanish school in Quetzaltenango. In an effort to expand their work among indigenous and campesino communities, La Hermandad started a small Spanish language school in the rural area outside the town of Colomba in the spring of 1997.

The area surrounding Colomba, located about an hour and fifteen minutes from Quetzaltenango, is the home of large coffee plantations, or fincas, which produce the "mountain grown" coffee that is one of Guatemala's major exports. The finca workers are usually landless campesinos who earn less than four dollars per day, without job security or the legally required labor benefits. Increasingly, finca owners are finding it more advantageous to eliminate their permanent workforce and replace them with contracted workers who have no entitlement to housing, education or other amenities on the finca. The daily work assignments are also increasing, which means that a "days work for a days pay" actually means two or three days work for a days pay. Laborers in Guatemala who attempt to organize are blacklisted, threatened, or even killed. Many communities have been displaced from the fincas, losing their jobs and homes.

A typical night at the mountain school. Students are gathered in the kitchen studying.

The community of Nuevo San José, where the Escuela de la Montaña is located, is community of campesinos who lived and worked for generations on a nearby finca. The people are Mam-speaking Mayans descended from migrant workers who originally lived in the highlands outside Quetzaltenango. After years of struggle against an owner who refused to pay the salaries owed to his workers, the community won their back wages and benefits. Twenty seven families pooled their resources and with assistance from the Catholic parish in Colomba, purchased land to start a new community in 1993.

Since then, the people of Nuevo San José have purchased two springs and installed a potable water system, built a school, started a childcare center, bought a building to serve as their church, built basic block houses, and dug a drainage system with funding from the Spanish Red Cross. Meals and celebrations are a means of learning about the reality of life for rural campesinos, most of whom are wage workers on neighboring coffee plantations and who suffer from under and unemployment and live in destitute poverty. A poor educational system and lack of financial resources to attend school has resulted in illiteracy rates as high as 80% for women.

In June of 2001, the school received new neighbors when 18 organized families founded the community, Fátima. Like Nuevo San José, Fátima relocated to the area after a bitter labor struggle on the finca where they had previously lived. After being forced to work at times 18-hour days for less the Q18, a group of workers organized in 1996. The workers were fired and black-listed as labor organizers and instigators, denying them of work in the region. The owners deprived those who remained on the finca during the legal proceedings of water, firewood and closed the doors of the primary school to their children.

After failing to break the union during 5 years of retaliations and unemployment through blacklists, the owners finally agreed to a settlement providing back wages and benefits to the workers. Some of the families in the union decided to settle in a community together and bought the land where they now live from the Catholic Church. That same year, they built houses with help from a housing program linked to the Church in Quetzaltenango. However, Fátima continues to face challenges in developing their community as their houses still lack electricity and indoor plumbing.

The Escuela de la Montaña are easily accessible by bus from Quetzaltenango, and only a short walk off the main road. The two and a half acre grounds of the school include a steep ravine planted in the traditional cash crop of coffee; an organic vegetable garden; a small medicinal plant garden; banana, orange and peach trees; a fish pond; three barns housing chickens; a large barn that accommodates meetings, assemblies and training sessions; a fertilizer-producing latrine; a meditation house; and two houses for students, visitors and staff.

Escuela de la Montaña. See testimonies from former students at the Mountain School here.

Classes are taught under palm-thatched shelters on the grounds. And there is still room to roam. Prospective students should be aware that they will also face some of the challenges of rural living. The closest market and email is in Colomba, twenty minutes away by vehicle. The closest telephone is in a tienda in Nuevo San Jose. Nevertheless, the bright stars and brilliant moon make up for the lack of "city night-life"!

In July of 2000, both the community and the Escuela de la Montaña received a mostly dependable supply of electrical power. Flashlights are still recommended!


Next door to PLQ we have the Luis Cardoza y Aragon Popular Center.
This center provides classes in art, music, computer programs and English to children of Quetzaltenango...
Proyecto Reforestación de Cantel
Many hands have left a caring imprint on that small piece of land near Cantel, and already the effects are already evident...
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