Radio Work with Rural Youth in Guatemala by Lisa Maya Knauer

December 29, 2011

From a Blog by Lisa Maya Knauer
Rural youth
One of my goals recently has been to involve a group of young people in the work of the radio station. There is a newly formed organization in Chichicastenango called El Red de Jóvenes de Iximileuw con Consciencia Social (the Network of Young People of Guatemala -- Iximileuw is the original name of the country in K'iche' -- with a social conscience). I have met with them on several occasions and attended some of their events, and they have impressed me (at least the ones with whom I have spoken at some length) with their dedication and their energy. They are all from rural areas in the municipality of Chichicastenango; it still takes a bit of effort for me to make the distinction. When someone says to me that he or she is from Chichicastenango, I have to stop myself from assuming that means they are from the town proper. Chichicastenango means the entire municipality (the equivalent of a township in the U.S.) which includes 86 communities, and a pretty sizeable geographical area that stretches down to touch the Panamerican highway south of Los Encuentros (the major "intersection" where the Panamerican veers off west to Xela and beyond, and the more minor highway that leads through the department of Quiché starts.

Since meeting the young people, I have wanted to involve them in the work of the radio. We have been struggling to find volunteers, and we have not been that successful. No one lives right around the station, most of the women who are part of the women's associations that form the base of Ixmukané live in rural communities, have several children, and either cannot or will not travel unless their expenses are paid. So it's been an uphill climb and very frustrating. When the Red de Jóvenes was founded, or rather when it floated across my field of vision, I thought they would be excellent candidates to work in the radio because they are very passionate, and doing community radio, I am convinced, requires a kind of fire in the belly about communicating one's message to the world that I have not seen among the women of Ixmukané. This is something that has struck me about the founders of the several radio stations that I have visited -- they all founded radio stations because they had an almost desperate need to get their message out to the world, to make their voices heard. I have not seen that same sense of urgency among the women in the local women's associations who make up the base of Ixmukané, nor among the staff. They all like the idea of the radio, some think that it is important, but no one seems to have a sense of urgency about it. That's my observation based on nearly 8 months of working with the radio.

So the young people from the Red de Jóvenes seemed to have that passion and intensity that was lacking. I have been trying to figure out how to get them involved in the radio; the chief obstacle was the distance they would have to travel, since the radio was in Santa Cruz, half an hour by bus from Chichicastenango (and that would mean getting from their rural communities to Chichicastenango to get the bus). The radio doesn't have a budget, so we could not promise them bus fare. And so things stood -- they were interested but the logistics and economics were against us. The interest of the young people was part of what inspired me to make a strong argument about 10 days ago to the director of Ixmukané about why I thought we should move the radio to Chichicastenango. If the radio were in Chichi, then it would be more possible for the young people to get there and do programs on a regular basis. We only have had two people at the radio in the past month or two, and one of them is me, and I am leaving. Well, we have one group of volunteers who do a program once a week, and my friend Caterino had been interested in taking a regular spot on the radio, and had come in a few times to fill in when we needed help, but that wasn't enough.

So once Doña Mary had taken the decision to move the radio to Chichi (we just moved the equipment inside the station; we haven't dismantled the tower yet and have not figured out a new locale for the radio), I contacted Lucelio and Mario, the two leaders of the Red de Jóvenes who had been most interested in the radio, to let them know and also to try and push for a training session before I leave. Not because I am the most qualified to do a training session on radio (with the exception of the two training sessions I attended in San Mateo, which mostly focused on making radio spots, and also some education on human rights and sexual and reproductive rights, I have not had any formal training in radio, and before starting to work with Radio Ixmukané in April, it had been years since I had been on the air -- probably about 16 years ago was when I did my last broadcasts at WBAI). But I have the freedom to make my own schedule and I have a lot of experience in teaching and leading meeting, and I have the urgency and determination to make it happen. I am very passionate about community radio; I do feel as though I am on a mission to make our radio happen, to make it viable and make it a success. I've probably internalized this too much -- taken it too deeply to heart and have invested too much emotionally in it. I realize that it is not "my" radio, but I also recognize that because I am not bound in the same way that rural women or Ixmukané employees are, I can make a certain contribution. I've had the opportunity, because I am "free" to travel around the country and to do what I want, within reason, to participate in the community radio movement, visit other radio stations, and get more of an overview of the challenges and possibilities at a national level.

And so I have been determined to find ways to get other people involved in Radio Ixmukané. I pushed the young people from the Red de Jóvenes and we finally agreed upon the date of December 26 for a training session, and I put together a brief outline. In the meantime, Lucelio, the person with whom I've had the most contact (since he attended the last training session/workshop on sexual and reproductive rights in San Mateo, together with me, and we had time to talk in the car on the way back), had been asking me to come visit the community where he lives, Semejá. I realized that it was important to him, but wasn't sure when I would be able to do it. We had a meeting about a week and a half ago (I am now losing track of exact dates) that I thought was going to be a training session but only Lucelio and Mario came so we used the time to plan the training session that took place yesterday, and I was saying that I wanted to take a temescal (a traditional Maya sauna) before I left and Lucelio said, "Come to my house today and my mother will make you one." I said that I couldn't but that we could do it the day of the training session.

And so yesterday, December 26, after spending several hours working with a group of 7 young people (4 men, 3 women), giving them a basic orientation on media, radio and how to develop a program, Lucelio, his brother Alvaro and I set off in my pickup for me to have my temescal and visit their home. It wasn't until we had turned off the highway and started towards their home that I realized fully, empirically, how much effort they have to expend to get to Chichicastenango for meetings and how much it has taken for both of them to finish high school and "sacar un título" (literally, "get a title" or "get a certificate", meaning receive a diploma). Their community is up in the hills off the highway that leads between Chichicastenango and Los Encuentros, and while a small part of the road is paved, it is mostly dirt. And not just dirt, but deeply rutted and grooved washboard that climbs around hills, hanging closely to the slopes. There are several places, around some tight curves, where the road has been eroded by the rains and is barely wide enough for a car to pass, and there is no guard rail or any kind of protection that would prevent one's car from plunging off the cliff into a ravine or valley if one skidded, for example. I have driven on a lot of sketchy roads, but this was one of the sketchiest - if not the sketchiest. I don't scare easily (if I did, I wouldn't be able to move around Guatemala the way I do) and I wasn't frightened, but I did not feel that I could let my attention flag for one split second.

While we drove, Lucelio told me that he and his brother were two of the only four people in the community who had finished high school (and one of the other two is a cousin) and that most people did not even finish sixth grade. He had done his practice teaching in the community the year before (he graduated with a degree in teaching -- here, you can teach elementary school with only a high school education if you take a specialized course in teacher training), and said that only 15 had graduated sixth grade, and this year only 11. The community only offers education up to sixth grade, and in order to continue his education he had to go elsewhere, which meant walking two hours each way to school (I now don't remember if that was for junior high school or high school). He said that school ended at 6 p.m. and then he would have to walk two hours back in the dark along this very rough road. Some stretches are pretty desolate-looking, although he assured me that people in the community kept watch out for robbers and delinquents and there were not many attacks. We passed people standing on a bridge over a small brook, surrounded by small heaps of dirt dotted with orange. I thought they might be road workers or those might be leftovers from firecrackers, but then Lucelio said "This is what people do here, they cultivate carrots and other vegetables and come here to wash them." I didn't stop to take pictures, except of their home, in part because I was anxious about getting there in a reasonable amount of time. I had not decided whether I would stay the night or try to leave after the temescal, as I had planned to spend the following day -- that is, today - at Estereo Ixchel, the community radio station in Sumpango, starting in the early morning. I had wanted to arrive at Estero Ixchel during the early morning program (6-8 a.m.) so I could watch as much of the broadcast day as possible, and also because the person who does the early morning slot, Valentín, is one of the founders. We have developed a kind of friendship, mostly through online chats and messages, as we have only met in person a few times, but I have long wanted to interview him, and since he is a farmer, he leaves right at 8 and spends the rest of the day in the fields, with the only time off being Sunday afternoons, and so the only way for me to talk with him was to come to the radio station.

We finally bumped up the last curve and they told me, "That's our house," so I pulled over. It is nestled on a gentle slope below the road surface, and we carefully climbed down a pretty steep dirt path with my suitcase and backpack (the former in case I decided to stay).

Their father works at the first gas station that one encounters after turning off onto RN-15 at the Los Encuentros interchange, about a kilometer or less along the road. Their mother stays at home and tends to the house and, undoubtedly, the fields as well, although they do not have a large area of cultivation. I met the father at the gas station (we went to Los Encuentros first so Lucelio could pick up some things he needed for his small business, and stopped at the gas station to use the restroom and so I could be introduced to their father; he was still at the gas station when I passed through around 7 in the evening, so I don't know when he comes home or how he gets there. Lucelio told me that the tuk-tuk drivers charge 15 Q from the highway to their home, each way, and that would be a large sum of money for someone of modest means.

Theirs is a small family, by Guatemalan standards: 4 children. Neither of the parents completed primary school but were determined for their children (at least the sons) to study: there is an older daughter, but she is married and I am not sure whether she lives with her natal family or her husband's family and did not get to ask how far she had gone in her studies.

Lucelio and Álvaro both seemed very pleased by my visit; I am not trying to claim that I have done anything all that special, but I have learned that is very significant for people in rural areas, in communities that have been marginalized, ignored and forgotten, when one comes to visit in their homes. I was going to say, "when one makes the effort", but really, my effort in driving my car along that road was so much less than what Álvaro and Lucelio do nearly every day to get to school or to work or to a meeting. I was chatting online with a friend in the U.S. about class politics, and noted that I am acutely aware of the importance of class, or the intersection of class and race, spending time in the predominantly Maya, predominantly rural highland communities of Quiché. There is a world of difference between my living situation even in one of the smallest towns in the department, as I live in the center of town and even if I didn't have a car, I would only have to walk two blocks to catch an inter-city bus, and the situation of Lucelio and Álvaro, who would have to walk two hours to get the same bus.And so, once again, I am thoroughly humbled by my friends, and what they do as part of their normal routine, and their determination to try and do something for their community, and their people more generally.