Amaranth: Seeds of learning

By Sophie Lavoie

The BTS delegation started off May 7th with a lovely breakfast of what would come out to be a fitting symbol for the day, the cooked leaves of the amarynth plant.

As a hearty breakfast was distributed to the still sleepy members of the group on the patio of Qaachu Allum, a seed saving organization, Lisa explained that amarynthe was an ancient grain of the Mayan people that was thought to nourish the brain and make people smarter. Its cultivation was left aside when the Spanish arrived to the area, in favour of corn, which made people strong, and able to work.

The return to its cultivation by the Mayan peoples of the Rabinal area is a revolutionary act and a return to the indigenous traditions of over 500 years before.

The group was later on that morning informed of the way the amaranth is cultivated in the New Hope Foundation School. Standing along the rows of the tall beautiful bright purplish-red plant, the students cultivating the plants told the group the detailed process of how they had learned to grow the plant from seed. The students were proud to show off the seeds of their labour, which very literally would be ripe for the picking in another two weeks.

Dressed in their school uniforms, the students had performed a dance considered a UNESCO World Heritage dance and offered up a plethora of local delicacies for members of the delegation, including amaranth cookies. Sandra, the director of the New Hope Foundation and the director of the school, Don Alvaro, had previously detailed some of the successes and challenges of the school in its work. The students’ enthousiasm and their good cheer hinted at their wellbeing, as they joked and laughed amongst themselves while snacking.

In the afternoon, the seeds of learning continued as the delegation met with Jesus Tecu Osorio at his law office in Rabinal. There, Jesus explained the history of the law office and its many causes, including bringing to justice those physically and ideologically responsible for the Guatemalan genocide of the Mayan people in the eighties, the defense of the Mayan’s right to land access and their environmental stewardship, the cases of sexual and intimate partner violence (both present and during the genocide) and the everyday matters the office deals with. They are all doing amazing work!

Jesus then took the delegation to the Rabinal cemetery to show where his community had “planted” monuments to remember the too numerous massacres that had happened in the Rabinal area, including the massacre in Rio Negro, of which he is a survivor. These commemorative monuments hold both the remains of the dead (mostly excavated from their original graves found in the nineties) and the memory of the process that lead to their fatal outcomes (both literal -paintings and words- and figurative).

Jesus and Sandra joined the delegation for dinner that night at a local Rabinal restaurant to celebrate long life for the New Hope Foundation and life-long learning.

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