Peacebuilding in prisons, improving education for indigenous children

– Article from our ISHR Newsletter (Edition Sep. 2018) – 

ISHR Guatemala is currently active in the development of two programs: Constructores de Paz (Peace Makers) and education for Mayan indigenous children. The Constructores de Paz program has been developed in prisons in Guatemala with the help of Confraternidad Carcelaria de Guatemala (Prison Fellowship of Guatemala). Trainings have been carried out to teach the leaders of prisons and schools how to implement the program.

Currently, 400 people have received training and work as volunteers in schools and prisons. ISHR Guatemala has received a donation of Constructores de Paz books and the cost of training. Of the ten trainings, three have been carried out in prisons, in which prisoners were trained in techniques for dialogue and peacebuilding within the prison campuses.

The penitentiary system in Guatemala has 22 prisons that house approximately 20,000 inmates. One of the most challenging problems that Guatemala faces is the fight against youth gangs, called “Maras” (e.g. MS-13). These gangs control organized crime in Guatemala and are very violent. The program has achieved training 400 imprisoned young Maras who took part in the Constructores de Paz course. Among the prisons are:

La Granja Canadá: This is a jail located 60 km from the capital in Escuintla. It has suffered from disturbances within the prison population. One of the major problems is that the jail is designed to house 600 prisoners, but there are currently 3,000 inmates. Among the inmates are murderers, kidnappers, rapists, and gang leaders. (“Paisas y cholos”). In 2015, there was a riot among the prisoners that was partly due to the extremely overcrowded conditions in which the prisoners live, as well as due to rivalry between gangs, leaving 17 dead.

Confraternidad Carcelaria de Guatemala and ISHR Guatemala have sought ways to help support peace between the prisoners and help them in their living conditions within the prisons. The Constructores de Paz program that has been very successful in helping to resolve conflicts without violence. In this prison, 40 inmates received training, who in turn trained other prisoners in the program. ISHR Guatemala gave the Constructores de Paz books to Confraternidad Carcelaria de Guatemala so that the program could be further developed in jail. Confraternidad officials hope that this program will help ease tension among prisoners.

Preventive Center for Men in Zone 18: This prison is located in the capital and was built to house 80 prisoners, but currently has approximately 600. Most of the inmates belong to rival gangs and the prison environment is very violent. Confraternidad Carcelaria de Guatemala asked us for the Constructores de Paz program to be developed in the prison center and the ISHR Guatemala gave a seminar to 60 prisoners and donated books for Peace Makers.

Maximum Security Prison of Guatemala: It was built for a maximum capacity of 960 inmates, but there are currently approximately 2,000 inmates located there. This prison is considered one of the most violent in Guatemala. Confraternidad Carcelaria de Guatemala began with the peace building training 200 inmates through the Constructores de Paz program so that these in turn train other prisoners to develop the program in prison.

Educational Program for indigenous areas

“No to discrimination”. ISHR Guatemala received a donation of 60,000 educational books for the rural-Mayan area of ​​Guatemala. The books are Alphabet and Fonetic Primer – Numbers, concepts and geometric figures.These books were donated to rural schools in the poorest areas and where the majority of children are indigenous Mayans. The projects were led by representatives of the ISHR Guatemala Maria Renee Bobadilla and Alexandra Marin.

Prepared by: Haydee Marin, ISHR Vice President Coordinator of the ISHR Latin America Committee