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Meeting genocide survivors in Guatemala

Lisa Naughten, a Trócaire supporter, shares her experiences of travelling with Trócaire to Guatemala in February to understand how support from Ireland makes a difference.  

genocide memorial

L: Memorial to indigeous people murdered in the 1980s in Guatemala. R: A vigil with candles to remember those lost.

During my trip to Guatemala the words of Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees wouldn’t leave my mind: “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”

One morning we went to a small town called Rabinal located in the area of Baja Verapaz in Guatemala. The local people are Achi Maya, indigenous people, who are a very marginalised and vulnerable section of Guatemalan society.

It was here that we met with a number of survivors of the 1980 – 1984 massacre, which claimed the lives of approximately 200,000 people.

I had not even been aware that there was a genocide in Guatemala. I felt so ignorant in the midst of these courageous, resilient and welcoming people, who are being supported through Trócaire’s programmes.

They each told their own story – how the violence has personally affected them and their continuous and arduous struggle for justice:

  • ‘I’m a survivor of La Laguna community. My husband was killed and I and other women were locked up and were constantly raped by the military. I am one of the 85 families affected from that community but we are still seeking justice.’ 
  • ‘I’m a survivor of the massacre and they took my son away from me. I am lucky enough that the bodies of my husband and son were found in a mass grave. I was forced to flee my community and was naked for three days in the mountains as we weren’t allowed back to the community. I have a scar on my heart still. I am really grateful for your support and I couldn’t have found my relatives if it wasn’t for you.’
  • ‘My story is very painful. In February 1982 my grandparents and my mother and brothers and sisters were killed. They haven’t been found yet in any of the mass graves. I am the only survivor. I was being shot at but didn’t die. The Gods must be looking after me.’ 

Although it was difficult to listen to their stories, I thought about how difficult it must be to deal with such trauma every day. I thought of my parents and sister at home and my beautiful nephews and how devastated I would be if something like that happened to any of them. And I wept. 

I cried for the survivors who are strong enough to tell their stories and who are so admirable in their fight for justice. And I cried for those who lost their lives.

Without Trocaire’s support and the support of their local partner ADIVIMA in Guatemala these people may never have found their relatives or had the opportunity to dignify the lives of their loved ones.  Families can continue the struggle of this fight for justice but they do not have to do so alone.

Trócaire and ADIVIMA are supporting families who are still looking for their loved ones. They are also providing the families with access to justice in the criminal courts. 

To this day excavations are still ongoing from mass graves so that families can get the bodies of their loved ones back.

I work for Human+Kind, an Irish skincare company that is committed to skincare with a conscience.

In our office often use the phrase ‘Be Human and Kind’, because this is the way we believe humanity should act towards one another and toward the environment.  

Because of this belief we’ve teamed up with Trócaire and developed a Limited Edition Handcream. It is made from the best natural Irish ingredients making it kind to animals, the environment and your skin. 50% of the proceeds of each tube sold will be donated directly to Trócaire. 

Part of our ethos at Human+Kind is that we strive for more than just great natural skincare products, we also want to provide a platform to make the world a better place. We hope our partnership with Trócaire will contribute to that. 

Check out www.humanandkind.com to purchase your cream. 

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