Guatemala fabrics

Humane Education in Guatemala: IHE’s interview with Lidia Oxi, Vilma Saloj, and Hyungjoon Jin, IHE Graduate Student

Vilma Saloj, Hyungjoon Jin, Lidia Oxi at IHE’s shore

Lidia Oxi is a Mayan-Kaqchikel woman from Guatemala and is the first person in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. She is the High School Director of Colegio Impacto of the MAIA Organization (and serves on the MAIA leadership team); speaks Kaqchikel along with English, Spanish, and Chinese; and is the mother of four-year-old twins. Vilma Saloj is also a native Mayan woman from Guatemala. She is the middle school director at MAIA’s Colegio Impacto School, where she also teaches science. Hyungjoon Jin is a Korean American teacher, and a student in our graduate program, who moved to Guatemala in 2013 to teach and build an intentional community. This past June, Hyung contacted IHE to propose bringing Lidia and Vilma to our graduate residency week. Through the support of IHE board and staff, we were able to make this wonderful idea turn into a reality. It was a great gift to IHE and our graduate students that the three of them attended our humane education immersion. The residency group was profoundly inspired by the education of indigenous girls happening at Colegio Impacto, and we wanted to share their work with you.

IHE: Please tell us about your school in Guatemala. What makes it special?

Lidia and Hyung: MAIA is an organization run by local people and dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty by providing indigenous girls access to high-quality education. Our award-winning school, Colegio Impacto, is focused on supporting Mayan girls to reach their potential. From designing and developing our own curriculum to providing a mentorship program, MAIA invests in the lives of the girls both short-term and long-term. 

IHE: You attended IHE’s graduate residency week in June. Were there things you learned that you plan to bring to your students this year?

Lidia: I really enjoyed learning to think in a solutionary manner, leverage change, and think outside the box for innovation. I am able to see a broader picture now. Guatemala has many problems, so now my strategy is to ask what will have the most positive impact and outcome. This is very important for our students.

Vilma: We are now applying systems thinking tools, role-playing, and solutionary practices at our school.

Hyung: One of the core competencies that we strive to instill in students is critical thinking. We have been working with various systems analysis tools with the educators, including the “assessing solutions on a solutionary scale” rubric that we learned at residency. 

IHE: What are some of the issues that your students face, and how might learning to be a solutionary help them and the entire community?

Lidia: Students face a lack of resources, time, and money; discrimination, racism, and classism in Guatemala; and malnutrition and health problems. We want the girls to develop critical thinking skills for decision-making and understand the root causes of the problems that they face, knowing that while there are things we cannot change immediately, our efforts must be developed in a solutionary way, and that we have a responsibility to make decisions that will benefit animals and the environment as well.

Vilma: It is not enough for students to do “projects.” They must learn to think in a solutionary way and become innovators. The IHE methodology is helping us do this with our students. 

Twins in Solutionary tshirts

Lidia Oxi’s twin daughters in their solutionary t-shirts

IHE: Hyung, in addition to your work at the school, please tell us about the intentional and sustainable community you are building.

Li’an juyu’ was founded with the intent to live off-grid with minimal negative impact on the environment; to serve as an example of alternative possibilities in architectural practices that have lower environmental and social impact at costs similar to conventional methods; to be a home for people living as sustainably and regeneratively as possible; to provide space for workshops and retreats for humane educators, teachers, artists, and musicians; to partner with local universities to provide a research facility for local/native species forestry, reforestation science, as well as sustainable architecture and agriculture; and to have an education center for educators and youth. 

Multiple solar panel systems provide basic electric needs. A 28-meter well was excavated early in the project and supplies all of the water needs. The black and gray water are treated on-site and used to regenerate the soil. A 20-square-meter tiny house, where I live, is made of bamboo and collects rainwater that is used in both construction and gardening, and there is also a cabin with a composting toilet that was built out of reclaimed wood. Currently under construction are the yoga deck/multi-purpose area, communal kitchen, and an Earthship-style dormitory, with a green sedum roof and walls made of recycled tires, that will house six guests when completed. 

In 2020, we’ll add a communal bathroom with two toilets, two showers, and two sinks. We are in the process of putting in a food forest, as well as using various permaculture practices and fungi cultivation, to maximize food production. 

In order to ensure that the local community benefits, long-term members must commit to a minimum of fifteen hours per week to volunteer or work at  NGOs or social entrepreneurships that support marginalized groups in the areas of education, housing, health, and/or food security.