Esperanza’s father hid under the drooping limbs of a full avocado tree and watched as the army set fire to his home; it burned down, his father—Esperanza’s grandfather—trapped inside. Today, like most of his generation in Chajul, he’s deeply scarred by the trauma he suffered. He looks for odd jobs here and there, and Esperanza’s mother makes a bit of money selling snacks in the market, but the family struggles to make ends meet. Fifteen-year-old Esperanza dreams of becoming a music teacher who can support her family and help repair her community. As a girl graduating from middle school, she’s already breaking social conventions to make her dreams come true.
Chajul’s history is the context for our work: genocide, trauma, and a lack of educational opportunity. Limitless Horizons Ixil is an organization born in response to this struggle.
People and History
Chajul is a stunning town nestled in the rural highlands of Quiché, one of Guatemala’s 22 geographic departments. Its population is Maya Ixil, an indigenous group that inhabits the three counties of the Ixil region and was the target of genocide during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. The war officially ended with the 1996 Peace Accords, but the struggle to recover continues today. Learn more about the war here.
Chajul remains impoverished and deeply scarred by the violence of the war. The community is limited by many barriers to economic and community development, including political marginalization, physical distance from city resources, a lack of affordable and quality schools, and few professional opportunities. The area is also linguistically isolated, as many adults speak solely their Ixil language, only understood within a 45-minute radius of the town’s center, and lack Spanish skills needed to communicate outside the area.
Chajul is primarily a subsistence farming community in which 93% of residents live in poverty and families struggle to feed themselves on an average income of $2 per day. Many families live in one-room homes with a dirt floor where they cook on an open fire. Smoke gets trapped in the home, leading to respiratory illness. Without clean water, families struggle to stay healthy. The local diet consists chiefly of corn; the clapping sound of tortillas being made is ubiquitous throughout town.
During the war, local schools were used as military bases, and new schools were not built in Guatemala. Studying was not the priority when survival was at stake. As a result, Chajul’s adults have an average of 2.5 years of formal education. Many new schools in Guatemala have been built since the war’s end, but it takes time to improve the quality of schools, cultivate an appreciation for the importance of education, and develop the economy to support a more educated workforce.
Most students in Chajul drop out after elementary school to support their mothers at home or their fathers in the fields, because of the cost of tuition (even for public school) and the opportunity cost of attending school. Others fail their classes because they cannot pass their exams in Spanish. Even today, about 11% of all youth in Chajul graduate from middle school.
And yet, Chajul is a community of survivors. Adults have been working hard since the war—in the fields, in the home, around town doing odd jobs—to take advantage of any opportunity to help their families get ahead.
Today’s youth grew up in the shadow of the war and are ready to step outside of it. The youth of Chajul aspire to learn, to imagine, and to create—to be the ones who will repair and rebuild their families and their community. Children, especially girls, are starting to attend school at greater rates, and an increasing number are graduating from high school and finding gainful employment or even going on to university in nearby cities with plans to become the teachers, engineers, lawyers, and agronomists.
No matter what they choose to do, they will transform their community.