“We believe that every child should be able to grow up free to express their fullest self, with access to the resources and in possession of the capacities to contribute to their families, their communities, their countries, and our world.”
– Linda Smith, Reading Village Founder & Executive Director
General Efraín Ríos Montt only needed seventeen months to form a dictatorship and start genocide in Guatemala. According to the New York Times, from April 1982 to July 1983, General Ríos Montt murdered as much as 5.5% of the Maya Ixil Indigenous population. And that was only one year of a 36-year civil war. Despite these gross injustices and blatant abuses of power, Montt remained in Congress after his dictatorship ended. Upon his retirement in January of 2012, the trial against General Ríos Montt’s war crimes began. This past May, he was declared guilty – yet one week later the verdict was overturned. With every headline our hearts – the hearts that have long been enamored by Guatemala – were torn.
Most recently, this is how Guatemala has drawn international attention. While trials like this make the news on a very regular basis, there are many other facts of life that are missing, but no less unjust. Latest statistics suggest that the Mayan groups make up about 51% of the national population. We’ve known for a long time that at least 25% of Guatemala’s population is still illiterate, and that the figures are far worse for the indigenous majority. The fact of the matter is that illiteracy is a problem in Guatemala and needs more attention, even when genocides and ineffective judicial systems claim headlines.
As demonstrated by the trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt, impunity is the norm in Guatemala for those with power. Reading Village has dedicated our work to improving literacy rates in rural Guatemala and empower Mayan youth to strive for success. We want to shift those power dynamics. We want to empower the previously powerless. It may not make for a sexy headline, but illiteracy is still an international injustice. At Reading Village, we work every day to bring attention to the social dilemmas endured on a daily basis by the indigenous populations in Guatemala. By empowering youth to fulfill their own potential, they learn to lead their communities, believe in themselves, and not let those with perceived power cripple their capacity. That’s worth a headline.