THE AFRETLAIN CENTRE
The Afretlain Education Centre is the home of the dream and AMOR´s programmes in Guatemala. The Centre will be built on the foundations of 24 years of history. Above all, it will be built in the name of the 115 children who perished in the Chiul well massacre, and of all the victims of the indigenous holocaust in Guatemala.
The Afretlain Education Centre is a school for indigenous orphans and vulnerable children which will also serve as an Adult Training Centre in the K´iche´ Mayan village of Chiul in Guatemala. Chiul is a war-devastated area where only one in ten children attend school, the majority obliged to work from the age of five by an extreme poverty imposed by the policies of successive governments.
The Peace Accords were signed in 1996 after 36 years, yet the war continues. Twenty years later, the indigenous people still suffer discrimination, human rights abuses and are drowning in a lake of extreme poverty, where education is a million light years away. Twenty years later, they are languishing in the corners of that star of prosperity that is Guatemala. Depriving children of education is one of the greatest rights abuses that indigenous people face today.
The Centre is the lifelong dream of AMOR Founder Arnulfo Gomez Oxlaj.
One day, during the Mayan genocide in Guatemala, the soldiers rounded up all the children in the village of Chiul and threw them one by one into a deep well to perish. The soldiers´ plan to burn them alive was thwarted when they ran out of matches and they left. Four days later, Arnulfo was rescued by a woman. Of 116 children, he was the only survivor. He transformed this tragedy into peace, into a determination to help his people rise up out of the ashes of genocide and contribute their gifts and talents to the world. In that moment, the dream was born in him to build a Centre that would be a model of peace in his country, a dream which matured over time. He began to take food, medicine and words of peace, justice and hope to people in need, the first action of AMOR.
The Afretlain Centre will provide an education for orphans and vulnerable children of both primary and secondary age. The school will also serve as an Adult Literacy and Skills Centre outside of school hours, improving the capacity of parents to feed their families.
The Afretlain Centre will provide girls and boys with a humane, multilingual education that preserves their K´iche´ Mayan culture and language, for a village without culture is without foundations; an education that doesn´t programme children but instead helps develop their gifts and talents, providing a pathway to building equality, peace and a green world.
AMOR was founded in 1993, and registered in the UK in 2012. AMOR works for justice in the indigenous communities of Guatemala devastated by genocide. In 2014, The British Ambassador classed AMOR as “the NGO with the potential to make the greatest impact on the lives of indigenous women and children in Guatemala”.
A key benefit is that the project will be carried out by a highly trained local team led by Arnulfo Oxlaj, a qualified Construction Manager. Sandra Hannen M.Ed. will supervise the curriculum development and school management. The parents and volunteers will carry out the construction of the centre. AMOR will manage the implementation process, together with a local parent-teacher committee.
The dream needed a home, and this home is the Afretlain Centre. Afretlain means "Abrazando Fuertemente la Revolution de Amor y Generosidad", or “Embracing the revolution of love and generosity”.
For many years it was difficult to speak about the holocaust because the people had grown too fearful. It would have been easier for me to stay silent and hidden because I had escaped with my life, but for me this would have been cowardly and selfish. No. I didn´t know how long I would live but I thought of the future, the future of a child, of a woman, a man, and also the future of our earth, our flora and fauna. I said to myself, “Waiting for someone else to act would make me an oppressor too.”
A war may last a year or thirty-six, but its effects endure for millennia. We cannot leave the past behind when that war is still claiming its victims on a daily basis. At the end of the day, it´s the children who suffer most. And the blood of the children, women and men of the holocaust cries out for peace. These cries can be heard on the wind. I realised that poverty is an illness that shouldn’t exist, created by governments and strengthened by that false democracy. And so we need to unite to establish justice, to love life in reality.
How sweet it is to see a child playing with a car or doll or with leaves or earth. And how sad it is when people, governments who should be the guarantors of peace and security, come and drop bombs on them as they play. And this cruelty is gaining strength every day.
The Centre isn´t a place where people will be programmed like computers, but one where they community can heal the wounds of the past and present, rise up and contribute their gifts and talents to the world. Only in that way will we be able to walk on the path to the true freedom, the path to equality and ultimately a politics which fights for the full life of each citizen and not just one group, which fights for education for all because education should be the stage where our talents and gifts are enriched. And schools shouldn’t have walls to prevent access.
A place where we each of us can smile without needing to hide that fear and sadness that traps us like prey every second of our lives and ultimately kills us.
A place whose programmes will support community development transformation and whose effect is freedom, peace, justice and happiness.
The foundations of this Centre are respect for life, and this respect means having a space, a roof, food, freedom, health, a voice, and security, the opportunity to develop oneself and broaden one´s knowledge. And so the Centre will house the current programmes and strengthen them.
When I was a child, many people told me my dream of a Centre was impossible. But today I see that it is possible based on all that has been achieved thus far. I have always had faith that there are billions more angels who will read this message for the first time and will become in turn messengers, ambassadors of peace.
Together we can create a chorus of true love, of knowledge, of generosity that will infect all of society. Together we can fight and collaborate to establish a Guatemala and a world of peace and justice and with a humane conscience.
For twenty-three years I have been strengthening the dream of Afretlain, but I would never impose my dream on my people because they have their free will to choose whether to be slaves of the hell of suffering or be slaves of real peace, justice and freedom. My people are afraid to speak for fear that they´ll finish off their ethnic cleansing. They have an awareness, but it is founded on the fear of war. And so I have been reuniting my community and representatives and presenting this dream to them. It was presented to the whole village and the people support this dream. And my dream is now their dream too. They are praying day and night for this Centre to become a reality; for my way to be guided to find hearts, to find those angels in the world with that drop of water or waterfall, our fellow lovers of peace on this earth.
The angels who share this dream will be like keys that free those hearts which are like caged birds who die slowly from their captivity.
Once the Afretlain Centre is established in Chiul, other centres will be created in the region and nationally, the Chiul Centre being the mother from whom all other will spring.
The Centre will be a temple, a sacred place for my people. The vision is huge but we need to start somewhere.
How will the Centre work? It will offer an education that will create both literacy and a humane awareness, helping to preserve our K´iche´ Mayan culture, language and knowledge which serve to collaborate with the world. Men will be trained who will have an in-depth knowledge of the value of life, of work, of rights, of not being silent any more. Women will be trained who won´t just seek power but who know who they really are, and who realize their role as the columns of family and society. This Centre won´t just be for indigenous people but for all cultures. Afretlain will be the home of freedom for my people.
The Centre will have 16 classrooms serving 800 of Chiul´s most vulnerable children at both primary and secondary level. Its community health clinic that will assist with maternal and child health and give Chiul its first medical doctor. The Centre will house arts studios and workshop space so that children and adults can start to express themselves through therapeutic colour, weaving and music. A computer centre will help enrich knowledge and train both children and adults in the latest technology. A sports ground, mini-stadium and swimming pool will provide first-class sporting facilities that will help prevent delinquency and encourage teamwork, excellence and health. A library will encourage literacy and begin a culture of reading in Guatemala. An auditorium will house special events and performances. A museum will pay homage to the past and present a hopeful vision for the future. A vegetable garden and small farm will provide nutritious fresh food which will be prepared in the kitchens for the children, as well as produce to help raise money for the Centre.
The Centre will be built with the collaboration of the whole community. A simple example of how this works is as follows:
In 2008 I was approached to help rebuild a steep and dangerous access route to a school and village which had caused innumerable accidents among children, parents, teachers and villagers. The people suffered, especially the elderly; when it rained it was impassable, meaning they couldn´t enter or leave their homes or school. An access staircase 200 metres long needed to be built. I began to create a fund to help by selling my art and crafts for construction materials. But who would build it? I knew that if the parents were working on the steps their children wouldn´t have food at home. I managed to obtain supplies of corn, beans, rice and oil sufficient for two months of work. Then, I held a meeting with PTA committee and afterwards the 600 parents. I reminded them of the need to be united to make this happen. They asked, “But what about our children? They´ll go hungry.” No, I replied. I gave them each a large amount of basic foodstuffs such as corn and beans per week of work. As a result, these families were highly motivated and the staircase was built without obstacles. Today the children, teachers, parents and villagers are able to access the school and village accident-free, thanks to the collaborative spirit of those parents.
This strategy has been applied similarly to the construction of smoke-free stoves (Chimneys for Chiul) to prevent eye damage and respiratory problems caused by smoke. This voluntary labour will help to reduce the costs of the construction
The construction of the Afretlain Centre will be a great celebration from the first foundations dug to its completion; it will be a sacred and memorable experience for the people, a story of hope for Chiul, Quiché and Guatemala.
The Centre will be built in stages. For the first classrooms, materials, electricity, gas and water installations and land purchase we need to raise £35,000 ($45,000).
The good news I have to share is that some monies have already been raised and in 2017 the very first stone will be laid, and the construction will begin. This beginning will be like a small light that will light the way.
I invite you to be part of the beginning, middle and end of the Centre. I promise it will be one of the greatest adventures and most beautiful experiences of your life. You´ll be a part of the magic, culture, history and future of the K´iche´ Mayan people.
I´m sharing this dream in the hope that you will be an angel who helps make it a reality, but when you read this don´t feel any obligation. I just want to say to you: We need you. I and my 115 friends say: We need you. I and my 115 friends thank you for reading this. I and my 115 friends cry out: The people need peace; the people need peace.