Play for Peace Guatemala: How it all started in Palencia
“We have to find a way to make a living, but every bit of free time we can dedicate to Play for Peace makes a difference.” – Play for Peace Trainer Andres Armas
Andrés Armas, who joined Play for Peace in 1998, is the man behind Play for Peace in Guatemala and has today 25 years of experience in non-profit organizations under his belt. Guatemala’s club is in Palencia, a small community near the mountains and only 28 kilometers away from the capital and its story began around three years ago thanks to Andrés’ hard work and a program from USAID.
With the USAID program, dozens of children and youths from Palencia got year-round scholarships and got involved with Play for Peace’s activities during that time.
“We knew not all of them would stay when the scholarship expired, but it was worth it to discover those who, in the end, made a real commitment,” said Andrés about those early days and rejoices about today’s number of committed volunteers and youth leaders, which goes well above 20. “We want the volunteers to be part of their community, to feel they can make a difference with the way they use their free time,” he said proudly.
Sadly, violence is usual in Guatemala, and Palencia, being so near to the capital (Guatemala City), is the perfect place to live for people who are in gangs or make a living with organized crime. In early March of this year, the whole community was shaken when a bus carrying a bomb exploded in the early hours of a normal morning. The violent act killed one person and left 19 badly injured people, as well as the whole of Palencia and its surroundings, in an atmosphere of fear and doubt.
“The bombing was unlike what’s ‘normal violence’ here and still today no one really knows the truth behind what happened and the reasons behind the bombing, shared a sad and indignant Andres. “Was it organized crime activity because a bus driver refused to pay them for ‘protection’? Or is this a smoke curtain to divert attention from the ongoing political crisis?"
Play for Peace in Guatemala stands as solid proof that resilience is very real and not just a fashionable word, and its activities go on in spite of the non-supportive conditions that surround it.
“Sadly, we depend on the international cooperation trends that more often than not, limit us in a geographical way,” Andrés said about the club’s everyday reality. “We strive to stay outside from any political current movement or statement, which makes it harder to get funding sometimes, because we are very clear about not supporting any political ideology and politics seek youth as a step on their way to power.”
In Guatemala -- not only in Palencia -- Play for Peace works against centuries of deeply rooted cultural paradigms. “I’m interested in stopping culture from being a barrier for development and equity,” Andrés said. As for how being part of Play for Peace has changed the lives of those youth who are trying to make a change in their community, Andres said that probably “…the most wonderful thing…is that the whole community knows who the youth involved in Play for Peace are and that opens doors for them,” he concluded.