Gloucester residents launch program to help Guatemalans

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Jan 09, 2019 - 12:22 PM

Photo: Gloucester Court House resident Katie Gilman and her Guatemalan partner Erick Torres have launched a new project to help residents of that country become self-sustainable.

Gloucester Court House resident Katie Gilman and her Guatemalan partner Erick Torres have launched a new project to help residents of that country become self-sustainable.

Gloucester Court House resident Katie Gilman and her Guatemalan native partner, Erick Torres, are embarking on a project to help those in the Central American country thrive and to help them maintain their rich culture.

The two are in the process of launching agricultural and ecological education programming, known as REISA, which stands for the Network of Independent Educators for Food Sovereignty, starting next month. 

Gilman has a strong passion for the Guatemalan people after traveling there after college desperately looking for some sort of purpose beyond her average lifestyle. “I was awestruck at how kind, joyful and hospitable these indigenous communities were when they lived on dirt floors inside of a concrete room with a tin roof,” she said. “They kept sharing what little food and material possessions they had with me.”

As her Spanish improved, Gilman said she began to get a better idea of where these communities’ sense of richness came from. She then began volunteering and later working for the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute in San Lucas Toliman on Lake Atitlan. 

According to Gilman, the REISA program was developed in response to young people in the region desiring to receive more hands-on training and education about topics such as building family and community gardens; implementing terraces on mountainous terrain to conserve soil fertility, reduce erosion and more. The program targets 15-25 year-olds who live in rural or urban communities that heavily rely on agricultural practices to sustain their families and communities.

Gilman said each course will accommodate 15 students and will include a diverse team of instructors that specialize in various agricultural and ecological subjects. REISA, she said, is comprised of three Guatemalan co-instructors, as well as herself and Torres, who have hands-on experience in planning, implementing and maintaining community projects in organic agriculture, soil and water conservation, environmental stewardship and more.

According to Gilman, the “bread and butter” course is called Introduction to Food Sovereignty, which offers a holistic learning platform on how to steward the ecology of one’s local environment while growing food for their families and communities, all the while providing a decent source of income. 

Because the majority of the program’s participants come from impoverished economic areas of Central America, the course is provided through REISA’s fundraising efforts, donations to the program and the instructors’ personal funds. 

“Running these courses is of great importance because alternative education about taking care of your family, community and the Earth through growing food is economically inaccessible to many populations in Central America,” Gilman said. “The communities we work with are those that have a high rate of attempted migration to the U.S. They don’t have many other good options for feeding their families.”

REISA has also partnered with another similar group that focuses on education for sustainable development. “What they learn from (this group) is that there are options to stay in their homes, and that with the help of organizations like us, they can obtain tools to become leaders, take better care of their local ecology, feed themselves and their families, maintain their rich culture, and thrive,” Gilman said. 

Currently, she splits her time between Gloucester and a town called San Juan la Laguna. 

For more information, visit reisaedu.com. If interested in donating, search for the organization on GoFundMe or visit REISA’s Facebook page.