Communities Around The Mountain School

Mayan Embroidery

Meet Your Hosts and Neighbors

Nuevo San José

The families of Nuevo San José had been workers on the coffee finca San José Altamira, but found themselves in a difficult labor struggle. The finca owner refused to pay them for several years, but without wages the families were not able to move anywhere else.

With assistance from the Catholic Church, they took the owner to court and finally won back pay and benefits. However, the workers were evicted from the finca they had called “home” for generations.

Twenty-five families pooled resources and, with assistance from the Catholic parish in Colomba, they bought land to start their new community in 1993 and together built basic concrete block houses.

Since then, the people of Nuevo San José have purchased two springs, installed a potable water system, built a school, and dug a drainage system with funding from the Spanish Red Cross.

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In June 2001, 18 organized families founded the community of Fátima. Like Nuevo San José, Fátima families were forced to relocate after a bitter labor struggle on the finca where they lived and worked. After being forced to work 18-hour days for less than $3/day, a group of workers organized in 1996.

These workers were fired and black-listed as labor organizers and instigators, denying them work anywhere in the region. During the 5 years of their legal case the owners deprived those who remained on the finca of water and firewood, and closed the primary school.

After failing to break the union during 5 years of retaliation and blacklists, the owners agreed to a settlement providing back wages and benefits to the workers. Some of the families decided to create a community together and bought the land for Fátima from the Catholic Church. That same year, they built houses with help from a Church in Quetzaltenango.

Six years later, in 2007, they were able to bring water and electricity to each house, using community labor and financial help from La Montaña Fund. The next year they dug a drainage system to improve the sanitation situation.

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Jorge, member of Nuevo San José

Read Their Stories

“Siempre yo hablo con los compañeros de le comunidad, que individual no se logra nada. Pero unidos, agarrándonos de la mano se logra. La comunidad tiene que trabar muy fuerte para poder salir adelante.” Jorge Salas

I always tell other in the community that individually, we achieve nothing. But united, taking each other by the hand, we win. The community has to work hard together in order to be able to move forward.” Jorge Salas

Read in their own words how the communities came to be – leaving the fincas to purchase their own land and find new lives.

The book Cuentos de la Montaña / Stories from the Mountain recounts the stories of several communities in this region as well as local legends they live with. The book is in Spanish and English and available on Amazon.

Coffee Plantations

The area surrounding the Escuela de la Montaña and the town of Colomba, called the Boca Costa, is the home of large coffee plantations, or fincas, which produce the “mountain grown” coffee that is one of Guatemala’s major exports. The workers on the fincas are usually landless rural workers, campesinos, who earn less than $5 per day, without job security or any of the legally-required labor benefits. Increasingly, finca owners find it more advantageous to replace their long-term permanent workforce with contract workers who have no entitlements to housing, education, or other benefits that may have been supplied in the past.

In a linked process, daily work assignments are also increasing so that what was a “day’s work for a day’s pay” often now means the equivalent of two or three days’ work for a day’s pay. Workers in Guatemala who attempt to organize are blacklisted, threatened, or even killed. Many small communities have been displaced from the fincas losing, in many cases, not just their jobs but also the places which have been their homes for generations.

These changes come in response to changing economic and social patterns in the area and particularly changes in the world market for coffee which have taken place over the last decade.