Human Rights and Migration Project, Zacualpa Guatemala

Community-based Participatory Action Research and Legal Advocacy, led by Professor M. Brinton Lykes

A past project of the Center (2008-2016)

The Migration and Human Rights Project, based in Zacualpa, Quiché, Guatemala, was a collaborative project between local Zacualpans, Guatemala-based researchers and religious, and Boston College-based students, faculty, and legal staff. The project studied social, political and psychological factors contributing to migration among the local population, offering assistance to them where practical. To these ends, the project conducted a range of activities including:

  • assisting local Zacualpans seeking to locate their family members that have migrated to the US; 
  • offering legal assistance from BC-based legal staff when applicable; 
  • offering support services and networking to family members “left behind” through a local staffed office; 
  • studying the demographics of migrating community members as well as the effects of migration on local families through community surveys; 
  • collaborating in participatory and action research with local Zacualpans to better understand the social and psychological effects of on families separated transnationally by migration, and to better understand the push and pull factors of migration through interviews with local residents; and 
  • conducting participatory workshops to encourage the local residents, particularly youth, to engage the how?, where?, why?, questions that emerge for them as their families and friends around them depart for distant lands. 

Finally, the project worked with those who have returned – either voluntarily or through deportation – to explore varied uses of their social capital in developing local initiatives and creating more life options for those living in Guatemala.


To read more about the project's findings and achievements:

Archived MHRP annual reports, available in English and Spanish.

The Zacualpa team produced two manuals stemming from their work with migrants and their families and youth in educational settings in Guatemala:

In 2015-2016, the Center collaborated with the University of Rafael Landívar to facilitate a collaborative pilot project that sought to strengthen participatory and action research (PAR) skills among students and faculty.  CHRIJ Co-Director Brinton Lykes and Dr. Úrsula Roldan of the URL designed four workshops over a two-year period with three of the URL’s branch campuses in El Quiché, Quetzaltenango, and Huehuetenango.  Teams of students and faculty from each campus partnered with local communities to explore participants’ experiences at the interface of migration, territory and subjectivity (identity) through PAR processes.  The main objective of this collaborative effort was to contribute to the training of social actors (students, professors and others affected by this problem) on the issue of migration and the structural violence faced by families in the context of migration, through research, education and outreach. Our decision to use PAR methods to achieve the general and specific objectives of the project was based on the prior experiences of the Boston College team, who have used this approach in their work with communities in Chajul and Zacualpa.  The main idea was to form PAR teams with the local communities, through the university campuses, and support them throughout the year by providing training, learning, action, and reflection. PAR enables one to privilege the local communities’ knowledge while enhancing their capacities to analyze problems and develop actions to solve them. We hope to contribute not only to the strengthening of local university resources but also, and more importantly, to the development of the migrants who participated in the research as essential actors in development at the local, regional, and transnational levels and to strengthening the social networks that support them. 

The Center's in-country partners on the project have included INGEP (Instituto de Investigaciones y Gerencia Política) of the Universidad Rafael Landívar (Jesuit University in Guatemala City) as well as the diocesan Migration Committee in the Quiché Department.