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Center for Human Rights and International Justice

Human Rights and Migration Project, Zacualpa Guatemala

Community-based Participatory Action Research and Legal Advocacy, led by Professor M. Brinton Lykes, Sister Clara Agustín García, and Attorney Jessica Chicco

Guatemalan man walking through river in Zacualpa

The Migration and Human Rights Project, based in Zacualpa, Quiché, Guatemala, is a collaborative project between local Zacualpans, Guatemala-based researchers and religious, and Boston College-based students, faculty, and legal staff. The project has various aims as it studies social, political and psychological factors contributing to migration among the local population and seeks to offer assistance to them where practical. To these ends, the project conducts 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 projects seeks to work 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.

See here for the latest MHRP annual report for project activities conducted recently, available in English and Spanish.

Photo from Guatemala, Summer 2014
Photo from Guatemala, Summer 2014

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. 

See the agenda from the September 2016 workshops here.  See the conference agenda from an October 2016 conference at the URL at which Brinton Lykes, Dan Kanstroom and Jessica Chicco presented our work.

In the summer of 2014, Prof. Lykes traveled to Guatemala with Post-Deportation Human Rights Project supervising Attorney Jessica Chicco and two BC psychology graduate students who are both completing the CHRIJ's Certificate in Human Rights and International Justice, Gabriela Távara and Kevin Ferreira  Together, they facilitated workshops in Guatemala City and in the Quiché Department of Guatemala on the human rights of migrants and U.S. immigration policies and practices as well as on the legal and psychosocial aspects of migration. Távara and Ferreira also collaborate with local initiatives in the CHRIJ's partner office in Zacualpa.

In June of 2013, Center Associate Director M. Brinton Lykes and Megan Thomas, a project consultant, developed and facilitated a diploma program in community psychology and participatory action research in El Quiché, Guatemala. The program was designed in conjunction with INTRAPAZ a research institute with social projection at the Jesuit University Rafael Landívar (URL) in Guatemala City.  Thirty-three participants completed the two-week program, including four BC students (three undergraduates and a doctoral student), and six students and faculty from the URL’s Quiché campus. The other participants were Mayan youth and adults from the Quiché and surrounding regions, identified by colleagues of the Center as active community members with potential to enhance their leadership capacities through this program. 

The Center's in-country partners on the project include 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.  

Prof. Lykes gave an interview on the community psychology program in Guatemala.

Questions on the project may be directed to Prof. M. Brinton Lykes.