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A Guatemala Travel Program That You Can Do, Too!

Jason and his Ixil translator, Maria, in Chajul, Guatemala.

Jason and Ixil translator, Maria Velasco Raymundo, in Chajul, Guatemala. Let’s welcome Jason Bisping, a theatre teacher who had a wonderful experience in Guatemala with Limitless Horizons Ixil, an organization which is recruiting people like YOU, readers, to apply, yourself!

Jason, please tell us a bit about your background.

Jason: I am a theatre artist, teacher, and scholar, and I focus on international collaborations with various development organizations. I use theatre to help those organizations achieve their goals.

Currently, I am a PhD candidate in Theatre at the University of Colorado (near the best Boulder hikes!), and I will graduate in May. My dissertation is titled, “Using Augusto Boal Based Theatre for Development Methods to Mediate the Introduction of Fuel Efficient Cook Stoves in Chajul, Guatemala: Provoking Action in an Ethical Intervention,” and it reports and analyzes the results from two research trips to Chajul, Guatemala.

TT: Fascinating-sounding dissertation, with quite a mouthful of a name! Please explain more about this Guatemala project.

A view of Chajul and surrounding mountains from a local home.

A view of Chajul and surrounding mountains from a local home.

J: In Chajul I worked with students, parents, and teachers to use theatre to find solutions to problems they identified as the most important in their lives. We worked a lot on issues surrounding home energy use, and part of my project was to promote the use of fuel efficient cook stoves.

I hope to go back and work more with community members in Chajul, working with public health issues, environmental issues, and anything the people decide are important to them. The people in Chajul are wonderful, and they still practice many Mayan customs. It is an amazing experience to visit such a remote area with such a rich culture.

TT: I can imagine. What an opportunity! How did you find this Guatemala travel program?

A theatre scene showing the pain of smoky stoves.

A theatre scene showing the pain of smoky stoves.

J: My professor and mentor, Beth Osnes, introduced me to my host organization, Limitless Horizons Ixil, and my funder, Philanthropiece Foundation. Both organizations use a partnership model, so it was important to everyone involved that we collaborated in a way that everyone benefited.

TT: Wonderful. How did you find the money to fund this travel?

J: The Philanthropiece Foundation, in Boulder, CO was my funder, but more importantly, they were my partner. I worked with Philanthropiece to help them achieve their goals and the goals of their partners.

They provided me with financial and logistical support for two trips, but they also helped my department by supporting a student organization, Performers Without Borders, with which I am involved. I supported the development goals of their partner Limitless Horizons Ixil while I was in Chajul, and I continue to work with Philanthropiece and Limitless Horizons Ixil in their efforts.

TT: Excellent! Tell us one moment from your travels in Guatemala that was particularly powerful.

A theatre piece demonstrating a stove with less smoky wood.

A theatre piece demonstrating a stove with less smoky wood.

J: I was scheduled to travel to Chajul in June 2010 when a volcano (Pacaya) exploded and a hurricane (Agatha) hit Guatemala, all within three days. My trip was delayed and all of my American travel companions were forced to drop out of the trip. Some dropped out because of fear and some dropped out because of scheduling conflicts, but I was left alone.

I chose to continue my trip for several reasons. Most importantly, my partners in Chajul wanted me to come. We had worked really hard on our partnership, and it would be much more disruptive to the organization and community if I did not come to Chajul.

The trip was amazing and while many parts of Guatemala are still recovering from the successive natural disasters almost a year later, Chajul was largely untouched… and my trip had a bigger impact on the community of Chajul in June 2010 than did either Pacaya or Agatha.

TT: Wow! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?

J: I was able to work with teachers in Chajul and I taught them some theatre techniques that they could use in the classroom. I did a lot of research on how theatre could be used for math and science instruction, and this expansion of techniques has allowed me to share more knowledge with my students in the US.

TT: Excellent! How have your travels impacted you as a person?

J: I have become more flexible and patient. When the smallest thing can affect a whole trip, it is necessary to remain patient. The pace of life in Chajul is slower than I am used to, and while I am a pretty patient person in the first place, I learned to be even more patient in Chajul.

The ability to “roll with it” is a necessary skill when working in the developing world. I revel in cultural differences and celebrate them because worrying about how they affect me is a waste of time and a centrist point of view. I work so hard to include the input of the people I work with that when I am able to experience an aspect of a culture, especially one as unique as the Mayan culture in Chajul, I treasure it.

TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?

A visit to the famous market at Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

A visit to the famous market at Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

J: International travel as we know it has really only been available for a few years. If I leave the US in the morning, I can be in Guatemala at lunch time and in Chajul by supper time.

As the world shrinks and the world population explodes, it is more important than ever that teachers and students learn as much as possible. Not having an education is a risk factor that increases a child’s chance for disease and poverty. Do it. Go out in the world and work with as many people possible.

Many people don’t travel internationally because they don’t know the language. Don’t let this stop you. I barely speak Spanish, but this didn’t matter too much in Chajul because most of the adults don’t speak Spanish either. They speak Ixil, which is the indigenous Mayan language that is only spoken in that area of Guatemala. I don’t speak Ixil, but I learned some while I was there.

Create partnerships instead of competing projects. Partnerships ensure that everyone involved is benefiting from the collaboration. I have used in the past to find partners, but the best way to find a partner is to be engaged in your community and seek out people that share your goals.

Finally, if you want to join the wonderful program I did, Limitless Horizons Ixil invites educators from across the country to visit Chajul July 28-August 10, 2011. For information about this trip or other travel opportunities with LHI, you can contact and visit their website at .

TT: Thanks so much, Jason! The deadline to join this wonderful Guatemala project is soon, dear readers, so get in contact with Limitless Horizons asap if you’re interested! Now, what questions or comments do you have for Jason?

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