By Louis Bockner
This month, as part of an ongoing court case against Canadian mining giant HudBay Minerals, 11 Guatemalan women have travelled to Toronto to tell their stories of allegedly being raped at the hands of security personnel who were working for a HudBay subsidiary in 2007.
Six months ago they told those same stories to another group of Canadians — eight Selkirk College nursing students who had travelled to Guatemala as part of their third-year studies.
The annual trip, now in its 12th year, takes place in April and May and offers students a chance to apply what they’ve learned in school to a real world setting and to connect to a culture undeniably linked to Canada — a link that is, as in the case of HudBay, all too often a negative one.
The students’ trip is almost exclusively financed by fundraising efforts. On Dec. 8 the newest batch of students will hold their annual Nelson fundraiser — a rice and beans dinner — at the Nelson United Church. Along with offering attendees a taste of a staple Guatemalan meal, there is also a large silent auction and fourth-year students, like Katy Camilleri, will share experiences from last year.
“We went to over 15 places over the course of five weeks,” she says. “The skills and knowledge we shared was aimed to set them up so they can sustain and support themselves in the future by using their own knowledge, belief and capacity.”
Aside from meeting with the women from Lote Ocho, Guatemala, who are now in Toronto, the students offered diabetes and dental education in communities and schools across the country and brought handmade gifts from the Kootenays like baby blankets and reusable menstrual kits.
According to Mary Ann Morris, who initiated and led the trip before she retired from teaching at Selkirk College last year, the goal for the students is as much about working in solidarity with local people as it is about educating or aiding them.
“We go there to build trust, to listen to stories, to honour them and to say, ‘This is our responsibility as Canadians and as nurses.’”
This year 14 students — half of those enrolled in the third-year program — have decided to make the journey, the biggest percentage since the trip began. The money raised goes towards travel expenses and donations to the communities the students visit over the three-week period.
“It truly wouldn’t be possible without community support,” says Morris. “Students aren’t any richer than they’ve ever been and we want students to participate based on interest, not on how much money they have.”
Chandrima Lavoie, who participated last year, says the generosity and strength of the Guatemalan people left her inspired and moved. “It was amazing how they welcomed us as Canadians into their homes when a lot of them had their lives destroyed by Canadian mining companies. Bringing back their stories of resilience was a huge part of what we did and even though it’s not tangible I think it’s important.”
After listening to the sobering experiences of the Lote Ocho women it was time for the students to give something back. They invited the men who had accompanied their wives to begin massaging them, something Morris learned from Christine Sutherland, a Nelson massage therapist. And then, something magical happened.
The power of touch, which at one point had played such a destructive role in the women’s lives, began to offer a sense of healing. Laughter began to pour from all those present, filling the room, that just moments before had been pregnant with the profound reality of the violation of their bodies, with the quintessential sound of joy.
“Just like that the energy shifted and that’s what nursing is all about,” says Morris.
“It was not only what we had given them but also what they had given us and were ready to receive. The children who had witnessed their pain and heard their stories began to play and run around. They were being taught that sharing pain was OK and so is being joyful.”
The fundraiser will begin at 6 p.m. and entry is $15. For more information contact Taylor Dixon at 250-231-4780.