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Recognized by UNDP’s Equator Initiative, the Asociación Utz Che’ was created in 2006 by 16 communities in the Escuintla region of Guatemala after four years of discussions on the need for a united front in environmental advocacy in the region. Since its establishment, the Association’s mission has been to improve the quality of life of members within its network and to enable members to fully exercise their collective human rights as Indigenous people, multicultural communities, and farmers dedicated to the sustainable management of their natural resources, which are mainly highland cloud forests and watersheds.
Through the collective efforts of its collaborators, Utz Che identified a volunteer ally who became an honorary partner - a person who identified with the objectives of Utz Che' and its years’ long dream of creating a training center. This Honorary Member donated 26,000 square meters of fertile land located in the productive strip of the southern coast of Guatemala, with the shared goal of developing an impact initiative that would break with the traditional scheme of sugar cane and African palm monocultures found in the area, and at the same time fulfill the desire to implement a center of integral and popular community training.
The implementation of the Integral Community Training Center, PECECITA, has been a dream of Utz Che' throughout its 15 years of life, in part because Guatemala provides no opportunities to learn under the Community Forestry approach. This initiative, which is already underway, is based on the successful experience of the school "Paths of Learning in Environmental Coexistence," which is a methodology designed by Utz Che' to train leaders and prepare the next generations. This is a teaching-learning model based on the principles of andragogy and popular education which has strengthened the leadership of young people (men and women) who are now part of the management of grassroots community organizations. Some of them are now members of the Utz Che' Network team.
The Asociación de Forestería Comunitaria de Guatemala Utz Che’ (which means “good tree” in the Mayan language K’iche), is a National Indigenous network of over 40 communities and farmer associations whose General Assembly is formed by representatives of each community-based organization (i.e. Indigenous communities, cooperatives, associative peasant companies, and farming communities). In total, Utz Che’ represents 32,500 member groups or about 200,000 people, 90% of them Indigenous, and many of whom were displaced and relocated during Guatemala’s internal conflicts of 1960-1996. As a result of Utz Che’s advocacy for communal forest conservation, members collectively hold about 74,280 hectares of forest of which 47,545 ha is natural cloud forest that is protected and managed by Indigenous farmers with traditional ecological knowledge.
One of the project’s goals is to implement a solar energy system and provide equipment and training in the service areas of the Integral Community Training Center, inviting bids from Guatemalan companies. Another is to develop demonstration plots and other components related to the protection of wildlife habitat and the restoration of the area's ecosystem, conducting educational workshops and awareness campaigns around the importance of environmental preservation. The grassroots community organizations of the Utz Che' Indigenous and Campesino Network will strengthen their knowledge through the popular method "learning paths school," which allows participants from the different organizations of the network to interact with practical cases and return to replicate these in their communities, allowing them to conserve and manage the natural resources of their territories.
Construction Stage of the Utz Che' project: The Community Organizations Network has contributed financially to the initiation of this project, with an agreement to contribute traditional knowledge, labor, local materials, and other inputs that may be needed in the area to achieve the objectives of this stage. The area where the project will be established is owned by the Utz Che' Association and is registered in the General Property Registry.
Training Stage of the Utz Che’ project: The network currently has a comprehensive training model designed for women and youth for capacity building on different topics: climate change, environmental justice, gender and youth, and community forestry, among other topics. This training model is known at the Network level as the “School of Learning Paths in Environmental Coexistence.”
Asociación Utz Che' is recognized as a national network and has demonstrated the participation of the majority of its members in the efforts convened by its leadership. The various community organizations which own communal lands and forests have made offers of various voluntary contributions ranging from local materials such as stone, wood, and bamboo to labor contributing to the integral training center project. The organizations that have enterprises have also formalized commitments to give a percentage of their incomes to the center.
This project would benefit 43 diverse community organizations representing more than 40,000 families, which is equivalent to more than 200,000 people living on the lands managed by the members of Utz Che', all of whom will receive the health benefits derived from clean energy, organic farming, and access to drinking water and forest land. The project also contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals.