USC Shoah Foundation’s education team has launched a new set of IWitness activities related to survivors of the Guatemalan Genocide. Authored by our partners, Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) and the International Institute of Learning for Social Reconciliation(IIARS), the five half-hour activities have been released exclusively in Spanish. They center on testimonies gathered by FAFG under the Institute’s guidance and cover lessons learned after the conflict.
“In using these testimonies to teach young children, you are helping them build a better future and make sure a conflict like this doesn’t happen again,” FAFG’s archive coordinator Lucía Samayoa said. “Many Guatemalan children grow up without learning anything about the 36-year armed conflict, so sharing these stories can help the new generations understand how the conflict has shaped their world today.”
The release of the activities follows the completion of 489 interviews with survivors of the genocide. After two decades of storytelling with forensic evidence, FAFG sought out collaboration with USC Shoah Foundation to learn best practices for collecting life history interviews with survivors. After an initial 10-video pilot program in 2015, FAFG integrated the program into its institutional mission.
“The survivors share accounts of massacres, extrajudicial executions, the abductions and disappearances of family members, forced displacement, illegal detainment and torture, and sexual violence, violence and human-rights violations,” Samayoa said.
Samayoa manages the Guatemalan testimonies embedded in the Visual History Archive. She says FAFG’s growing relationship with USC Shoah Foundation represents new opportunities for sharing survivors’ stories.
“The power is in the opportunity to join this larger movement to spark the biggest impact,” Samayoa said.
Working with USC Shoah Foundation, as well as the International Institute of Learning for Social Reconciliation(IIARS), FAFG was able to put together the educational content present in the new IWitness activities – content that Head of Programs in Education Lesly Culp says is more socially responsible as a result of the partnership.
“Like all of our testimonies, this experience group brings a perspective to our resources that could otherwise be unheard,” Culp said. “And yet, the similarities in the patterns of hate they share with other experience groups are heart wrenching.”
Samayoa says she looks forward to the spread of the activities, no longer out of reach to Guatemalan students because of language barriers.
“As IWitness has shown us, we can all learn from different parts of a survivor’s life experience,” Samayoa said. “Even some of our own investigators knew nothing about the armed conflict until they went to university, so making school-age children aware of our past and reflect about the factors that lead us to conflict can help shape more compassionate and respectful adults.”
The first activity, titled “What Did We Learn From the Armed Conflict,” has students reflecting on lessons learned from the internal armed conflict. The second, called “Children and their Rights During the Armed Conflict,” will improve students’ abilities to listen carefully while learning how the rights of children are violated during times of war.
“Forced Displacement” asks students to discuss and characterize the causes and effects of forced displacement during armed conflict, while “The Consequences of Fear and Silence” prompts students to understand how fear can be used as an instrument of war. “The mechanisms of violence used during the armed conflict” explores the lasting consequences of violence used against the civilian population.
Plans are in the works to create 10 more activities before October – two for each grade level in middle school through high school, Samayoa said.