History

The GRACE (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Childrens’ Education) Project began in 1997 and grew through collaborations between the Lee County School District’s Migrant Education Program, the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking (FCAHT), the Florida Migrant Interstate Program at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers (UUCFM).

The Director of the program is Genelle G. Grant, Ed.D, who has worked with indigenous and migrant farm worker families in Southwest Florida since 1993 and is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers (UUCFM).

In Lee County, the Hispanic population has increased 170% since 2000, to over 60,000 (News-Press, 3-18-11.)  At least 10% of Hispanics are in farm worker or indigenous (Maya or Azteca) families.  They are from Mexico or Guatemala and speak an indigenous language first and Spanish for their second language.  Some have attended elementary school, some do not read or write in any language, and some are undocumented immigrants. 


HISTORY OF GUATEMALANS IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA.

During the Guatemalan Civil War of the 1980’s and 1990’s, thousands of Maya people fled their country and went to Florida and California.They escaped the genocide being waged on their people by the Guatemalan military forces, when over 600 Mayan villages were burned to the ground and over 250,000 Mayans were tortured, murdered and piled into mass graves.  The traumas that these survivor-immigrants endured were many and profound.  With the assistance of some religious organizations, many Maya refugees became US citizens.  The Guatemalan indigenous people who settled in Southwest Florida speak MayaMam, MayaQ’anjobal, MayaQuiché, or MayaKakchiquel as their first languages.  If they had the opportunity to study, they also speak and write in Spanish.

The new residents became mostly farm workers, they created families and children, who were born as U.S. citizens.Because being Maya in Guatemala meant assassination, torture or assignment to the army (to then kill one’s own neighbors and people), people denied their heritage and abandoned their Maya identification. Their children growing up here have little exposure to the Maya customs.

In Southwest Florida, indigenous women are often isolated in their homes, they speak little English and elementary or no Spanish.  They have no access to transportation, they live in fear of being arrested and deported, and they frequently live with violent, “machista” partners who do not allow them to study, work, or make friendships outside of the family.  The US born children who speak English, Maya and Spanish carry much power in the home and are often the ones to represent the family in the community.

Most of these women are, or know people who are, immigrants to this country.  They have experienced abuse, rape or being trafficked by smugglers first hand or through family members.They also send money to their villages of origin to pay “coyotes”  to smuggle their other family members into the US, not realizing the human trafficking dangers to which they will be exposed.

Through our workshops and home visits, we have learned that there is profound need for information on women’s health and local resources, as well as psychological treatment for the trauma of sexual abuse, domestic violence, or being sold into prostitution. We have created support circles and counseling

The GRACE Project trains and employs local women who speak Spanish and MayaQ’anjobal, MayaQ’iché or Mixteco.  We create and utilize educational materials in Spanish on human trafficking prevention, human developmental and reproductive  cycles, domestic violence and support circles, maternal health, family planning, building self esteem, self help, art and music therapies, and local resources.

 

GRACE Project Significant Achievements:

La Unión Ix y El Círculo de Apoyo, 2010.  Educational picture book created by Mayan women artists in Huehuetenángo, Guatemala, about domestic violence, support circles, anger management and safe families.  (“Ix” means “woman” in MayaQ’anjobal.)

Training of Trainers Curriculum for Spanish-speaking and Indigenous Community Health Educators.2010. Guide used to train neighborhood Faciitators about health concerns and local resources. Supported by the UUCFM Endowment Committee and the UU Women’s Federation in Boston.

ARTREACH Teaching Materials on Human Trafficking Prevention, with Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships (HTAP), 2010.  Images painted on large canvases by teenager girls to educate their peers about domestic and international human trafficking situations.

Petra’s Passage. Large canvases about a girl’s migration from rural Guatemala to Immokalee and how she was trafficked by the smugglers. Latina women who survived trafficking situations met monthly with at the UUCFM with Dr. Grant from 2007 to 2009, for counseling, health education and art therapy. Funded by the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking (FCAHT), who now displays the seven paintings in universities and conferences throughout the hemisphere.

LAS MAYA DE HUEHUETENANGO.  Performance ensemble of Mayan women and youth who live in Fort Myers. They play traditional music on Tuns, Mayan bamboo drums and indigenous flutes, with Mayan dances and chants, as well as original compositions and arrangements.

Lucía’s Letter. 2009, 2007, 2009, 2011.  Illustrated booklet and audio recording with study guide, about a trafficking survivor’s letter to her mother in Huehuetenángo, Guatemala. Translated into six languages and used as an educational tool for human trafficking awareness throughout the United States and Central America. (In April 2011, Ms. Amy Tardif of WGCU won the Peabody Award with her radio documentary about Lucía’s Letter. ) Supported by the Sanibel-Captiva Zonta Foundation and the UUCFM.

BINGO Adulto, BINGO Sano.. Educational tools used for teaching reproductive health vocabulary for women and healthy lifestyles for children.

EcoBINGO Bilíngo, Educational game set for environmental science instruction, in Spanish, English, and in the Mayan languages of Q’anjobal, Q’iché, Kakchiquel, Pokomchi, Mam, and Q’ekchi for bilingual teachers throughout rural Guatemala.

Mira Mamá Radio Public Service Announcements (PSAs), 2006. Radio Public Awareness campaign on how to identify trafficking victims, for Florida and Guatemala, in four languages.


GRACE partners with the following organizations:

  • The Pine Manor and Harlem Heights Community Centers in Fort Myers,
  • United Way East Fort Myers and in Lehigh Acres,
  • The Lee County Department of Health, Health Promotion and Outreach Programs,
  • The Immokalee Shelter for Abused Women and Children,
  • Southwest Florida Planned Parenthood,
  • Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships (HTAP).,
  • The Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation in Guatemala City and their Pavarotti Vocational Center in San Lucas Tolima, Sololá, 
  • The Guatemalan Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) in the Departments of Sololá, Sacatepéquez, and El Petén,
  • La Casa del Libro neighborhood library and reading center in Mixco,
  • La Escuela Normal Rural Pedro Molina (rural teacher’s preparatory school) of Chimaltenango,
  • The Catholic Diocese of Huehuetenango,
  • El Belén Teachers College for indigenous women in La Antigua, WINGS/ALAS Family Planning Organization of Guatemala.