Permaculture & Social Justice in

10 Day Volunteer Delegation

This volunteer experience is collaboratively organized by
Inter-American CASA and IMAP, the Mesoamerican
Permaculture Institute, located on the shores of Lago
Atitlan in the municipality of San Lucas Tolimán, Sololá.
This is a Kechikel and Tzutujíl Maya region of Guatemala:
an area of incredible natural beauty, cultural vibrancy, and
historic social and economic struggle.

About IMAP

IMAP was founded by Ronaldo Lec five in 1999 in his
hometown of San Lucas Tolimán. Ronaldo has a B.A. in
anthropology and has been a researcher for the Forensic
Anthropology Foundation, whose work in the uncovering
of clandestine graves in Guatemala led to the seminal
work “Masacres Rabinal.” He received training in seed
propagation with the Ethiopian Gene Bank in Addis Ababa
and became founder and former director of the
Associacion Iíjatz, a seed distribution network dedicated to
recovering and distributing patrimonial Mesoamerican
seeds. He has been teaching and practicing permaculture
design since 1995 and is now a diplomat of the
Permaculture Institute of Australia.

Through his experience as a farmer, student, educator,
and political refugee, he realized that the political and
social conflict destroying Guatemala in the 70s and 80s
came down to one basic denominator: land and how it was

He saw that despite its biological wealth, Central America
was one of the world’s poorest regions. Roughly one fifth
of the region’s population, or 2.5 million people, lacks food
security, some suffer outright famine. Many factors
account for this situation, but among the principal reasons
are the extreme concentration of land in few hands and
the use of that land for export crops. The agro-industrial
model that has taken root exacerbates the plight of
subsistence communities, making them dependent on
chemical inputs and commercial seeds, while eroding the
region’s biological diversity and traditional knowledge.

As a political refugee and university student in the United
States Ronaldo began to study permaculture, and see it
as a way for Maya communities to achieve more self-
sustainability. The word permaculture, is derived from the
concept of permanent culture/agriculture. This philosophy
posits that a permanent culture cannot exist without a
permanent agricultural base. Permaculture is a design
method that combines traditional knowledge, appropriate
technologies and observations of nature as a guide to
achieve self-sustaining systems and communities. The aim
is not only to produce food, but abundant food, even in
small plots. Permaculture seeks not only to protect the
environment, but to use all its wealth in a way that
supports both present and future generations.

One way IMAP is trying to insure food security and
traditional horticultural knowledge is through the
development of an ecosystem-wide seed bank. A seed
bank is a communal institution that ensures the community
access to a wide variety of seeds. It allows the community
to grow nearly all its food while producing seeds. Excess
seeds can be sold in the market to generate income, thus
promoting self-sufficiency. By fostering the production of
organic and open-pollinating seeds, the seed bank breaks
the community’s dependence on agro-industrial products
that rely on heavy use of chemical inputs. At the same
time, the seed bank promotes a more varied diet based on
healthier, organic crops; enhances biodiversity; and
restores traditional knowledge.

To help financially support IMAP, its free permaculture
workshops, and other projects, the institute has developed
an eco-tourism program in collaboration with CASA. The
idea is for IMAP’s facilties to serve as a center for
permaculture training, volunteerism, ecotourism, cultural
interchange and education, and international solidarity-
building. IMAP is located on the shore of one of the world’s
most beautiful lakes and its large, solar-powered
dormitories have views of the volcanoes that tower above
the lakeshore and the institute’s experimental organic
gardens. There is also ample space for camping for larger
groups, a swimming beach, modern kitchen facilities, and
a camping area located at the top of nearby Cerro de Oro,
a small mountain overlooking the lake.

IMAP offers several workshops on permaculture design
and technique, hands-on practicums examining organic
farming practices, talks with guest speakers on a diversity
of subjects (the Gutemalan civil war, the Peace Process,
land reform, the women’s movement, Maya identity in
politics, to name a few), and
caminatas, or day-hikes, to
visit many of the region’s farming areas, beautiful
overlooks, and diverse ecosystems.

caminatas have ecological themes that focus on
natural history and human impacts on local micro-
environments. Others have a cultural lean, taking small
groups into the homes and work places of locals where we
learn to make tortillas, weave on a backstrap loom, and
learn about traditional Kechikel ceremony and religion. We
will also go on an Acuatic caminata: snorkeling and
kayaking on Lago de Atitlan to better understand the
ecology and mythology of the lake. All guides are local,
experienced Kechikel Maya who have live in San Lucas
their entire lives.

10 Day Sample Itinerary

Day 1- Volunteerss arrive by air to Guatemala City in the
afternoon. Students are met by
Peter Shear and driven to
IMAP and San Lucas Tolimán (4 hours). Dinner and

Day 2- a.m: walking tour of IMAP grounds,         
Associacion Iíjatz and seed bank project
p.m: permaculture basics workshop at IMAP (exact
workshop topics will be determined closer to the time of
the trip)

Day 3- a.m: walking tour of the old growth forest to the
south of the lake. p.m: volunteer work at IMAP, swim,

Day 4- a.m: free time/market day in San Lucas (a         
fasinating look into Maya culture and market         
economics) p.m: kayak tour of Lago de Atitlan

Day 5- a.m: drive to San Alfonso (3 hours) and visitthe
IMAP permaculture project organized with the Saq'Jal
Women's cooperative.
Lunch. Afternoon weaving lessons. Traditional dinner and
dance. Stay with host families.

Day 6- a.m: morning of volunteer work at Saq'Jal's
permaculture project. Lunch. Siesta. Afternoon talk
regarding the refugee experience and the history of
Saq'Jal. Farewell dinner and closing ceremony.

Day 7- Goodbyes and return to San Lucas and IMAP.
Lunch. Afternoon free for swimming and relaxing.

Day 8- a.m: Cerro de Oro- we climb to the top of this
nearby hill that still serves as a sacred religious site to the
Kachikel and Tzutujil Maya. p.m: prepare our “last night in
San Lucas community dinner,” which will be shared with
locals and followed by music and dance.

Day 9- a.m: travel to Antigua (3 hours). p.m: historical
walking tour of Antigua

Day 10- to Guatemala City (1 hour): fly home


  • In San Lucas, breakfast and lunch will be
    communally prepared in shifts by volunteers. Dinner
    will be prepared by a hired cook. We stay in dorms
    at IMAP.

  • In Antigua, we will eat in restaurants and stay in a
    simple, but clean, hotel. In San Alfonso we stay with
    local families.

  • All participants must sign liability waiver forms

  • Participants will need to be vaccinated against
    Typhoid, Hepatitis A, and Tetanus

  • Participants must hold a valid, comprehensive travel
    health insurance policy

  • Participants are highly encouraged to take a course
    in Spanish prior to the trip

  • Peter Shear is the project organizer and bi-lingual
    Volunteer Delegation guide. He is a part-time
    Political Geography instructor at the University of
    Vermont, Director of Inter-American CASA and
    Coordinator of Intichakiñan --
    a community based tourism project based in
Inter-American Center for the Arts, Sustainability,and Action

Centro Interamericano para las Artes, el Sustento, y la Acción