Fighting for human rights: Local grad traveling to Guatemala - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Fighting for human rights: Local grad traveling to Guatemala

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Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2012 12:45 pm | Updated: 1:46 pm, Wed Oct 10, 2012.

He has been there once before, but Erik Woodward’s next trip to Guatemala will be longer and more intensive.

The Desert Vista High School and University of Arizona graduate will be traveling to the Central American country, which shares a border with Mexico, on June 9 to work with a humanitarian group. He predicts he will spend a year there, where he will work with an organization called Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA).

“I think it’s difficult to know what to expect,” Woodward said. “Guatemala is in a unique moment in its history right now.”

While attending the University of Arizona, where he graduated with degrees in anthropology and international development, Woodward studied abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, which he described as a tourist area of the country. This time around he will be staying in residential homes as he and other members of NISGUA help citizens with issues such as “monitoring and reporting on human rights issues in Guatemala, providing a dissuasive physical presence against further human rights violations, and aiding in the creation of a constructive environment for indigenous activists to safely continue their fight to realize their rights.”

Woodward admits there is some danger involved, but said that NISGUA has reported no violent incidents with members, called human rights accompaniers. The country’s civil war ended in 1996 after thousands of indigenous people — Mayans — were reportedly killed in an act of genocide by members of the Guatemalan government.

Tensions have risen again as the people work to obtain their civil rights. NISGUA also works with groups looking to find and prosecute people who are accused of participating in the genocide. According to Woodward, NISGUA has been working with the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, an organization comprised of genocide survivors that is closely involved in the current trial of former dictator (Efraín) Rios Montt, who is being tried for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.”

“I shared values with the organization and I knew that going in,” he said. “For me (working with NISGUA) was a way to go back to Guatemala in a significant and meaningful way.”

Woodward is working on raising the rest of the funding he needs to stay the full duration and pay for his training. He is being sponsored by the Santa Elena Project of Accompaniment (SEPA). To find out more, visit www.nisgua.org.

“My family is a little more nervous than I am,” Woodward said. “I’ve been doing everything I can to stay informed about what is going on. I’m definitely optimistic. I have 100 percent confidence and faith in the organization.”

Those interested in making tax deductible donations can contact him at erikwoodward10@gmail.com.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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