Experiential Learning Program

Utz K seeks to create space for indigenous knowledge, practice and experience to be shared with non-indigenous learners, and between indigenous peoples from across the Americas.

Program Mission

For non-indigenous groups Utz K seeks to:

Facilitate a process where which participants step back, recognize their own worldview in light of an encounter with an indigenous, non-western cosmovision, and are provided an entirely new set of questions with which to explore their commonly held assumptions about reality.

Provide participants with the conceptual framework and practical tools necessary to learn from and esteem the highland indigenous communities of Guatemala, instead of instinctively seeing only need, hardship and poverty.

Encourage participants to think critically about situations, occurrences and structures, and to reflect on their interdependence and connection with what they are seeing and/or experiencing.

Call participants to practical action, with the goal of catalyzing personal and social transformation.

Program Basics

The Utz K team offers its services to professors, university departments, study abroad programs, training initiatives, independent educational institutes and individual practitioners and researchers to help design, coordinate, and implement experiential learning courses in the Guatemalan Highlands that seek to form participants through a cyclical process of exposure, action and reflection.

Campus Site

Utz K is currently developing an experiential learning campus on the southwest corner of Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan, which has long been considered to be among the most physically beautiful lakes in the worlds, is one of the three major tourist attractions of Guatemala. As a result, the Lake provides an accommodating setting for introductory immersion into the Guatemalan context. The Lake sets in the Central Guatemalan Highlands, 120 kilometers west of Guatemala City, and 3 kilometers west of Santiago Atitlan.

Santiago Atitlan is the largest of the 12 lakeside communities and is the principal population center of the Tz’utujil indigenous group. Its population is over 32,000, with about 95% indigenous. The Tz’utujil people are one of 23 Maya groups that live in Guatemala today.

Once completed, the campus will offer groups the use of five eco-cabins, a meeting place, a communal kitchen and recreational space. The campus will serve as:

a site to host classes and discussions, and to lodge learners,

a leaping off point from which to engage nearby highland indigenous communities, and

a center where learners participate in hands-on experiences of ecological design, natural building and permaculture rooted in indigenous practice and knowledge.

The campus is a four hour-long car ride or 40-minute flight from the Guatemala City airport.

Introductory Seminars

In all seminars, selected readings, expert and local speakers, and learning trips are carefully planned to develop topics and foment learners’ critical reflection.

Guatemalan History & Contemporary Issues: This seminar introduces the social, historical, political, and economic context of Guatemala.

Guatemala is arguably one of the countries that has been and continues to be most adversely affected by North American policy. The chaos, suffering and repression caused by US actions in Guatemala offer a propitious context for learning to spot and to wrestle with systemic issues. Furthermore, the physical proximity of Guatemala to the US and Canada is effective for helping learners to recognize their personal connection to these social, economic and political issues, sometimes even their complicit behavior and attitudes, and for inviting them to make practical decisions about how to respond, both individually and corporately.

Comparative Worldviews: This seminar introduces the indigenous worldview to learners and contrasts it with the western-centric worldview.

The western-centric worldview supposes that progress and wellbeing are synonymous with industrial development, economic growth, technological advance, specialized education, purchasing power, and more consumerism. These foundations are rarely seen, let alone questioned by mainstream society. Through engagement with an indigenous, non-western cosmovision, participants are afforded the space to begin to identify and explore with questions their commonly held presuppositions about reality.

Indigenous Practice and Experience: This seminar offers tailored in-depth study and application of indigenous practices and/or experiences.

Examples of topics that could be customized to the particular interests of visiting groups are natural construction, environmental issues, traditional agriculture, spirituality, community structure and relationships, land tenure, alternative medicine, resistance strategies, traditional justice, collective resource management, and many more. This seminar is the hands on portion of the immersion experience where learners discover and experience practical application of indigenous knowledge and/or experiences.

Najb’eey aal Formation: This seminar is focused on leadership development of learners through the engagement and practice of local indigenous wisdom and disciplines.

Najb’eey aal means leader in the Tz’utujil dialect. This seminar involves the work of introspection, interaction, and verbalization around the experience and practice of indigenous wisdom, with the aim of fomenting personal formation through creative contact.

On-Site Workshops

For groups who are interested in experiential, hands-on learning, Utz K offers tailored on-site workshops related to local practices such as natural construction, permaculture and agroecology, coffee production and value added process, and traditional weaving

Natural Construction: Natural and vernacular building techniques have roots in every culture around the world, but share the distinction of using local materials, being energy efficient, and having a low ecological footprint. Natural building techniques allows individuals to use their hands and feet to form earth mixed with sand and straw, a sensory and aesthetic experience similar to sculpting with clay.

For groups interested in natural construction, Utz K is in the process of developing an eco-campus on their piece of land which also functions as a coffee farm and permaculture landscape. All of the building are constructed from local materials with minimal carbon emissions and a focus on ecological design to help the structure become a regenerative part of the piece of land.

Permaculture and Agroecology: In many ways, permaculture thinking has appropriated and made the indigenous legacy its own. Long before the philosophies of permaculture and agroecology became popular, indigenous people were using nature’s patterns to create polycultural, perennially based, energy efficient homes, gardens, farms, and communities.

For groups or learners interested in permaculture, farming, and agroecology, Utz K offers workshops on its campus land which is in the process of being transformed into a productive food forest landscape. This workshop draws from the regional indigenous knowledge about organic farming, agroforestry, sustainable development, and applied ecology.

Coffee Production and Value Added Process: Coffee in Guatemala has a dark history. The piece of land where the Utz’ K’aslimaal Collective is located was originally forcefully appropriated from the Tz’utujil people via laws passed in the late 19th century that took land away from indigenous peoples to make way for coffee plantations. These same laws also forced indigenous people to work on the plantations, in labour drafts and through debt slavery.

Today, around Lake Atitlan many indigenous farmers are smallholders who are either working independently of one another, loosely associated by proximity and cultural ties, or formally affiliated in cooperative associations. While only a small step toward rectifying centuries of injustice, fair trade coffee is helping to improve the situation for Guatemala’s small coffee farmers.

Utz K offers workshops on the whole process of coffee production from the farm to the cup.

Traditional Weaving: In the ancient world, Maya textiles were recognized and revered as pinnacles of artistic achievement. After the arrival of the Spanish, many Maya cultural forms were destroyed, but weaving remained. Today, in many indigenous communities, women continue to wear traditional clothing, which includes brightly patterned skirts and loose-fitting handwoven smocks, known as huipils, made from a backstrap loom. Traditionally, the patterns on a huipil represent a woman’s social or marital status as well as signify her hometown and express her personality.

Utz K facilitates workshops in which participants learn from local women about traditional techniques of spinning, dyeing, and weaving, and their respective cultural significance. As part of the workshop, participants explore the weaving traditions and dying techniques found in San Juan La Laguna.

Spanish Language Training

San Pedro Language Schools: About 20 minutes away from Santiago (by boat), the small town of San Pedro offers several, high-quality language schools. Utz K can organize classes for groups interested in incorporating language learning into their trip.

On-site Tutoring: Utz K also offers on-site tutoring for individuals who want to work on their Spanish with private a Tz’utujil tutor.

Lodging Options

Eco-Cabins: Utz K currently has one eco-cabin completed. In the coming months, we hope to have several other natural, eco-cabins built and able to lodge groups. Groups will also have access to other campus facilities which include a communal kitchen, a meeting place and recreational space.

Homestays: In addition to the lodging at the Utz K campus, participants can stay with local Tz´utujil families for some or all their visit. The families that host Utz K visitors are associates of a local community development association, Anadesa, that Juan Ramírez helped to found. During field trips to other parts of Guatemala, homestays are also offered.

Private Lodging: Private lodging in one of Santiago’s many hotels can also be arranged.