Nate Howard: Nate has spent more than 13 years in Latin America, living, studying, and accompanying a diversity of grassroots indigenous and campesino initiatives. Nevertheless, he is the first to assert that before he could offer anything, he had to spend years unlearning and deconstructing many of the presuppositions that he brought with him from the North about economics, development, politics and life, and then relearn them from the very people he was working alongside.
After finishing a master’s degree in economic development, Nate got his start in Guatemala with an international NGO, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), accompanying a humanitarian relief program in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Stan in Central America in October of 2005. One of the areas most devastated by the storm was the village of Panabaj, a Tz’utujil community located on the south side of Lake Atitlan. It was through this relief effort that Nate and Juan Ramirez, fellow Utz K founder and Tz’utujil leader, became friends. In all, Nate spend a year and a half in Panabaj working with Juan and a team of local leaders to rebuild their home village. In addition to learning about community organization, this experience provided Nate with the opportunity to learn about the greater Tz’utujil community and culture, and to begin friendships that last until today.
Thereafter, Nate moved to the far western department of San Marcos to begin work with the social arm of the Catholic Church, known as the San Marcos Diocese. In San Marcos, he spent 4 ½ years accompanying primarily two processes in indigenous territories set in Central America’s tallest and most rugged mountains. The first was a rural development program centered on the formation of two agricultural cooperatives in the municipality of Sibinal. The second was an indigenous resistance movement against a transnational open-pit mining operation in the municipality of San Miguel. Both of these experiences taught Nate about the perplexing highland indigenous-campesino reality, the primacy of grassroots organization and social movements, and the necessity for creating an ontological framework that respects human rights rooted in indigenous epistemologies.
In 2012, Nate moved further south to Colombia to assume a coordinating role, again with MCC. For 3 ½ years he facilitated a vocational training program for practitioners from North, Central and South America, in which participants worked with partner agencies on grassroots projects in different regions around Colombia. The cornerstone of the program, a training curriculum that Nate crafted and implemented, sought to provide practitioners with the conceptual framework and practical tools to effectively accompany the work being done in their host communities. Above all, what he tried to impart to his team of practitioners was that one, the most effective and enduring motivations for grassroots accompaniment originate from love and respect for the people, community, culture, even the physical space, where and with whom we work, and two, love and respect are virtues that are slowly developed by rubbing shoulders with people who demonstrate with wisdom and dignity what it means to be human in the day-to-day grind of a particular context.
In addition to working on the creation of Utz K, over the course of the last 2 years, Nate has kept busy helping to develop and launch a foundation in Colombia, The Wájaro Foundation, that is given to supporting the recently initiated post-conflict reconciliation process.