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Laying the Foundations for a Bright Year for SERES

Thirty-one participants from across Guatemala and El Salvador recently took part in SERES’s 2018  Annual General Assembly, which ran between the 23rd and the 25th of March. A key event in the SERES calendar, the Assembly took place in the lush, green surroundings of San Rafael Las Hortensias, a training center located near Santiago Sacatepéquez, Guatemala. The tranquil environment afforded crucial space for the SERES team to meet and connect with youth ambassadors from far and wide, enabling cross-pollination of ideas and crucial feedback on the organization’s ambitious plans for continued grassroots-led expansion of their work, towards youth-based sustainability transitions.

Fifteen of the weekend’s participants hailed from Guatemala and sixteen from El Salvador, drawn from across twelve different municipalities, indicating the successful rooting of the SERES approach across these two neighboring countries. As a youth-led association, SERES takes a unique approach to encouraging ownership over the work they’re involved in by Central American young people, with its graduates and alumni being voting members who elect youth representatives to the Board of Directors at the Assembly each year. This system has resulted in almost half of the SERES board, and two-thirds of its staff, being drawn from its growing pool of alumni.

The weekend began with a Welcome Session, encouraging the cultivation of strong bonds which would last across the three-day event and beyond. Each ambassador presented or shared something which the group didn’t know about their lives, providing a means to break down interpersonal barriers and cultivate an open environment of sharing and mutual support.
After the welcome, the attendees gathered to discuss advances in the Association’s Pueblos En Transición (PT) initiative. Soon to be piloted in communities in Guatemala, this initiative draws on consultation and suggestions from alumni and the grassroots: namely, that a common factor of success in local action is having a regional and/or local presence on the ground, one that can support the development and implementation of action plans for community sustainability

The PT initiative will establish youth-led Resource Hubs for sustainable economic empowerment and development, beginning with the community of Tecpan in the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango. Opening the work of SERES to the wider community, the Hubs will provide important cross-sectoral training programs, support seed funding for local initiatives, and will host four main activities: training, financing, mentoring and events. Most importantly, they will provide a safe youth-centered space in the community, providing a crucible within which youth-led change can flourish and grow.

At the Assembly, Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique was used by participants to probe and assess the PT project in a focused way, dividing the group into six different ‘hats’, each trying to see the project from a different angle, whether through brightness and optimism (the Yellow Hat), judgment and problem seeking (the Black Hat), or creativity and idea generation (the Green Hat).

After this activity, the General Assembly also provided a crucial space for Ambassadors who have had the opportunity to be involved in international events over the last year to share their experiences with others in the group. Wilson Sánchez, for instance, recounted his trip to Uruguay, helped through funding from a SERES Ambassadors Award. Wilson emphasized how the experience had helped him to come out of his shell and take a leap into the unknown:

“Antonio, Susy and other colleagues encouraged and supported me in applying. It was a long process, requiring an enormous number of documents, which I sent, and just thought I would see what would happen. In truth, it was an unforgettable experience, learning from other young people also working for change in their communities, sharing experiences, and always remembering the breadth of vision which we have to maintain.

We learned to appreciate the differences within such a diverse group, whether in ways of living, thinking or expressing ourselves, and learning that differences can actually enrich, ensuring inclusivity, not exclusivity. Our network of ambassadors, gathered here with SERES, is the same: we are all from different places, contexts, harboring different thoughts and ideas, and yet all can contribute to social transformation.”

Wilson raised the important question of how the personal relates to the political, recounting a phrase he had heard from one of the founders of the organization Gente Que Avanza, that “before social structures, it is firstly necessary to change people’s mental structures”. Provoking much thought, Wilson raised the question of how effective it is “to think about large social change if I do not know myself as a person, how I am acting with others or how well or badly I am doing? Starting firstly from myself, changing limiting ideas that in some way hinder me from achieving what I want to, and then expanding from there, that’s how change comes about.”

Abigail Quic also fed back from her three-month Australian odyssey (see this post on the SERES blog for an account of Abigail’s first month working with OzGreen, with whom she shared the methodology and vision of SERES in Australia), discussing some of the challenges that arose in terms of language barriers, but also the rich intercultural exchanges which took place. Abigail drew links between the rich aboriginal Australian material culture of drawing and textiles and that in her own Tz’utujul ethnic group in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. As with Wilson, Abigail recounted how being abroad, out of her comfort zone provoked important self-reflection which will go on to have important local consequences:

“This experience helped me enormously in getting to know myself, to understand that I am more mature than I had thought, and to realize the extent of the techniques and methodologies for transformation which I have learned over the past seven years.”SERES would also like to congratulate the young people elected as representatives on the Association’s board of directors (Junta Directiva) over the weekend. These are Verenice Rogel (Coordinator), Fredy Sitaví (Treasurer), Rogelio Rivas (Communication) and Elizabeth Machic (Outreach).
Axel Salanic, our new Vice President, who was also elected at the Assembly, captured well the ethos through which SERES hopes to continue working over the next year.

“I have felt included and connected from the minute that I became involved (in SERES). It has helped me grow in my personal leadership. SERES never tells me what to do, but they support me to make the decisions that are right for me.”

Written by Dr. Thomas Smith, PhD.

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