Western Highlands of Guatemala


In our newsletter, Near & Far, we digitally travel to locations all around the world, explore a region’s unique environment and culture, and share stories of local community impact. Subscribe to receive our emails every other week!

Guatemala is sometimes referred to as a land of tragic beauty because it is so deeply beautiful in its landscapes and through its peoples, whilst it is also so deeply scarred by legacies of colonization and violence, ongoing exploitation, discrimination and land expropriation of its indigenous peoples, and by climate change. –  Anne Marie Chomat


  •  Guatemala is the largest country in Central America
  • The Maya make up almost two-thirds of the Guatemalan population, and belong to 21 distinct Maya peoples.
  • The word Guatemala comes from the indigenous Nahuatl word “Quahtlemallan,” meaning “land of many trees.” While the country is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and boasts a huge amount of forest, large swathes of it are being cut down for many reasons, most notably for agriculture megaprojects and drug trafficking.
  • 22 languages are spoken in the country. While Spanish is the official language, the 21 indigenous Maya peoples each have their own language, and many are still widely used today.
  • Guatemala is famous for its volcanoes, with 37 volcanoes in the country. Three of these volcanoes are active, including Fuego Volcano just outside the city of Antigua. Lava flows can sometimes be seen at night! Tajumulco, in the north of the country near the Mexican border, reaches 4,203 meters above sea level, the largest volcano in Central America.
  • Source: theculturetrip.com, with feedback from project leaders

Traditional Mayan music by the group Música Maya Aj

We recommend listening while you scroll through the rest of the post!

*The information in the rest of this newsletter was provided by our incredible project Buena Semilla.

Travel with us to the western highlands of Guatemala, an area categorized by beautiful landscapes, and large populations of Indigenous communities. 

Santiago Atitlán is a small town in Guatemala, resting at the edge of a beautiful lake and nestled between three volcanoes. The Tz’utujil people, of Mayan descent and making up 98% of the population, call their land “Tz’quin Jaay”, “House of Birds.” They use this name as recognition of the larger ecosystem they inhabit, and the birds and other animals they cohabitate with. The people here live in harmony with the land.

San Juan Ostuncalco is located in the western highlands of Guatemala, where 86% of the population identify as native Maya Mam. Before the Spanish arrived, the town was named Chixicul but was renamed sometime in the 1520s. In the Mayan Mam language, “Ostuncalco” means “place where there are caves”, which many attribute to the large number of rivers and springs that exist there. 

Indigenous Maya peoples make up almost two-thirds of the population in Guatemala. Despite their majority, they face ongoing oppression, ethnic discrimination, political violence, and displacement.

Women in Guatemala experience one of the highest rates of gender-basedviolence in the world – a legacy of colonialism, deeply patriarchal structures, and violence against women as a weapon of war. intersecting discriminations and continuing violence in and outside the home significantly impact women, especially those of Mayan descent.

A group of women gather in a circle, their colorful skirts dancing around their bodies in the wind. This is a site of healing, of learning, and of community building. “I always bring my son with me. It’s important that he learns from a young age to listen to and recognize the presence of women.” – Soraya, women’s circle participant


Buena Semilla is a grassroots project based in Santiago Atitlán and San Juan Ostuncalco, in Guatemala. Project co-inspirers Sadi García, Dolores Quievac Sapalú, and Anne Marie Chomat co-create collective spaces, hand-in-hand with local communities and 15 community-based leaders, where women and men may become agents of change in their own lives, families and communities. These spaces are community-based, community-led Women’s Circles and Dialogue groups for both men and women. Buena Semilla is a living example of flipping positions of power upside-down to create more equitable structures for those with less privilege to reclaim sovereignty. In fragile contexts heavily marked by colonialism, conflict, and gender-based violence, these safe, transformational spaces catalyze the reweaving of a broken social & cultural fabric and the collective building of a better world for all.

Inspired by ancient circles of wise grandmothers, Buena Semilla’s Women’s Circles are spaces where women of different ages can share their experiences with one another. Women participants meet in circle every week. In this safe space, women experience the importance of lifting each other up in a context where they are often isolated and invisible. They build support networks, share difficulties and solutions, and reinforce their self-esteem and their capacity for action.

No one woman is superior to the other, and each becomes a source of support, empowerment, and change, for themselves and others. Collective and individual wounds are healed, and a new world is woven in everyone’s hands.

Because of these healing spaces, many women this year were able to overcome debilitating sadness, anxiety, headaches and body aches, and feelings of not being able to continue. Each woman inspiring and encouraging the other to pick up the pieces of their lives to plant a new seed, a new dream, a new reality for themselves, their families, and their communities.

In 2022, 385 women committed to the project, 437 circles were held by 16 different leaders in 23 communities. There were 77 workshops for women leaders.

In the indigenous worldview, men and women are opposites and complement one another. In 2021, Buena Semilla generated a process to work side by side with the male population in Santiago Atitlán in the recovery of their ancestral ways of life, to be in harmony with women, contributing to the reduction of violence, and achieving greater gender equity.

In 2022, 51 men’s circles were held, 24 men committed to the process, there were 3 focus groups guided by 2 leaders, and 5 communities were involved.


Now, Buena Semilla dreams of expanding, and exponentiating their impact. They want to bring on 10 new women leaders, and 4 new men leaders to guide community circles. They want to create 10 new circles for adolescents and young women, and 4 new mens circles. Your contribution, no matter how small, allows Buena Semilla to reduce violence for Indigenous women in these areas, and expand healing opportunities. Learn more below, and respond directly to this email to ask how you can sponsor the creation of a new circle, or the onboarding of a new community leader.


Anne Marie Chomat – International Coordinator & Liaison

Anne Marie Chomat, MD, PhD, MPH, is a transformational mentor and guide, working with individuals and collectives to reclaim their medicine and step into the fullness of their voice, their unique gifts, their presence. She focuses on contributing to women’s empowerment, collective healing processes and the intentional co-creation of new realities, in partnership with local communities. Anne Marie started collaborating with Maya Mam women in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in 2009. Together they founded Buena Semilla and have been co-creating and growing ever since.

Sadi García – Project Coordinator in San Juan Ostuncalco

Sadi is a Maya & mestizo woman who embraces her roots and history. Quetzalteca and of colored bone, fire, color and rhythm are part of her DNA. She is a sister of nature, daughter of the earth and the sun. “Buena Semilla has been for me a starting point of a metamorphosis of love. It is the space where I and other women have gone from being chrysalis to butterflies. It is the convergence of our strength, courage, faith and love. I have been transformed together with this sisterhood through the offering of our words, and I have learned that there is nothing to discover, that all the knowledge of our ancestors is here in our DNA. Buena Semilla, together with the Women Circles, represents for me in this present moment, happiness, love and fulfillment.”

Dolores Quievac Sapalú – Project Coordinator in Santiago Atitlán

Dolores is a Maya tz’utujil woman and mother to a small son. She was born in a small town with much poverty and social inequality, especially for indigenous women. She started working at a young age and dropped out of school to help her family. She learned the traditional sacred art of mustacilla weaving and believes that embracing our cultural art & traditions can create a better world. She recently returned to school to study accounting and law and now dedicates her strength, energy, knowledge and love to help build more just realities for women and children in her community. “Working with women is so powerful. It transforms the whole world through the strength of these women.“

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