International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001

Partners in Action-EDUCATION


Disaster Prevention from a Maya Perspective

“Kojetza´n tqetamaj nqato’qi chuwäch k’ayewal” (Let us learn to protect ourselves from disasters) is the motto of the children’s game entitled “KUMATZIN, the feathered snake”. This game is part of a pilot project being carried out in Kaqchikel indigenous schools in Guatemala and promoted by the Guatemalan Red Cross, in collaboration with the General Administration for Bilingual and Intercultural Education, ascribed to the Ministry of Education, as well as with the Sotz’íl Association and the Committee for the Mayan Decade, and the support of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

KUMATZIN is a children’s game based on Riskland, a similar game created by Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and UNICEF, and has been translated into the Kaqchikel indigenous language. With this game, children learn about the issue of natural disaster prevention, adapted to an indigenous context, through images that highlight their culture and promote their values and, at the same time, encourage them to read and write in this Mayan language.

This game is currently going through one last validation process with first, second and third graders from the San Juan de Comalapa school, located in a Kaqchikel community, 58 kilometers from the capital city, in the Department of Chimaltenango.
“By adapting this educational material, a new process is being initiated for educating and training children in indigenous languages. Learning about different issues is being promoted through educational games that include images and concepts adapted from the environment in which indigenous children live”, explained Marvin Chirix, a representative of the Sotz’il Association. Likewise, disaster prevention is addressed from a Mayan perspective, as an essential element for achieving a type of community development with its own identity, aimed at meeting the needs and addressing the problems that affect a large percentage of the Kaqchikel population.

“This game of the feathered snake promotes the Mayan philosophy, contributes to disaster prevention, helps conserve and rescue both nature and the Kaqchnikel written and oral language, and maintains its own cultural identity,” commented Gloria Batzin, head of the General Administration for Bilingual and Intercultural Education, of the Ministry of Education.

Guatemala falls into the category of a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual society. In several regions of the country, especially in rural areas, indigenous peoples comprise the majority of the population. To a large extend, the national Guatemalan identity draws from the culture of indigenous peoples, especially the Mayans, and their traditions, values, languages and spirituality.

The issue of disasters of Guatemala is not very well known, particularly among organizations that work with indigenous peoples. Agreements on vulnerability reduction have been set aside, as well as education and prevention programs for development, which should be established in consultation with and the participation of communities. This is why it imperative to work jointly and in coordination with all stakeholders involved in this issue, so that a Risk Management Plan is prepared. This plan should allow for the development of a strategy of community participation, providing alternatives and mechanisms for addressing and reducing the existing level of vulnerability, and helping systematize experiences in the field of disaster preparedness and prevention in high-risk areas.

The creation of a Mayan Network for Disaster Prevention and Culture Strengthening -that allows communities to participate actively and directly in addressing natural disaster related issues, and develops intercultural dialogues to analyze, debate and propose policies for indigenous assistance-, is a critical element to meeting the goal of reducing vulnerability and the impact of natural disasters in indigenous communities, taking into account the values, principles and philosophy of the Mayan people.

“One of the main challenges of this project is to establish a network that replicates efforts for promoting the issue of disaster prevention, the values, principles and strengthening of the indigenous culture, by adapting existing material to their contexts and realities and using appropriate learning tools”, explained Fabricio Lopez Delgado, representative of the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Intercultural and bilingual education consists of promoting an integrated type of learning among primary schools, in both Spanish and Mayan languages. This program is currently being developed in 186 primary education centers throughout the country. It is hoped that, in the long-term, the KUMATZIN children’s game is promoted in most of this centers.

For more information contact:

Alejandra Araúz
Regional Information and Communication Officer, IFRC