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Julian Cho Society Planning Team (L-R: Elodio Rash, Donna Makin, Florenio Xuc, Rosita Kan, Roberto Kus, Seferina Miss)

Sounding of the Conch Shell

A space for Maya youth to embrace their cultural identity, build their Indigenous leadership and envision a future for their communities

April 1, 2019 — 

Join Community Service-Learning for an international program in Belize on Indigenous youth movements, happening June 10 – July 2, 2019. Apply online by April 10.

Editor’s Note: Last March, Roberto Kus, a Maya youth from Belize, took part in a three-week exchange to Winnipeg. Roberto was particularly moved by Meet Me at the Bell Tower, a weekly gathering where he saw Indigenous youth come together to voice their concerns and take action to better their communities.

Roberto returned to Belize excited to work with his peers and create an opportunity for Maya youth to embrace their cultural identity, build their Indigenous leadership and envision a future for their communities. The following article is what Roberto Kus and Seferina Miss, two youth members of the JCS Planning Team, had to share about Sounding of the Conch Shell and the five-day youth camp that they are planning in Belize.

It is often said, “The youth are our future.”

But is that statement a true reflection of the actions of communities? Do communities take into consideration how the choices they make today will affect youth tomorrow? In most villages, youth participation is minimal or nonexistent. Yet, it is said they are our future. Young people are the greatest factor to consider when developing one’s community in a way that meets the needs of the present generation and also assists future generations in meeting their own needs. 

Sounding of the Conch Shell is a one of a kind initiative that seeks to build courage and unity amongst Maya youth — created by Maya youth, for Maya youth.

Customarily, when the Alcalde (Traditional Leader) of a Maya village wishes to convene a community meeting, he has a designated individual that will sound a conch shell. The authoritative echoes of the conch shell serve as the Alcalde’s call to attend a community meeting. The meeting is the ultimate decision-making body for the village; it serves as a space where  villagers may voice their concerns and express their approval or denial of any public decision.

Sounding of the Conch Shell draws on the analogy of the Alcalde and the conch shell, calling Maya youth together and creating a space where they can embrace their cultural identity, engage in dialogue about issues affecting their communities, develop capacity in indigenous leadership, envision their future and promote community engagement.

As the Maya people say: Komonil (together), we are united, peaceful, hard-working and self-governing communities.

The JCS Planning Team is particularly cognizant of the role of women in governance. In traditional Maya culture, women have little involvement in decision-making processes and even less involvement in governance. However, women are starting to become more actively involved, including attending village meetings to voice their concerns. There is also a female Alcalde for the first time ever who holds a seat at the executive level in the Assembly of Alcaldes. This has been the biggest achievement for women; it lets Maya people see that women can execute decisions at the highest level. 

“As a feminist, one of my greatest criticisms of the Maya Tradition is that women are not seen as equal to men,” shared Seferina Miss, a youth member of the JCS Planning Team. “Women are the backbone of dedication, hard work, and commitment. It’s important for young women to voice their struggles, become leaders, advocate for equality — to be at the forefront of decision making.”

We hope the Conch Shell will call Maya youth to come together in solidarity, not only to say ‘We love our culture’ but to show that we are willing to defend our culture.

Fifteen Maya youth, eight girls and seven boys coming from different Maya communities across Toledo District, will take part in a weeklong camp packed with tons of excitement, fun and learning. Some of the activities include field trips, a photovoice project, keynote presentations and a mini cultural fair — all leading to the development of a youth action plan.

“The most alluring moment I hope to experience this June is to listen to the perspectives of the various youth from across Toledo,” shared Roberto. “Knowledge-sharing is always a moment to be treasured; I hope to listen to them and learn from them what I may not know about the communities of Toledo, while simultaneously sharing my knowledge with them.”

Julian Cho Society

Sounding of the Conch Shell was developed by Maya youth who are part of the Julian Cho Society, a Maya organization devoted to indigenous rights through research, education, and advocacy in southern Belize. JCS provides scholarships for Maya youth that enable them to pursue high school outside of their villages. Mentored by their adult allies, including Elodio Rash, and supported by JCS, these young scholars have led the planning of this camp and the vision for this youth movement.

Community Service-Learning

Community Service-Learning helps you develop the knowledge, attitudes and skills needed for community work through immersive programming and hands-on projects. For more information on our programs, visit our website, call 204-474-6992 or email anny [dot] chen [at] umanitoba [dot] ca.

CSL is honoured to take part in this Maya youth-led initiative as helpers and participants, and grateful for the opportunity to learn from indigenous communities throughout Manitoba, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Applications for Belize: Indigenous Youth Movements close on April 10. Apply online today!

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