What War?

Photo by Laurie Levinger Testimonies of Maya Survivors http://www.levinger.net/laurie/writing/what-war/

Photo by Laurie Levinger
Testimonies of Maya Survivors

“I remember when I was 8 years old. At that time my parents forbade me to leave the house,and nothing more than the dying could be heard. We did not know who had died”.

“When we heard the sound of gunfire near the village, my parents would not work in the field but we stayed in the house.”

“I even have a friend that can’t forget where his father died. We were around eight years old and the soldiers grabbed his father in an apple tree and burned him, still alive, in front of him.”

“It was terrible because my mom has told me that sometimes people were just thrown in the streets, with no head. There were people, already dead, but with no head, no arms, no legs. The war damaged my family because it was very hard and still today people don’t forget– at least I don’t forget– because the war marked me with that memory.”

“When I have children I will tell them how I lived. That is to help them understand that you have to appreciate yourself. But I won’t go into great depth because maybe, from my point of view, it would hurt them, maybe, their minds. But yes, I’d tell them what I went through and what happened: just like my mother told me, I also have to tell my children.”

“There is still a great deal of pain. They’re afraid, because of the war. Maybe it was because the village isn’t developed economically and intellectually because we couldn’t study, there weren’t schools then, there weren’t classes, the soldiers came and they burned the schools and the church.”

The Power of Speaking and Hearing Truth.

Laurie listens to women in Bisan, Guatemala give testimony

Laurie listens to women in Bisan, Guatemala give testimony

The experiences of Maya individuals, families and communities during the internal armed conflict have been repeated countless times in countries around the globe.The words and emotions shared in Laurie Levinger’s 2009 book, What War? Testimonies of Maya Survivors  (Cual Guerra? Testimonios de sobrevivientes Mayas) could have been given by armed conflict survivors anywhere, anytime, in any war or conflict region.

Laurie returned to Guatemala the summer of 2014 to meet with some of the students who had given their first testimony 10 years ago. She wanted to learn how these young people have been affected by their experiences during the armed conflict and the effect those experiences have had on their lives during the past 10 years.

As a result, Laurie is researching and writing  Guerra inconclusa: La voz de sobrevivients (Unfinished War: Voices of Survivors). This book highlights the testimonies and stories of the long term impact on the lives of survivors.

Listen to an authentic testimony:

What War? Testimonies of Mayan Survivors published in English and Spanish.

What War? Testimonies of Mayan Survivors published in English and Spanish.

Video of Mayan survivor with subtitles in English

The  video includes a testimony given by Lupita, a 19 year old Maya woman who is a survivor of the civil war in Guatemala. The testimony is given in Spanish with English subtitles. A video of three verbatim testimonies will be included in my new book of survivors’ stories: Guerra inconclusa; La voz de sobrevivients.

The voices of these survivors teach us valuable lessons applicable to philanthropists, funders, volunteers, government representatives, and businesses working in any region with a history of being affected by armed conflict.

You can get updates and  order your signed copy of Guerra inconclusa: La voz de sobrevivients (Unfinished War: Voices of Survivors.) The book will be published in Spanish in Guatemala. An English edition will be published at a later date. Send Laurie an e-mail indicating your interest: laurie@levinger.net

Learn more about Laurie Levinger, What War? Testimonies of Maya Survivors  and her other books on her website.

 Global Philanthropy:   Risk, Opportunity and Responsibility


Philanthropic work in communities impacted by intergenerational armed conflict experiences are deeply defined in the context of place, values, and survival strategies. Philanthropic risk is illustrated by the complexity of a double helix.

One strand is focused on the technical and programmatic interventions that provide outcomes desired and supported by philanthropic funders and other actors. The technical strand focuses on what kind of job training or health programs or enterprise development programs will work in this specific place with this specific culture’s values, experiences and survival strategies.IMG_0385

The other strand of the double helix is related to community building. Does a community that has intergenerational impact from armed conflict experiences and survival strategies have the capacity within the community to  identify their own needs? Are the needs too broad based, and values too fractured to create a vision for their future? Does the capacity exist to develop plans and implement activities? How are  the processes developed that are needed to carry out the vision, develop goals, plan projects and implement  interventions that can meet the outcome measures and evaluation requirements of Philanthropic funders and other actors?


Philanthropic opportunity is anchored in local leadership development, and local community engagement in the change process.

A electric pulpero, milling machine to take the skins off the coffee beans.  The process had previously been done by hand  Illom, Guatemala

A Bright Star Philanthropy Partner donor has provided for the  coffee farmers an electric pulpero. It is a milling machine to take the skins off the coffee beans. The process had previously been done by hand
Illom, Guatemala

Farmer members of the non-profit ASO-Ixil Association work together to transport and install the pulpero

Farmer members of the non-profit Association work together to transport and install the pulpero. The local farmer committee decide the rules and fees for Associate use.

Bright Star Philanthropy Partners (BSPP)

is a shared value community development initiative of Bright Star Grant Consultants. BSPP identifies and supports Central American indigenous leaders to realize solutions that they design and execute with BSPP collaborations, technical assistance, and grants.

The BSPP demonstration project in Chajul, Guatemala is anchored in the individual and group development of both men and women local indigenous leaders. The experiences quoted at the beginning of this blog are from Ixil Maya indigenous leaders sponsored by BSPP.   These young adults are the hope for the future for this war impacted community which is located far beyond the beyond of the end of the road.

Voices of Hope

“I’m studying business administration. My vision is to give people in my village jobs, and the capacity to start a business. We are farmers who grow coffee, cardamom, and vegetables. I want to make an Association to be able to export coffee and have a business in the village to give people jobs. That’s my vision.”  Manuel Laynez Anay, quoted 2011 

Manuel Laynez Anay: was born in Chajul, Guatemala in 1982, during the most intense period of genocide activities against the Ixil Mayans. His mother had been recently widowed by the conflict. His childhood experiences were fear, hunger, and no opportunity for education until the peace accords in 1996, at age 14.

Through Manuel’s leadership the non-profit Association was legally registered with the Guatemalan Government in 2013. The Association has 92 farmer associates in 7 remote villages, as well as Chajul.  They are engaged in coffee production and vegetable gardening for food security. This year the women’s Association is beginning a business based on their textile artistry in back strap weaving.


Philanthropic responsibility in post-conflict communities requires emergent strategies based on listening to the voices of individuals.

Strengthening local developing community groups in post conflict-affected communities should be a philanthropic priority. Donors often expect these fledgling groups to become professional bodies immediately but without providing adequate support to help strengthen them.

The Double Helix Realized

Bright Star Philanthropy Partners has approached their demonstration project in Chajul, Guatemala with the whole system strategy of developing holistic capacity.  In real terms this means developing partnerships across sectors.  Actualization of this strategy is demonstrated in the collaboration of BSPP, Seed Programs International  and a fledgling non-profit Association based in Chajul, Guatemala. Their vegetable garden projects focused on results and have provided food security, as well as improved livelihoods in the first cohort. A second cohort focused on food security for 20 widows and elders is just starting.

Scale Up

Fifty Vegetable Gardens for Guatemala Maya Elders and Widows 

Community support for vegetable gardens for Elders

Community support for vegetable gardens for Elders

With your help, vegetable seeds provided by Seed Programs International will grow fresh vegetables for Maya Ixil elders and widows in great need of nutrition and income, so each can grow more than 500 fresh vegetable servings.



BSPP  Theory of Change

Sustainable philanthropic impact results from investing in local leaders, as their own personal experiences during conflict gives them unique psycho-social insight. This becomes particularly important when systems and processes are weak. These individuals will independently continue to function as change agents in their communities.

Knowledge share:

Yale University Genocide Studies Program

Founded in January 1998, the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University’s MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies conducts research, seminars and conferences on comparative, interdisciplinary, and policy issues relating to the phenomenon of genocide. The Program is sponsored by the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School.   

Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy & Applied Care

IDRAAC is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that was officially founded by experts in the field of mental health in 1997. IDRAAC members have been conducting research since 1982. At that time, the founding members of IDRAAC were faced with a grim reality: there was no data on mental health disorders in Lebanon, nor any available assessment tools to assess the prevalence of these disorders (on a large scale). Above all, the Lebanese wars had been ravaging the country for five years and there was little knowledge about their effect on the mental health of the population.


Renee Bourque, MEd.GPC President: Bright Star Grant Consultants

Renee Bourque, MEd.GPC President: Bright Star Grant Consultants

Bright Star Grant Consultants, Inc. serves a wide variety of clients on a global scale. For more information about our services and Bright Star Philanthropy Partner’s initiative in Central America, please contact us at:

e: renee @ brightstarconsultants.com

One thought on “What War?

  1. Dear Laurie,
    I can’t wait to read your latest book.
    Great job!
    I hope to get together with you soon to discuss your latest adventures in Guatemala and to hear more about your book.


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