(translated from Spanish)
My name is Mario Ávalos Quispal, and I am a self-identified indigenous Mayan. I was born on September 11, 1979 in the town of Amatitlan in Guatemala. I am the son of an illiterate mother, abandoned by my father when I was born. Like many children in Guatemala, I had a childhood full of narrow circumstances and needs that forced me to work with my mother and grandparents in the coffee plantations on the southern coast of the country.
And it was precisely because of these shortcomings and sacrifices that I learned to appreciate the opportunity to access primary and secondary education, and what prompted me to seek academic excellence, despite the difficulties of not having a father or mother to help me with homework.
This effort in primary (elementary) and secondary (middle school) had its rewards. First, it helped me to convince my mother to continue supporting me at the high school level. Also it allowed me, at that age, to be a teacher of primary education for adults and therefore alleviated some of my school fees. At the same time, because of the enormous burden of discrimination suffered throughout my childhood and adolescence, and also because I did not speak Spanish "correctly", I began to address these issues through community organizing. I strived to be the first primary education teacher in my family and a role model for my relatives’ children.
Because of my efforts in high school, I was granted a tuition exemption and provided with a symbolic stipend at the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala
(USAC - the national university). With much effort, I managed to earn a degree in Law and Social Sciences for a career as a lawyer and notary.
I was hired at a small school in the marginal area of Palín, Escuintla, through a committee of parents. At that time, I was a newly graduated teacher without experience, and this job helped me pay for my studies. The following year, I was
comissioned director of the school, which enabled me to assist in the physical construction of the school as well as efforts to improve the quality of its education.
After completing five years of university study, I received a scholarship from the Institute of Interethnic Studies at the USAC to write my thesis, which was entitled: "The application of the National Language Law in the municipality of Palin, Escuintla." I graduated in 2005, and immediately started to work as a consultant at the Institute for Comparative Studies in Penal Sciences of Guatemala (ICCPG), where I also began my career in the field of social and criminal investigation. This consultancy was a door-opener in Spain during my Ford IFP fellowship, and in Guatemala on my return. Also, it is the basis for my first publication in 2006: "Extrajudicial executions of stigmatized youngsters: legal, social and human dimension of the phenomenon, and the responsibility of the State of Guatemala on the so-called social cleansing".
Because of the interest in human rights that awoke inside of me during this consultancy, and guided by the desire to become an example for my community, I decided to request a Ford Foundation fellowship to study for a master’s in Fundamental Rights. Fortunately, I was elected Fellow in 2005. And so it was that I committed myself to study at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain.
Through living abroad, I also strengthened my identity and sense of cultural belonging. I understood that my culture -- my system of values, my worldview – constitutes the axis of my life, and my engine to overcome struggles and reach for my goals. At the same time, my people and our culture must be my political identification flag, and the empirical basis of my approach and perspective.
The lessons learned during those years of study were diverse and many of them marked my life permanently. I had the opportunity to experience a rich academic and cultural exchange; strengthen my potential and discover new qualities I hadn’t recognized before; and meet other social and cultural realities with specific nuances. I learned how Human Rights -- and particularly Fundamental Rights -- are recognized and exercised in different ways, and should be oriented to the most vulnerable people, the disadvantaged, the excluded and the most invisible.
Upon returning to Guatemala, I began working with Hilda Morales Trujillo
, Ambassador of Conscience by Amnesty International. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee for her tireless work on behalf of non-violence against women, she has been involved in the restructuring of the indigenous Women Defence Office (DEMI), and is an executive authority on affirmative action in favor of indigenous women.
In 2009, I became a consultant for the Institute for Comparative Studies in Penal Sciences of Guatemala (ICCPG) on Juvenile Justice. The report was entitled: "Culture and Results from the Juvenile Justice System." This consultancy allowed me to change my relationship with the ICCPG, from consultant to permanent researcher. This means I have the opportunity to coordinate at a national level around the "Public Policies to Prevent Youth Violence" program. This program proposes a participatory, inclusive, intergenerational and multisectoral dialogue process, to formulate and present in 2010 public policy proposals for the prevention of youth violence in Guatemala.
As a consultant for the Juvenile Justice Observatory, which operates in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and seeks to create amendments and/or institutional strengthening policies related to justice and judicial management, I performed the following investigations: "Access to Justice for Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala: The municipality of Chimaltenango case" (2010) and "Indigenous People in Guatemala and Latin America: policy, situation status and projections" (2011). Finally, I was designated Director of the Research Department at ICCPG, my current position.
I believe that the construction and success of a professional depends not only on the structural conditions of the country, but also the external-internal resilience of the subject in question, the support of external actors and, perhaps most importantly, a commitment to a group objective based on shared identity.
Finally, I think that given the vast inequalities in my country, and the many structural conditions that raise the question of “who and why we are,” I have the ability to contribute through arguments, strategic thinking, and direct action. I am politically positioned to strive for the changes that are necessary to transform the State. I am ready.
Mario Ávalos Quispal earned his master’s degree in Human Rights from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain in 2005. Today, he is Director of Research at the Institute for Comparative Studies in Penal Sciences of Guatemala (ICCPG), with a focus on juvenile justice and youth violence prevention.