A better future for Guatemala

A better future for Guatemala

By Dialogo
January 01, 2013

At the schoolyard, boys and girls stand in front of the white and sky-blue
Guatemalan flag, listening attentively to a military officer’s speech about the
commemoration of the nation’s independence. The message is about love and respect
for the homeland, heroes and traditions, such as the Mayan warrior Tecun Uman and
the musical instrument marimba.
As part of an educational program of the 3rd Squadron of Citizen Security of
the Guatemalan Army, with a command post in Mixco, Guatemala City, the Soldiers
visit schools in order to establish a relationship with the community, to prevent
crime, and reach children and youth to convince them that the best path is keeping
to their values and moral principles.
The educational program launched in February 2012, Infantry Colonel Carlos
Mejía Girón, commander of the 3rd Squadron of Citizen Security, told Diálogo during
a September 2012 visit to the command post. “So as adults, they do not commit crimes
but become productive people for society,” he said. Seven months later, the
initiative had reached 45 public and 27 private schools in Mixco.

“We try to speak more than anything of harassment that they may be
experiencing, that they report sexual harassment and domestic violence so that we
create an open culture where people can report crimes,” Col. Mejía said. “I think
that children are increasingly reporting the problems they have at home.”
“We also take this opportunity to mention that we have schools and institutes
in the Army that welcome them, so they can continue their studies.” The idea, he
said, is that students know that the Army offers options to serve the country. This
educational program takes place during what they call Civic Monday.

A Different Week

At the Aldea El Aguacate Middle School in Mixco, the students are divided
into boys and girls. Each group has plenty of questions for the Soldiers.
What has the Army done for the development of the country? What is your
education? What are the requirements to join the Army? Private Lesly Esteban, a
member of Citizen Security, answers their questions and includes a message of
respect toward parents and the value of education.

“They [parents] are happy when we show them love and respect,” she said. “I
am a business administrator, but I joined the Army because that was my dream,” she
added. “I studied and worked at the same time while earning my certification.”
Captain Ostin Molina Díaz of the 1st Infantry Division also talks to the boys
about education. More than 40 students gather around him and listen to his
questions. Capt. Molina asks if anyone wants to be a doctor. Only a few students
respond. “Wouldn’t anyone like to be a Soldier?” he asked. This time several boys
raise their hands. “The career of a Soldier is very self-sacrificing. One leaves
everything so the population can feel safe,” Capt. Molina explained. “It is a humble
but very nice career because it gives lots of satisfaction.”
Professor Herber Ernesto Aguilar, director of Aldea El Aguacate, said the
school has more than 200 students ranging in age from 13 to 16.
“We have received a lot of help from the Army and the municipality of Mixco,
not only on security, but also civic programs,” he said. “They [students] are in
their teenage years, an age that is beautiful because they can learn values.”

On Tuesdays, the military invites public officials to give talks in schools,
among them firefighters and metropolitan police officers who speak about their
duties for 10 minutes. Special celebrations, such as one for Children’s Day, are
held for more than 400 students with clowns, cake, magicians and piñatas in
The 3rd Squadron of Citizen Security has also developed a plan with the
municipality of Mixco to strengthen the prevention of crime through education;
support for culture, sports and recreation; infrastructure; and municipal cleaning
and beautification campaigns. The goal is for students to participate in sports
after the end of the school year and also enjoy a clean community.
Outside the command post, the walls are decorated with paintings of students
who won a contest. The topics were: I love my country, I love Mixco, My friend the
Soldier, and I love peace. It’s an image that contrasts with other areas of the
municipality where gangs are common.

Col. Mejía said crime has been reduced by 42 percent since the command post
was opened. “This was a great success for Mixco because it is as a result of a
presidential program called Municipio Seguro [Safe Municipality].” The pilot program
began in Mixco to reduce crime in one of the most violent municipalities of
Guatemala City. Members of the National Civil Police, the Army and the Municipal
Transit Police carry out joint patrols in 11 areas of Mixco, according to the
Guatemalan newspaper El Periódico. It is not uncommon to see a Soldier and a police
officer riding together on a motorcycle in the streets of Mixco.