In 1981-82 at the height of the Guatemalan army's genocidal "scorched earth campaign" families were forced to flee their lands and take refuge in Mexico. (further details about the conflict)
After many years, families began to return to return to Guatemala and in 1997 formed the communities of SantaElena, 20 de Octubre and CopalAA la Esperanza. Approximately 250 Q'eqchi'-speaking Mayan Indians founded Santa Elena and approximately 400 Q'eqchi', Q'anjob'al, and Mam-speaking Mayan Indians founded CopalAA. Both villages are in the department of Alta Verapaz.
These communities requested support from the outside community at a time of fragile and uncertain peace.
Formation of SEPA
SEPA also formed in 1997 to fund nonviolent human rights observers who lived in returned refugee villages in order to forestall violent human rights violations.
Santa Elena Primary School
SEPA is a volunteer organization that raises money through participation in the Oberlin Farmers Market, through the sale of textiles hand-woven in CopalAA and elsewhere, through a B&B program in Oberlin, and through donations from individuals and churches.
Selling at the Farmers Market
SEPA is a 501c3 organization.
SEPA's current activities:
- Provide scholarships for students from Santa Elena who continue their education through middle or high school in day or boarding schools in other communities.
- Supplement school supplies in Santa Elena.
- Provide support for Accompaniers.
- Support for the newly formed middle school in CopalAA. (salary supplements for 2 of the 3 teachers)
- Organize delegations of Oberlin College students who travel to Santa Elena and Copal AA during January Term.