“Whenever we listen to our true selves and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves but for all the people whose lives we touch.“ -Parker Palmer

We started dreaming about a gathering for the Guatemala partners in 2019- a chance for the programs to harvest their collective knowledge, access experts in topics of their interest, and find opportunities for collaboration. Having witnessed the impact of the learning networks in Asia, we were excited to launch a network in this region too. All six partners were just as excited and contributed with ideas and topics for the gathering. We originally planned to launch it in early 2020.

The pandemic however posed an enormous challenge to carry out our plans for the network- not only it was impossible to gather in person, but the partners were dealing with different crises and responding to emergencies in their communities, often pressed for time and directing all efforts to the sustenance of their organizations. At a time when the partners needed other forms of urgent support, we shifted our focus to the Rapid Response Fund. However, the pandemic continued to encourage important conversations with the partners about sustainability and health: both for the organization and their teams, which reinforced the importance of building a space for collaboration where partners can work on finding solutions together and learn from each other.

Inspired by the partners’ ability to adapt, we decided to launch the network virtually, through a series of workshops focused on self-care for non-profit leaders. The pandemic made it evident that in order to have healthy organizations and therefore a healthy network (or as we like to call it: a healthy forest), it is imperative to strengthen the roots: the talented leaders and their teams who work tirelessly to effect change in their communities and who are often role models for the participants they serve and beyond. 

The network was launched in May this year. We partnered with CIRCULA: Restorative Leadership Center, a Guatemalan non-profit organization that facilitates programs to strengthen the leadership of changemakers in Central America. Twelve leaders (two members of each organization) were invited to participate.  Three facilitators offered four workshops that followed CIRCULA’ s  model of integrating a restorative approach with managerial competencies, deep personal exploration, and participatory leadership methods. Flor García-Mencos, CIRCULA’s Executive Director led the series. Daniel López, a time management expert, and Lucía Estacuy, a Restorative Practices facilitator and Social Technologies expert joined us for two sessions. Break-out rooms were used to promote interaction and collaboration between participants as well as one-on-one time for reflection. 

During the first session ‘The Roots’, we explored the importance of self-care, establishing associations to its deep meaning and understanding how its absence impacts the life of an organization. Practical tools for restoring balance through time management were shared. 

“These workshops have been a relief for me, as they have become a safe space to reflect about how easy it can be to neglect ourselves to prioritize the organization’s needs if we don’t have balanced habits. We love our missions so much that we tend to give it all. This workshop has left me thinking about the importance of allowing time and resources for the team to work on ourselves too. It brought me back to remembering why I joined forces with the organization: to impact the lives of others with the work we do- and to do that, we need to be well too.” 

Julio Letona, ASSADE’s Programs Director. 

The second session, ‘The Trunk’ focused on learning the elements that allow a healthy work environment, as well as identifying the challenges of the organizations in relation to self-care and how to face them. Tools for defining roles, promoting dialogue and spaces of forgiveness within organizations were shared. Movement practices were introduced: involving the body in learning and reconciling with it, an important part of our well-being. 

“I identify with the difficulties faced by other organizations that other participants have been sharing. I am learning a lot both from the tools and information being taught, and the anecdotes shared by other participants… We learned how to ask powerful questions for conflict resolution and that helped me to resolve a problem with a team member amicably. I look forward to sharing these tools with the rest of my team in our upcoming retreat.” 

-Viviana Contreras, Director of Programs & PR

‘The Foliage’ was the title of the third session, where the focus was acquiring concrete tools to make changes in the organizations that contribute to the well-being of the staff and positively impact the organizational culture, and reflecting on the internal condition of the leaders and their influence on the culture of their organization. We learned the elements of restorative leadership in self-care, the PERMA model, and an introduction to basic meditation practices. 

“I enjoy attending workshops for personal growth in my free time and I was really excited to be able to do this as part of my role in Aula Mágica. It is important to think about these topics as an organization too. Our children look up to our facilitators and we can choose to be good role models by caring for ourselves, being healthy and happy.”

-Sofía García, Aula Mágica’s Operations Manager.

The fourth session focused on ‘The Forest’: how to take advantage of the collective wisdom of the group to build new resources in a space that promotes reflection and collaboration as members of a network. Inspired by the book “The secret life of trees” by Peter Wohlleben, we shared lessons on cooperation and sustainability. Practice included a space for each participant to work on a  sustainable personal self-care plan and facilitation of the participatory leadership methodology Design for Wiser Action (DWS) to co-create an organizational self-care plan from the collective wisdom of the group, that GoPhil network members can use in their organizations.

“I am motivated to keep finding ways to apply what we have learned through this series, to keep learning and sharing these practices with the rest of our team and with the organizations that we collaborate with… It excites me to think about all the possibilities for the network too, the different topics that we can discuss and potential collaborations for the future.”

-Yessica Pastor, Entremundos Director.

The network will be meeting again in October to share how their organizational self-care plans have impacted themselves and their teams and how they can keep motivating self-care practices in their organizations. The network will also choose upcoming topics to discuss as a network for future sessions.  So far, the participants have shared these stories about how the workshops have impacted them: 

“I am starting to see small changes in my daily habits. Centering on these topics forced me to stop for a while and reflect on how my work habits impact my health and overall, my life. Changing small things like choosing to have lunch outside of the office resulted in me being able to disconnect and enjoy my meals more. As leaders, we have the possibility to influence our teams and I want to do that.”

-Raúl Heigig, Centro Maya’s CBR Coordinator

Raúl and Viviana replicated these workshops for Centro Maya’s team during their yearly retreat back in late June. Others have also been inspired to share their newly acquired skills with other members of their organizations: 

“These workshops have reminded me why I choose to get up every morning to go to work at La Esperanza school. The students are my motivation and I want to make sure that I am energized and focused when teaching. Self-care is imperative to achieve that. I look forward to sharing these practices and experiences with them. It is crucial for them to grow up being mindful about self-care.” 

-Zoila Chan, Comunidad La Esperanza Academic Coordinator.

As Julio from ASSADE pointed out: “We managed to develop a bond despite the workshops being virtual, which I think will be an important part of this network. We have created intimacy and trust since the first workshop and that allowed us to delve deeper into topics that can be tough to discuss, like the pressure we feel and the difficulties we face. This will also help to develop further relationships and collaborations.” And we are already starting to hear about collaborations between members. Comunidad La Esperanza will be collaborating with Aula Mágica to strengthen their new primary school program and supporting them in the registry of their students before the Ministry of Education- a process that requires experience to be navigated;, and with Centro Maya to exchange systematization tools and best practices. The organizations are also collaborating to discuss the new NGO Law and how it will affect their organizations, looking for solutions together. 

CIRCULA will continue to support the network too, this being the first alliance secured by the Guatemala Learning Network. Several partners have expressed interest in participating in the Leadership & Collaboration Certification offered by  CIRCULA, The University for Peace in Costa Rica, and UPEACE Center for  Executive Learning. We are currently discussing how this can become a reality as the program focuses on leadership and management skills development that can positively impact their work in their organizations and support the development of the network, as one of the objectives is for the network to be self-driven in the future. 

We are planning to meet for a three-day in-person learning and networking event either in late November or early December- since most of the participants of the network have received a vaccine and the remaining are eligible to get it now and plan to get it by then. Safety measures to prevent covid-19 will be taken throughout the event. We keep monitoring the impact of covid-19 to make sure that everyone stays healthy, as unfortunately, Guatemala is experiencing the worst contagion and hospitalization rates since the pandemic started.

“I am grateful to be part of a network where we can all grow.” -Misty López, Maya Traditions Executive Director.