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The 2024 bootcamp, held in Guatemala, brought together participants in ICT network management in Indigenous and rural communities in Latin America, as part of the training programme promoted by APC, Rhizomatica and REDES A.C. and the International Telecommunication Union. Jean Pierre Orozco Ruiz, a participant in the project, recounts the experience in this article originally published and translated by Comunicares.

Bootcamp 2024 was definitely a space where hearts came together to learn and transform realities. Participating in this in-person camp was like opening a window to a world full of fresh ideas and vibrant debates. This transformative experience was the heart and soul of the Training Programme for the Management of ICT Networks in Indigenous and Rural Communities in Latin America, led by the International Telecommunication Union and a network of organisations linked to community and Indigenous communication like APC, Rhizomatica and REDES A.C.

This training programme, which also includes a significant online component over nearly a year, provides technical knowledge for the installation, operation and maintenance of communication projects, and creates a network of people who support each other to strengthen the paths towards technological autonomy in our territories.

During 10 days, we lived intensely from dawn to dusk, in a continuous marathon of activities and reflections. A true roller coaster of emotions and learning!

From the moment I arrived in Guatemala, I was ready to enjoy, connect and push my own limits. And so it was, life smiled upon us by allowing César Hugo Cutipa Quenta from Pluriversidad Andino Amazónico del Abya Yala (Peru), and me to have, as our first contact at the camp, the incredible, brilliant and energetic Soraya Bayuelo from Colombia. Soraya, with her power and enthusiasm, made us feel at home from the first moment. Her participation in the various spaces of the camp was simply inspiring. She not only shared knowledge but also moved and challenged us to take action. Her energy was contagious, and every conversation with her became a boost to move forward with more strength and determination.

As a passionate audiovisual creator, the stories shared by Soraya from the Montes de María Línea 21 Communications Collective were like flashes of light on my creative path. Her participation brought to my mind a reflection shared by Adrián López from REDES A.C. during the online courses in 2023: in community communication projects, we often focus too much on technology, forgetting that it is just one piece of the puzzle. Soraya masterfully demonstrated that the true starting point is the territory, life, identity and dreams of our communities. We cannot understand people without understanding their environment; we are an integral part of our territory. Understanding the ground we stand on is fundamental, as it lays the foundation for the creation of meaningful and authentic community communication projects.

Activities during the 2024 Bootcamp

During the bootcamp, we also immersed ourselves in reflection circles on gender, a space of deep intimacy where we interacted among peers, forming a group of diverse women and diverse men, with full awareness of the need to address delicate situations (a necessary and innovative process where great reflections emerged). As community and social communicators, we are constantly exposed to several risks. However, as Sergio López Gómez from Centro de Producción y Formación Audiovisual Comunitaria Zimatlán (Mexico) pointed out, we rarely reflect on how, sometimes unintentionally, we can endanger our colleagues, whether with a joke or an expression that reflects the sexism ingrained in our culture, which are, in themselves, forms of micro aggression, as María Fernanda Álvaro Arias from Ecuador rightly noted. The gender circles at the bootcamp allowed us to gain sight of the urgent need to transform violent narratives around gender, and we understood that only our commitment to change and the deconstruction of these practices can lead us towards a more equitable society.

Being a circle composed solely of diverse men, we had the opportunity to express our experiences and recognise the privileges we often overlook – a revealing experience, right? This led me to reflect on the concept of Ubuntu – “I am because you are” – a transformative leadership that seeks to build bridges on the basis of authenticity and empathy, which we fully experienced in the gender circles. I understood that it is not just an exchange of ideas, but a conscious and committed effort to move forward together towards a more just and equitable future.

Among the most significant dialogue spaces, undoubtedly, was the Forum on Telecommunications in Remote Areas and Indigenous Peoples: Trends, Opportunities, and Perspectives for Central America. It was a luxury to hear from the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, or to learn from the experiences of the magnificent Natalia Vinelli, former deputy director of special projects at the communications regulatory agency in Argentina, Enacom. We also learned about the historical context of the struggles of community radios in Guatemala and the 2021 Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that declared the state of Guatemala responsible for violating the freedom of expression and cultural rights of four Indigenous communities operating community radio stations; definitely an opportunity to reaffirm that in an increasingly interconnected world, access to communication becomes a fundamental right. It is crucial to recognise and protect this right as a pillar of democracy and human development.

People participating in the panels

It was inspiring to see how such relevant and current issues about telecommunications in remote areas and Indigenous communities were addressed, truly leaving us full of hope! I invite everyone to visit the REDES A.C. YouTube channel to watch the event panels (worth every second). Besides absorbing so much knowledge, the event left us with a renewed spirit and full of positive energy. And then, it was time to return to the camp in what I called the “party bus”. It was a total celebration, with everyone joyful and sharing moves in a small but cheerful space filled with laughter and smiles reflecting happy hearts. This moment was so special that I loved recording it, wanting to ensure I preserved the essence of that meeting with noble hearts and noble purposes! (You can check out my Instagram profile if you want to see the video).

It is impossible not to highlight the methodological process of Orlando Huerta and Mayra Giménez, collaborators of Onergia Cooperativa, who conducted the workshop on basic principles of electricity and solar energy. This experience not only provided us with technical skills but also reminded us of the importance of energy as a fundamental resource in our lives and projects. It taught us to appreciate the interconnection between practical knowledge and political action, reinforcing our commitment to sustainability and community empowerment.

In addition to all the above, I want to highlight the unique experience of being part of a radio party, the cherry on top of this exciting journey. We dived into a whirlwind of technical, artistic, production, broadcasting, hosting and content editing activities – a true madness into which we all plunged headfirst! We took on this challenge with the broadcasting workshop team, led by the spectacular Loreley Cavieres  from Radio Ahijuna FM and the incredible Santiago García Gago, from Radios Libres.

Definitely, my most tense moments at the camp were probably during the radio party production, but they were also the most exciting and satisfying. We learned so much from Loreley and Santiago, who guided us through every step necessary to carry out this unique experience. From choosing the name of our radio, Tz’ikin, to the hours leading up to the event and the broadcast itself, each moment was unforgettable and will surely be part of the anecdotes we will share for a long time.

On this path of transcendental connections, my experience at the bootcamp became even more significant when I had the privilege of meeting my Guatemalan colleagues. Especially people like Jenny Ixmatá, a Maya K’iche’ leader whose passion and commitment to her community deeply impressed me. Discovering Jenny's work, both as a fellow of the SUSI programme in the 2023 Women Leaders edition and as the founder of the Uk’ux Kem Weaving School, was a true turning point for me. Her dedication to strengthening cultural identity and promoting the leadership of Indigenous women is truly inspiring.

Yadira Morales, another notable presence, is a living example of perseverance and courage. Recognised as one of the Heroines in the Women in Science, Technology and Innovation magazine, Yadira constantly challenges gender stereotypes in her Maya Ixil community. Her determination and effort are a source of inspiration for all who have the privilege of knowing her.

Angélica Chuy also left a deep impression on me. As a fervent Maya Kaqchikel communicator, Angélica uses alternative narratives as a tool to amplify the voices of her community and raise awareness about the rights and situation of Indigenous peoples. Her commitment to social justice and cultural preservation is truly admirable. Additionally, people like Dalila García, collaborator of the Mesoamerican Leadership School, and Marta Calel, who helped us share the meaning behind the name of our radio party Tz’ikin, were fundamental in my experience. Their warmth, wisdom and generosity left an indelible mark on me and on all those who had the honor of meeting them.

These powerful women are living examples of resilience, determination and leadership. Their life stories, their work in political advocacy, and their communication projects deserve continuous recognition and greater opportunities to be heard and valued.

Diverse women participating in the 2024 training programme.

The friendships we have forged during this process are an invaluable treasure. I am sure that these connections will allow us to continue learning and growing in our own territories, recharging each other's energies and staying united in diversity, friendship and hope.

Each encounter, each shared experience, is an opportunity to make history and leave a positive impact on our communities and the world around us. On this journey full of learning and discoveries, I want to express my deepest gratitude to all the institutions and organisations whose generosity and dedication made this bootcamp possible. Thanks to their support, new generations have the opportunity to connect with noble hearts and continue building a future full of hope and collaboration throughout Latin America.

Jean Pierre Orozco Ruiz was a participant in the Training Programme for the Management of ICT Networks in Indigenous and Rural Communities in Latin America 2023-2024. 

This article was translated from Spanish by Daniela Bello, using the ChatGPT tool, for Comunicares. 

Photos: Marta Calel and Daniela Bello (Comunicares).