OG & Algonquin College present…


Brewing Justice

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Program Description

Operation Groundswell’s “Brewing Justice” program goes deep inside the original Banana Republic where a seemingly fertile land conceals bitter fruit. From the bustling markets of Guatemala’s big cities to the smallholder farms of the western highlands, we’ll explore places where land and livelihoods collide with identity and examine why coffee and malnutrition often grow side-by-side. We’ll meet with producers in their fields, talk shop with fair trade retailers and get our hands dirty learning service alongside local movers and shakers. We’ll follow a coffee bean from seed to shelf and learn how Guatemalan coffee growers are challenging the inequities of a global marketplace.

Program Basics

Program Sponsor

Algonquin Horizontal SM

2020 Program Dates

February 22-March 1, 2020

2020 Program Fees + Community Contribution & Carbon Offset*

$1851 CAD + $83 CAD

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*10% of each community contribution is allocated to PlanetAir, a Canadian organization regarded by the Suzuki Foundation as one of the leaders in the industry.

Program Basics

      • Learn about free, fair and direct trade while cultivating coffee alongside local farmers in Sacatepéquez.
      • Dip your toes in natural hot springs and wade into sacred lakes while exploring Guatemala’s natural beauty up close and personal.
      • Immerse in Guatemalan history and culture while living with a community of revolutionary coffee farmers in Santa Anita.
      • Practice the traditional arts of natural dyes and back-strap weaving with the women of San Juan La Laguna who continue to express their Mayan Tz’utujil culture through craft-based economies.

Sample Itinerary

*This itinerary is based on our previous experience with the region. Programs change every year based on the needs of our partners. This should give you a sense of what our program may look like.

Orientation & Coffee 101

After picking everyone up at La Aurora Int’l Airport in Guatemala City, we’ll quickly take our orientation to the country’s former capital, Antigua. Here, surrounded by cobblestone streets and colonial arcades, we can acclimatize to the sights, sounds, smells, and flavours of the region. Then, after a little team bonding, we’ll kick-start our exploration of the coffee chain by going seed to shelf with De La Gente (“from the people”), a sustainable agricultural cooperative based in neighbouring San Miguel Escobar. Out on the slopes of Volcán Agua, we’ll stretch our legs and learn from local producers how to pick, process, and roast our own coffee before breaking bread over a homecooked meal. To cap off our time in Antigua, we’ll join senior members of the coop like Timoteo and Freddy to see how DLG brands, markets and exports its artisanal products followed by a delicious Guatemalan dinner complete with tortillas and guacamole.

The Guatemalan Dream

Next, we’ll head north to the indigenous metropolis of Xela where we’ll join revolutionary-turned-reformer Willie at Café La Red Kat for a delicious meal and an insightful workshop, talking about the challenges facing small-scale farmers and their struggle to integrate into the new socio-economic order. We’ll also connect with Fair Trade outfit Y’abal and learn to make artisanal Chocolate with Escuela La Paz as we dig deeper into different artisanal and craft economies that are steeped in Mayan history and culture.

BUT no visit to Quetzaltenango would be complete without a trek to one of the country’s iconic peaks! This year, we’ll be teaming up again with Eduardo at Caqchiquel Tours, a local family-run guiding enterprise. Together we’ll get an early start, make our way to Volcán Santa Maria and begin our hike to El Mirador where, if we’re lucky, we might see one of Central America’s volcanos erupt! Then it’s over to the Fuentes Georginas, for rewarding soak in natural hot springs.

Coffee Revolutions

After a brief journey to the north-west, our group will arrive in the community of Santa Anita which serves as home base for a unique coffee cooperative founded by combatants from Guatemala’s 36-year internal conflict. These guerrilleros-turned-farmers see coffee differently: not only is it an exportable commodity but also a symbol of campesino solidarity. So, by staying in family homes, we’ll have the opportunity to break bread, share stories, build friendships and deepen our understanding of the coffee revolution.

We’ll also temporarily join the ranks as coffee farmers and take to the fields for a day harvesting ripe, red coffee fruit. If timing is right, we’ll get to collaborate on the construction of the community’s new beneficio or mill where the coffee is washed, de-pulped, fermented, dried, and sorted – all in preparation for the international market.

Mayan Roots

Just a short half hour journey away is the town of Pachaj where we’ll join Armando and the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project. For three days we’ll live with local host families while learning about Mayan cosmology and how reforestation is being used to defend local culture and livelihoods. We’ll also get our hands dirty collecting seeds, clearing invasive species, and cultivating some of our own home-grown seedlings.

For more adventurous groups, the front doors of Chico Mendes also mark the trailhead for an incredible 2.5 day trek from Pachaj to our final destination on the shores of Lago Atitlan. The 42km trek follows in the footsteps of guerilleros and passes through highland plains, bamboo forests, and remote weaving communities that otherwise receive few visitors. On the final morning, those that have endured will be rewarded by one of the most dramatic sunrises imaginable as they descend into lake basin.

Disorientation & Departures

We’ll conclude our adventure in San Juan La Laguna, located on the shores of beautiful Lago Atitlan. Here we’ll stay at the Hub, which was constructed to serve as a physical extension of Operation Groundswell’s culture, philosophy, and mission. It is a place where guests can live, work and learn alongside local partner organizations who use the space as a real-world laboratory where they test technologies, old and new, as well as develop their ideas into products and businesses. So, students can expect to learn all about sustainable living while they explore local craft-based economies from medicinal plants and natural dyes to hand-woven textiles and gourmet coffee.

We’ll also take some time to celebrate disorientation. A staple of every OG program, this is an opportunity to kickback, relax and reflect on our incredible journey. We’ll share stories, talk about what we’ve learned, assess our impact, and prepare for the journey home.  Finally, with our heads and hearts full, we’ll return to Guatemala City where we’ll say a fond farewell!






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What’s Included?

A comprehensive program itinerary and educational curriculum focused on the issues facing your specific region

Experienced and caring program leaders with you 24 hours a day

All lodging and accommodations throughout the program

Three local meals a day

All group tours, entrance fees, and excursions

All group transportation on the ground

Regular discussions and workshops to help you internalize and reflect on your experience

Support from OGHQ whenever you need it


With OG, you live alongside local folks.
This is not a budget backpacker’s trip nor is it a five-star jet-setter’s cruise. We will be sleeping in clean, comfortable hostels and guesthouses that reflect our love for local immersion and responsible environmental stewardship. We will have a mix of shared dorms as well as a short homestay with our friends in Santa Anita and Pachaj. This type of travel will allow us to immerse in the local culture but may sometimes mean living without the comforts to which we’re accustomed. Creepy crawlies may sometimes visit while hot showers can’t always be guaranteed – so come prepared! But wherever we are, it will feel like home in no time.

Meet Your Regional Director

Ana María Umaña

Ana was born in San Jose, Costa Rica and has since travelled whenever possible in pursuit of her passion for education, development, and nature! She has worked as an English teacher in public and private schools in Costa Rica, and volunteered in Quijingue, Bahia (Brazil) on community development projects. After completing her Masters in Translation, she worked with Peace Corps, Costa Rica until returning to the world of NGOs as a Program Coordinator in Riobamba, Ecuador. Now, she’s super excited to be part of the OG family and looking forward to establishing new partnerships, working with and training awesome program leaders, and designing more amazing programs in South America!

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