Guatemala: Fair Trade and Social Justice

Guatemala banner  2019

 “I started this journey thinking of it as just another school trip that would give me little break from the everyday hectic Toronto life. But, the streets, the villages and most importantly the people of Guatemala changed my entire experience”

The Program

Operation Groundswell’s “Brewing Justice” program goes deep inside the original Banana Republic where a fertile land conceals bitter fruit. So, 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 are intertwined 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 our community partners. We’ll follow a coffee bean from seed to shelf and learn how Guatemalans are challenging the inequities of a global marketplace.

The combination of service-learning, cultural immersion, and adventure will challenge us to think critically about our next cup of coffee and how we as consumers can start to brew social justice.

Travel with other students, a UTM staff member and our partners from Operations Groundswell

Program Themes

  • Examination of ethical consumerism with a critical focus on fair trade, direct trade and trade justice.
  • Exploration of the coffee industry as well as other production chains and how they connect consumer and producer in a global market place including a discussion of identity, land distribution, immigration, and income generation.


  • Dates: Friday, April 26 - Sunday, May 5, 2019
  • Estimated Cost: CAD 2600-2900

UTM Abroad Student Leader Bursary

  • To apply you must be a student currently employed by Student Housing and Residence Life, Centre for Student Engagement or the International Education Centre.
  • Each department will allocate four burasaries of $500 to the applicants that display the most potential for growth and impact upon the UTM community as a whole.
  • This bursary is only available for the GIP: Guatemala: Fair Trade and Social Justice.
  • Visit the Student Leader Bursary page to learn more and apply.

Important Dates

The UTM Abroad GIP is a comprehensive program that is a semester long committment. Students interested in completing the program must participate in all components. Successful completion will result in two entries on the Co-Curricular Record!

Payment Timeline

Trip-Specific Sessions & Deadlines



February 3rd, 2019 

Rolling Application Period*

March 8, 2019

Orientation Session 

April 5, 2019

Pre-Departure Sessi

April 26, 2019 - May 5, 2019

Travel to Guatemala

May 1 2019

Post-Trip Session 


Our partners at Operations Groundswell will lead you through a truly immersive experience filled with planned daily excursions, educational programming, and opportunities to interact with the local community.

*The following is a sample schedule and is subject to change.*

Day(s): 1-3
Location: Guatemala City, Antigua, San Miguel Escobar
Accommodation: Hostel Antigueño (or equivalent)
Transportation: Private shuttle, public bus
Meals: Local restaurants
General Summary:
After picking everyone up at La Aurora Int’l Airport in Guatemala City, the group will travel to the country’s former capital for relaxing evening at our home in Antigua. The following day, amongst the cobblestone streets and colonial arcades, the group will begin its adventure with an orientation to the region including the sights, sounds, smells, and flavours of this corner of Guatemala. Then, after a little team building, we’ll begin exploring 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. There on the slopes of Volcán Agua, we’ll stretch our legs and learn from members like Filiberto and Timoteo, how to pick, process, and roast our own coffee before breaking bread over a homecooked meal. To cap off our time in Antigua, participants may have the opportunity to “cup” with local coffee experts or scavenge the local markets and prepare a traditional Guatemalan dinner complete with tortillas and guacamole.

Engaged Learning Component Part 1:
OG’s partner, DLG, has requested that participants serve the organization by spending 4-6hrs interacting with local farmers and learning about the coffee industry as well local and global initiatives aimed at improving livelihoods for small producers.

Day(s): 3-5
Location: Xela
Accommodation: Lar Antiqua (or equivalent)
Transportation: Private bus
Meals: Homecooked
General Summary:
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 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 and 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.

Engaged Learning Component Part 2:
OG’s partners’ Desgua and Café Red Kat have asked that participants serve with 2-3hrs of educational programming aimed cultivating north-south collaboration in the areas of immigration reform, ethical consumerism, and human/indigenous rights advocacy. Similarly, partners, Y’abal and Escuela La Paz, wish to promote solidarity through a combined 4-6hrs of activity-based learning focused on Guatemala’s rich histories and cultural traditions, as well as economic opportunities and challenges associated with the artisanal textile and cacao industries in the region.

Day(s): 5-7
Location: Santa Anita
Accommodation: Homestay
Transportation: Private bus
Meals: Homecooked
General Summary:
After a brief 2hr journey to the north-west, our group will arrive in the community of Santa Anita and home of a unique coffee cooperative that was 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 business and how one small enterprise intends to start a 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 we’re lucky, we may also 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.

Critical Service-Learning Component Part 1:

As OG’s primary partner within the Brewing Justice itinerary, APCASA has invited participants to join them for both community-engaged learning and project-based community engagement. In this regard 2- 3hrs will be spent with local community members discussing Santa Anita’s development before undertaking a minimum of 6-8hrs working on the ongoing maintenance and development of APCASA’s coffee production including the tree nursery and/or coffee fields. There may also be opportunities to participate in the ongoing construction of the community’s dry mill pending the approval of a Project Proposal.

Day(s): 7-9
Location: San Juan
Accommodation: The Hub Dorm (or equivalent)
Transportation: Private bus
Meals: Local restaurants
General Summary:
We’ll conclude our adventure at Operation Groundswell’s Guatemala Hub, located on the shores of beautiful Lago Atitlan. Here, we’ll learn alongside our local partners who use the site as a living laboratory and engage with the coffee and craft-based economies in San Juan. Ongoing pilot initiatives hosted at the Hub include Tilapia ponds, veggie gardens, organic compost and medicinal plants. We’ll also get to kickback, relax and reflect on our incredible journey. We’ll discuss lessons learned, assess our impact, and prepare for the journey home.

Critical Service-Learning Component Part 2:

The Hub is the perfect place for participants to continue their project-based community engagement while synthesizing the learning of the previous 6 days. In this regard, OG and Alma de Colores invite participants to engage with a number of the ongoing pilot projects and initiatives aimed at improving productive capacities, creating accessible job opportunities and revendicating traditional agricultural and artisanal practices around Lago Atitlan. Accordingly, a minimum of 6- 8hrs will be dedicated to community engagement at and around the Hub, weather permitting, with another 4-6hrs spent in hands-on workshops and discussions oriented towards connecting their local experience to the global context and the participants’ lives at home and on campus.

Day(s): 9-10
Location: Guatemala City
Accommodation: Hotel Spring (or equivalent)
Transportation: Private bus
Meals: Local restaurants
General Summary:
Finally, we’ll travel back to Guatemala City for one last night in country’s iconic capital. Staying in the historical Zone 1, nearby to the country’s National Palace and central market, we’ll discuss lessons learned, evaluate our impact, celebrate and prepare for the journey home. Then on our last day we’ll say a fond farewell and return to La Aurora Int’l Airport to meet the group’s departing flight.