Mission

We partner with communities in Latin America to empower them to assert their democratic, economic, cultural, and social rights. We strive to improve quality of life by addressing needs such as food security, clean water, health care and education so that communities may become self-sustaining.


Team

Richard Heikkila

President

Katrin Hoffman

Vice President

Jeff Goldie

Secretary

Tracy Tanasichuk

Treasurer


Katherina Orgtega Valenzuela

Chair Social Enterprise Ventures

Rick Berube

Chair Governance & Policy Committee

Chair Projects Committee

Communications Director

Board Members

  • Richard Heikkila
  • Katrin Hoffman
  • Sandra Cuadra
  • Jeff Goldie
  • Peter Schalk
  • Jamie Klassen
  • Kate Reynolds
  • Bronwyn Petersen
  • Nancy Tran
  • Cheryl Caul

Site Translation

We would like to thank the students of the Spanish 406 class at the University of Alberta who, through the UofA Community Service Learning (CSL) partnership with Sombrilla, volunteered to translate our website. As well as putting many hours of work into the translation several students brought new ideas to our board meetings and have offered their ongoing support. So many thanks to:

Liliana Cunha Alfredo, Cindy Julieth Ausique Rubiano, Daniella Batres, Jeffrey Austin Bennett, Daniela Castro-Zolezzi, Hilary Anne Dyck, Clinton Luke Ford, Emily On Ying Fung, David Andres Herrera, Maria Korsountseva, Ana Carolina Lara, Carla Camila Lara, Richard Larson, Kirsten Louise Leslie, Jarrett Rocky Steve Mancell, Amanda Diane Marshall, Lesley Cleo McMillan, Andreina Del Valle Mendoza, Jillian Amber Louise Metchooyeah, Bethany Lucienne Polis, Chelsea Dawn Ramsey, Saul Anibal Rodriguez, Anastasia Soichuk, Alanna Joyce Supersad, Ka Ying Szeto, Jacquelyn Varinia Szydlowski, Danysia Alexis Tash, Ryan Curtis Wascherol, Jamie Kadoglou, and their professor Odile Cisneros.


History

Sombrilla International Development Society is an Alberta-based, independent Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). It is non-denominational and non-partisan. It was founded in 1985 as a registered charity by a group of Canadian journalists and professors disturbed by the gross human rights violations in Central America. The society was subsequently joined by people from a variety of other occupational and professional groups. In the first years as an organization Sombrilla's primary focus was to provide settlement sponsorship for Guatemalan refugees whose efforts in the struggle for social justice made them targets of repression.

Since the mid 1990's, Sombrilla has shifted its focus onto the conditions that create refugees. As a result we strive to facilitate respect for human rights, social justice, sustainable development, and gender equity in solidarity with Latin American communities.

Sombrilla develops partnerships with Latin American NGO's that share its values in order to assist them in their development. Sombrilla focuses on providing assistance that is result oriented and sustainable.

In Canada, Sombrilla implements a public engagement strategy with two main objectives: the first focuses on presenting the Canadian public with the issues resonating from Latin America and the Global South, in an effort to develop basic awareness. Secondly, the strategy attempts to move from this basic awareness to the involvement of groups and individuals in organized action in support of communities in Latin America.

The Name

"Sombrilla" is the Spanish word for "umbrella," which symbolizes the partnerships between organized communities from Canada and Latin America that assist in sheltering vulnerable populations from oppression while promoting community participation.


Communities of Population in Resistance (CPR)

The forming of the CPR began in the early 1980's, in the height of the Guatemalan government's counter insurgency strategy. The most defining component of this was the scorched earth policy that targeted the rural Indigenous population of Guatemala. The terror was brutal even by Guatemala's standards which already had a reputation for being one of the worst human rights violators in the world.
 
 
By 1983 more than 440 villages had been destroyed, and a million people had been driven from their homes. Some 200,000 had fled into Mexico. Thousands more were sent to "model villages" in tightly controlled military zones. Still others fled into the rain forests and formed "communities of population in resistance" (CPR's).
These were sub-nomadic groups who stayed close to their villages, always ready to flee at a moment's notice. Their hope was that one day the army would cease its campaign of terror so that they could return to their villages and get on with their lives. As time went by it became clear this wasn't going to be possible.
In those first two years, life was a daily struggle for survival, exposed to the elements of nature without food, clothing, shelter and the support of communities. In these conditions many perished. But in the meantime they ran into others who had also escaped. They organized themselves into larger groups in order to produce food and protect themselves against the army.
Three different CPR's were organized the CPR of the Ixcan, the CPR of the Peten and the CPR of the Sierra, or which each has its own history. For instance, many of the members of the CPR Ixcan were members of agricultural cooperatives established in the 1960's and 1970's.
The first formal structures of the CPR Ixcan were established in 1983. It was a highly organized collective structure where members dedicated themselves to work for the benefit of the entire community. Security was another vital link in their survival. Patrols were organized to monitor all paths leading to member communities. If somebody was spotted who was not a member of a CPR community word was sent to surrounding communities.
 
 
Throughout the 1980's and early 1990's the CPR Ixcan lived under the constant threat from the military. The army approached every two months or so, sometimes as often as every two weeks. When that happened the entire community packed up their belongings and fled. Whenever the army found a settlement they destroyed everything, burning houses, uprooting crops, killing livestock, poisoning water wells. During these years the CPR Ixcan lived in isolation. Not only were they attacked by the military but neighboring villages were warned not to have anything to do with them.
But as the decade passed military repression began to decrease. Finally in 1990 the CPR of the Sierra broke the silence and issued a public communique announcing their existence in the press and detailing their years of struggle against military repression. The CPR Ixcan were quick to follow, formally announcing their existence in the press and appealing for international support for recognition of their rights as a non-combatant civilian population.
The Guatemalan churches and other popular organizations responded. They established a "Multi-Parti Commission" and sent delegations to meet with the CPR in Ixcan and Sierra to lend support to their demands. These efforts culminated in February 1993 when the Multi-Parti Commission organized the largest overland visit to the CPR in Ixcan and Sierra, involving over 400 people from 14 countries.
Sombrilla's involvement began in the spring of 1993. Sombrilla's Executive Director of the time was in Guatemala to monitor a project when he was able to visit a number of CPR communities requesting international support. During a three week period Sombrilla consulted CPR elected officials and addressed a number of long-term development and organizational priorities.
Impressed by the CPR's high degree of organization and commitment, Sombrilla agreed to support their request for development assistance. The plan was approved by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and endorsed by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC).
Sombrilla's project was part of a much larger plan to establish the security and stability needed to allow for the reconstruction and development after years of forced isolation. It included funding for the provision of material aid including metal roofing for schools and homes as well as the purchase of a vehicle. (We have some photos of these projects.)
The project also allowed the CPR to establish an office in Guatemala City to coordinate a public awareness campaign. Staffed by members of CPR communities in Ixcan and Sierra on a rotating basis, the office was set up to document and communicate ongoing human rights abuses against CPR communities. Some others tasks include:
 
  • develop a collaborative working relationship with the media, popular sectors, churches, human rights groups as well as international NGO's,
  • gather and document information at the village level and communicate it to the appropriate national and international level,
  • coordinate public awareness campaigns on their constitutional rights and international visits,
  • prepare print, photographic and electronic materials for media circulation,
  • conduct meetings with government and judicial officials to voice their concerns, and
  • determine and solicit appropriate national and international solidarity in support of their goals.
This was a departure for CIDA. The project was one of the first to receive Canadian assistance that focused on human rights rather than direct material assistance such as agriculture and health care to improve living standards.