Budget Turmoil Risks Cutting Aid Partnership in Guatemala

Lachlan Johnson

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Illustration by MaryAnne Bowen

Every summer Whitman Direct Action (WDA) travels to Guatemala to research economic development and humanitarian aid, but this tradition may soon come to an end. Ambivalence from members of the ASWC Finance Committee left WDA questioning whether they can count on any support and wondering how to fund this year’s trip to Guatemala without it.

Due to a major budget shortfall last spring, the ASWC Finance Committee had to look more critically at funding requests submitted at the end of the year, including WDA’s annual request to fund their trip to Guatemala to research issues of water scarcity in Willywood, Suchitpequez, a small agricultural community where they have worked for three years trying to access clean water. This summer, ASWC funded the trip in part, rather than in full as it had in previous years.

“We were forced to make really tough decisions, and we were forced to cut many requests down significantly, which in a way was a very good process for us, [as it made] us realize that there are ways that every request could be cut down to make it more efficient to fund,” said ASWC Finance Chair junior Tatiana Kaehler.

Uncertainty about ASWC funding is nothing new for WDA veterans, who regularly question the amount of funds they get for a relatively small group of students, the ethics of development and international aid and how much is actually done on campus to educate and involve the student body.

“I’ve been on WDA for several years now, and every year ASWC has us jump through different hoops or has a new system and we’re never really sure how ASWC is [feeling] because the turnaround [of senators] is so quick,” said senior Hannah Palkowitz.

Quick turnover has been a challenge this year too. Last year, WDA members left their meeting with then-ASWC Finance Chair Sam Sadhegi under the impression that any requests for funding this year would be strongly rebuffed and they may as well not apply. However, Kaehler is open to hearing from WDA and at least partially funding their request.

“I would love to see a request from WDA this year. I can’t say how my committee will vote on it or how the senate will vote on it, but WDA definitely has the right to request money from ASWC,” said Kaehler.

Kaehler also hopes WDA will take the initiative to raise money and cover part of their trip themselves, and she plans to reach out to help them begin this process. WDA has been looking into fundraising themselves, but has not begun the process yet, as some debate remains over whether it is a path they want to pursue.

“I feel one of the reasons we come to a small liberal arts college like Whitman is so that we don’t have to spend our time fundraising, so we can spend our time learning and working on projects. I think that’s why we pay the [ASWC] student fee, so we don’t have to spend all of our time fundraising,” said junior Audrey Vaughan, who is the ASWC Oversight Committee chair and a member of WDA.

After spending the last three years investigating contamination of drinking water in Willywood, WDA now understands the patchwork of problems that lead to contamination, which range from the presence of human and animal waste, to the runoff of pesticides and fertilizer from plantations, to the complicated history of genocide and civil war that led to the current situation. However, solutions to these problems remain elusive, and time may be running short.

“It’s hard when we are working with a community, and we’re trying to come back summer after summer and build a relationship with them and make strides in our project when we’re not sure every time whether we’ll be able to come back.” said Vaughan.

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