"The time has come for dawn, for work to be completed, for those who nourish and sustain us to appear, the enlightened sons, the civilized people; the time has come for the appearance of humanity on the surface of the Earth."
Menchú was born into a poor Indian peasant family, and raised in the Quiche branch of the Mayan culture in Guatemala. As a teenager, she became involved in social reform programs of the Catholic Church and was active in the women's rights movement. Like her father, she joined the CUC (Committee of the Peasant Union) in 1979, after members of her family had suffered persecution.
During the 1970s and 1980s in Guatemala, tensions between the descendants of European immigrants and the native Indian population increased.
At this time Menchú became active in large demonstrations, joined the radical 31st of January Popular Front, and encouraged the Indian peasant population to resist oppression.
In 1981, because of her activism, she had to leave Guatemala and flee to Mexico, where she organized peasants' resistance movements and was co-founder of the United Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition (RUOG).
Through her life story, which was published as I, Rigoberta Menchú and a film entitled When the Mountains Tremble, which illustrates the struggles and sufferings of the Maya people. Menchú also became well known in the Western world as an advocate of Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation. Rigoberta Menchú accepted the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize in the name of all indigenous people.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum is a Guatemalan leader internationally known for her work in the promotion of the defense of human rights, peace and Indigenous Peoples' rights. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, becoming the first Indigenous and the youngest person ever to receive this distinction.
For Rigoberta Menchú Tum, this Nobel Peace Prize acknowledges the struggles of Indigenous Peoples. It is also a symbolic recognition of the victims of repression, racism and poverty as well as an homage to Indigenous Women.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum was born in 1959 in the village of Chimel, Guatemala, a community continuing the millennium-old Maya-Quiché culture. In her youth she worked in the fields and later in the city as a domestic employee. She lived in the midst of the injustice, misery and discrimination suffered by the Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala. Various members of her family were tortured and asassinated by the repressive armed forces. Persecuted, Rigoberta was exiled to Mexico in 1980.
Self-educated, she has shown herself to be a natural leader of great intelligence. She became an active political worker in labor, campesino and human rights groups as well as in the defense and promotion of the rights and values of Indigenous Peoples. In 1983 her testimonial book, I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala , was published, followed by various of her texts and poems.
Through her work, Rigoberta has received world wide recognition and several honorary doctorates. In 1993, she was nominated by the United Nations as Goodwill Ambassador for the International Year of the Indigenous Peoples. At present, she is the Promoter of the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples, mandated by the General Assembly of the United Nations and was also appointed to be the personal advisor to the general director of UNESCO. Concurrently she presides over the Indigenous Initiative for Peace.
Goals of the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation
In view of the urgent need for change in our society, the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation looks to contribute in the following ways:
Prevention of conflicts, mediation for the negociated solution of conflicts. Preservation of peace. Development, social justice, diversity and plurality as a base for peace. Support of Indigenous communities affected by conflict.
Promotion of human rights.
Respect for life, social justice and democracy. Civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights.
Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Land, culture, liberty, sovereignty, education, development of an integral community, health care, access to national and international instruments of justice, community rights over individual rights.
Values of Indigenous Peoples.
Promotion of their world view. Culture, ethics, history, harmony with nature, respect for diversity, refusal of racism, discrimination and subordination.
Rights specific to the Indigenous woman, right to full participation, to take part in all decisions that concern them, equality in all areas, health care, education, culture, identity, right to own land and the right to organize.
Rights of children and youth as a guarantee of the future.
Better quality of life, health care, multilingual and multi-cultural education, the right to progress.
Right to options of development with respect to the cultural values and traditions of the communities. Development with social justice. Right to sustainable development. Dignified quality of life.
To support the communication and relationship between the different Indigenous Peoples. Help to obtain support for projects of different Indigenous communities of the world.
International Decade of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide
Active promotion and participation in the development of the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide declared by the UN in December of 1994.
Promote and divulge the causes, values and rights of Indigenous Peoples to stimulate concrete actions that support the initiatives of said people in order to improve their conditions of life and preserve their cultural identity.
In Guatemala, the Foundation carries out projects directed at education, health care, and human rights, with an emphasis on citizen's civil rights. In the area of community development, its projects involve housing and urban planning, as well as agricultural production. In the field of rights and values of Indigenous Peoples, the Foundation makes efforts to strengthen the unity between different groups of Indigenous Peoples, to promote their mutual cooperation and reflection on their rights and values.
The support of the Indigenous Initiative for Peace is one of the Foundation's priorities. As a base for the establishment of democracy, peace and reconciliation in Guatemala, the Foundation is devoting a special effort on civic education to encourage citizen participation.
The Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation has received and continues to receive technical and financial support from governmental and non-governmental entities. Countries such as: Germany, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Spain, the United States, France, Greenland, Holland, Italy, England, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
In addition, it maintains important cooperative relations with various organisms of the United Nations as well as with other international institutions.
The Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation is aiding the return of Indigenous Guatemalans exiled since the early eighties in the southeast of Mexico. This return process was initiated in 1993; since then, thousands have returned to Guatemala. The Foundation provides technical and operational assistance in the acquisition of their new land. It also develops projects relating to housing, education, health care, farming and training as well as specific projects for Indigenous women and children.
In Guatemala, the Foundation is contributing to the expression of human rights through the campaign for civil participation and education for democracy and peace.
The Foundation's work is also largely aimed toward social justice and improved quality of life for the population of Guatemala, especially for Indigenous communities.
On the international level, the Foundation has played a major role in the Summits of Indigenous Leaders; through its president, it has participated in efforts to promote the peaceful solution of controversies and conflicts that affect Indigenous Peoples. It is also actively working toward the inclusion and the defense of Indigenous Peoples' claims within international institutions.
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