Fair Trade

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Fair Trade

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  • Deconstruct the myths and discover the realities of fair trade while cultivating coffee alongside campesinos and ex-guerrilleros.
  • See firsthand the ecological, health, and socio-economic impacts of international mining operations in the highlands of San Marcos and the Polochic Valley.
  • Brush up on your Spanish with our partner, Escuela la Paz, potentially earning university credit.
  • Hike in the moonlight and see the sunrise from above the clouds on one of Central America’s highest volcanic peaks.
Program Dates


May 28 – July 6



To Be Announced


Program Fee



Community Contribution



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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 – Guatemala City/Antigua
Following our arrival at the Guatemala City airport, our group will meet with the Guatemala director of the Canadian International Development Agency for a briefing on the country through the eyes of internationals. Moving on to Antigua, the historic colonial capital of Central America, we will orient ourselves to Guatemala’s cultural and geographic landscape. Our aim during the in-country orientation is to provide the opportunity to experience modern Mayan culture and open your eyes to the economic consequences of the pursuit of fair trade.

Spanish in the Highlands – Xela
We’ll travel by chicken bus through the Western Highlands to the country’s second largest city, Quetzaltenango, popularly known as Xela (pronounced Shay-la), for five days of intensive language and culture learning. We will take Spanish classes (tailored to your experience level) and hear from local activists about socio-economic issues such as fair trade, labour policies, land reform, and mining. When night falls over the city, we’ll head to the clubs for a little salsa dancing!

What’s Fair About Fair Trade?
Near Guatemala’s former capital and colonial jewel, we’ll spend 4 days in the hospitable homes of local families and the learned company of De La Gente. We will work on the slopes of Volcán Agua alongside local campesinos (farmers) while developing a better understanding of coffee production and basking in the Guatemalan sun. Executive Director Andy Feldman will take the group on a guided tour of coffee from production to processing, roasting to commercialization, and the truth behind fair trade.

Coffee + Campesino = Revolution?!
In this OG exclusive and utterly epic 3-day adventure, we will hike 48 km up a super volcano and onto the highlands where we’ll follow the footsteps of guerrilleros in a trek across remote forests and rugged hills back towards Xela. We will climb one of Guatemala’s most infamous peaks before descending into the city proper for some well-deserved R&R.


Carrying on through the highlands, we’ll head to the small community of Santa Anita la Unión for our main volunteer project. The men of Santa Anita fought as guerrillas during the civil war before trading in their guns for farm tools. They now work as a collective, farming organic coffee and harvesting bananas. Living with another team member in a host family’s home, you’ll have the opportunity to experience their way of life and hear their stories about the war. For your volunteer project you can learn to plant coffee in the jungle, teach an art class in the elementary school, lead a workshop, or propose another project according to your particular area of interest.

What Glitters Isn’t Gold/Nickel Mining Tour
After investigating the coffee trade in Santa Anita la Unión, we’ll travel to San Marcos, a mineral-rich area bordering Mexico, which plays host to several controversial mining projects. Through international and local organizations such as Rights Action, we will be introduced to the ecological, medical, and socio-economic impacts of mining, potential benefits, as well as the negative repercussions. Visits to internationally owned mining sites and the locally affected communities will centre discussions on the role of international trade in the global economy and its effect on the reputation of foreigners in Guatemala.


We will then decompress in the backpackers paradise of Lanquin. In the pristine waters and turquoise oasis that is Semuc Champey we will enjoy much-needed mellow self-reflection.


After some R&R we will roll out of the Polochic Mountains to Lago Izabal where we will be met by local activists Angelica, Maria, and Raul. They will escort us to the isolated communities of Lote Ocho and 8 de Agosto, where we will hear about the continuing struggles against forced evictions, police/military harassment, and the detrimental effects of the nickel mining operations and African Palm production taking place in the area. After a tough two days, we continue out to Rio Dulce for a little fine dining and decompression before ITT.

Independent Travel Time
A staple of all Operation Groundswell programs is Independent Travel Time (ITT). You can travel independently if you desire but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, you are not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for yourself. Team members are given the emergency contact number of program leaders during ITT for any advice or safety concerns. This is the ideal time to learn more about your specific interests, whether it’s by volunteering, travelling, or just relaxing.

Disorientation – Monterrico
The group will reconvene for a program debrief known as ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will likely take place on the beautiful black sand beaches of the Pacific coast. We will discuss our accomplishments, how we can stay in touch, and what future projects we can collaborate on before saying our tearful goodbyes at the airport.


Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms!

  • Trek to the summit of Volcán Tajumulco, the highest point in Central America.
  • Explore the largest Mayan ruins at the world-famous site of Tikal.
  • Swim in the natural turquoise waters of the limestone pools of Semuc Champey.


With OG, you live like the locals.
Traveling as much as we do on the Guatemala program, there will be a number of different styles of accommodation. Whether it’s at a youth hostel in Antigua or under the stars on one of our many days of trekking, you can expect to be cooking together and learning to make tortillas with the team. In addition to guesthouses and camping, we will be staying with families in many different villages, which will allow us to delve into local culture. Being hosted by local families is an incredible way for the team to become integrated within the local community. Trusted homestay families have been pre-arranged by OG but Western comforts such as continuous electricity should not be assumed. Instead, cold-water bucket showers and cramped sleeping conditions should be embraced!

Meet Your Program Leaders

Mikel Iriarte

Mikel first began volunteering internationally in Peru, aged 18. Three years later he returned to lead teams of awesome backpackvists for Operation Groundswell. Although, the relationships and experiences Mikel has built in Peru lead him to refer to the country of llamas, Inkas and potatoes as his ‘spiritual homeland’, he is now testing his mettle (and his Spanish) running programs in Guatemala. Since finishing his degree Mikel has been meandering across the globe, volunteering and filming along the way. Now a year from home, Mikel is getting comfy on the Guatemalan chicken buses and getting busy planning this year’s programs.

Christine SandersonAfter getting to college, Christine realized that she had way too many interests, and way too many places to explore! She finally settled on double majors in music and Spanish, and double minors in peace studies and anthropology, but she couldn’t settle on a destination! While she’s traveled through much of Europe for various musical and linguistic studies, her true passion lies in Latin America. She’s explored from the southern tip of Patagonia up to the Atacama Desert while studying in Chile, excavated a religious temple of the pre-Colombian Tiwanaku culture in Peru, traveled through Costa Rica and worked for a non-profit in Nicaragua. When she’s not off on an adventure, you might find her teaching a dance class, telling silly stories, singing opera, or drinking lots of coffee.


The Way We See It

It took a trip all the way to Guatemala to realize that Guatemalans don’t even drink coffee. Well, Nescafe Instant doesn’t count as coffee in our minds. But it really is shocking that the country ranked 2nd in high-grade coffee production globally barely consumes the product itself. Such is the essence of the Guatemalan paradox: a coffee producer that doesn’t drink coffee, a natural landscape being pillaged by foreign mining companies for profit, and a predominantly indigenous population governed by a wealthy elite of white European ancestry.

Nestled in Central America, Guatemala has one of the most interesting, yet tragic histories. Home to the Mayan civilization, invaded by the Spanish and eventually ruled by successive dictatorships propped up by the United Fruit Company, Guatemala has had its fair share of political strife. A 30-year civil war helped create “liberation theology” but left many scars that remain to this day. In Guatemala, you will learn that being called “gringo” isn’t usually a bad thing, that eating fried chicken is a national obsession, that reggaeton is the greatest genre of music ever created, and that the term “chicken bus” doesn’t necessarily involve chickens but will involve far too many people in old school buses.

To travel to Guatemala is to challenge yourself physically and mentally – by climbing mountains and meeting farmers who see the coffee and mining industries as the cause for their poverty. It is shocking, empowering, exciting, and challenging all in one beautiful country.

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