Criminology Senior Interns in Guatemala, becomes Human Rights Advocate

January 22, 2014

Filed Under: Students

Florida State University senior Joseph LaBelle’s passion for Guatemala developed after studying human rights and living in Antigua, Guatemala for four months in May 2012.

To complete his Criminology internship requirement, Joseph chose to spend eight and a half months in Chontala, a remote village located in the highlands of Guatemala. He lived in a four-room building attached to a church. The building was somewhat primitive; he cooked his meals over a homemade wood-burning stove and only sometimes had electricity and running water.

Joseph’s job was to teach English and computer classes to Chontala’s indigenous population. After moving there, he was shocked to learn that rampant alcoholism had taken over the village. As a result of long-standing civil war, it was not uncommon to see multiple men passed out on the streets. Often these men would ask him for help.

Challenged by his surroundings, Joseph researched rehabilitation centers. The Casa Tat Loy Rehab Center was located in a town four hours – and eight busses – away. He contacted the Director, a man named Tadeo, and inquired about living at the center for two weeks to learn more about alcoholism. When he arrived, Joseph lived in the same building with all of the patients, slept in the same bunks, ate meals with them, and even attended therapy sessions with them.

When Joseph returned to Chontala, he began sharing what he learned about alcoholism and rehabilitation with the villagers. To his surprise, not one villager knew what rehabilitation was or that alcoholism was a disease that could be treated. He encouraged the villagers to seek treatment and end behaviors that shame and demean those affected by alcoholism.

When asked what he learned from this experience, Joseph said that it taught him genuine compassion. “Human rights advocacy is the core the criminal justice system. Why else do we have laws, if not to protect basic human rights? You can’t be an advocate without compassion.”

Joseph made a video about his life in Guatemala. Click here to see what it was like!