Morna Macleod

morna.jpg (41114 bytes)

Bedales 1969.-1973

York University, English


Juan Arancibia
Manuela 9
Martin, 6


Human Rights & Development Aid worker


Ciudad-De Guatemala,     See


Dear Nick:

Many thanks for your email, I felt quite chuffed that you tracked me down on the website, that is indeed the book I gave to the library at Bedales, in English translates into: "Local Power: some reflections on Guatemala", which of course means nothing to a British audience, whoŽve never heard of the term "local power" so much the rage in this part of the world! Anyway, here goes my potted history:

After leaving Bedales, I took a year off in Mexico, and then went back to England to read English and Education at the University of York. At York I became very involved in solidarity work with Chile, after the 1973 coup d'etat, and then did human rights work with Chile from London. In 1982 I went to Mexico, my idea was to do an M.A. in Latin American Studies (in Political Science) and then go to Chile. I did finish my M.A. but never went to live in Chile, as I became very involved with the human rights situation in Guatemala, it was the time of the large scale massacres, especially of Mayan peasants and army destruction of 440 villages. I got to a point, however, of not being able to stomach so much repression, so began doing work in research. I have been working on, with or in Guatemala over the past 15 years.

My contact with the Britain during the eighties was going back every two years to get my residency renewed, until, alas one day they took it away, and I felt IŽd been robbed of my identity! I also did some work, on and off, with the BBC, thanks to David Thompson, our English teacher, who invited me to be their interpreter for an Everyman documentary in Cuba. I also worked as an interpreter for the BBC in Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, and really enjoyed it.

Through the university in Mexico, I met Juan Arancibia, a Chilean academic, with whom I had two children and subsequently married! Our daughter, Manuela, is now 9, very artistic and speaks broken English with a Mexican accent. Our son, Martin, is now 6, and is a particularly cherished and precious child to us, as he practically died when he was a year and a half, through an illness we believe to be caused by the terrible pollution in Mexico City, and various crass mistakes made by the hospital. I stopped working for seven months, as he came out of hospital with third degree malnutrition.

Going back, after Manuela was born, I realised I couldnŽt go on "living from air" and had to get myself a "proper" job. I started working in Oxfam UK&I, and I have been working in development and with aid agencies ever since. These are incredibly privileged jobs because you get such an overview of what is going on, and deep insights into a variety of processes, but also pressurised and you inevitably working very long hours, not very compatible with family life and bringing up small children.

Juan and I built a lovely house on the hillside of an extinct volcano above Mexico City overlooking the pollution (will we ever go back there, I ask myself). After Martin's illness, we decided to move to Guatemala, to get him out of the pollution so that he could finally start a normal life. Here, he is thriving and making up for lost time. For me, it was wonderful to able to finally live in Guatemala and to accompany the rather fragile peace process after 36 years of internal conflict.

During 1996, I wrote a book on "Local Power, Some Reflections on Guatemala", which has recently had a second edition. It was during this period, that I began to learn more about Mayan culture, thought and cosmovision, and tried to learn one of the languages, Maya KŽicheŽ. I must admit, this has been one of the most interesting periods of my life, and I am quite fascinated by Mayans and Mayan culture and spirituality.

So you can imagine how happy I was, a year ago, to be appointed Representative for Community Aid Abroad, the Australian member of the Oxfam family. Happy, because it is a programme is for indigenous peoples in Guatemala, the south of Mexico, Honduras and Belize. Instead of more traditional development work, we work around the relationship of indigenous peoples with the land, permaculture (an Australian school of agro ecology and sustainable forms of living, based on traditional indigenous methods), indigenous rights, customary law, cultural recovery and gender within an ethnic context.

Our plans, for the moment, are to stay in Guatemala, but we will eventually go back to Mexico, where Juan still maintains his university post, and when we do, I hope to finish the doctorate I started. I feel incredibly happy and privileged with my work and my family, though sometimes wish the day were twice as long, as there is so much I want to do.

Next summer, I shall be visiting England with my husband and children, and have promised Manuela to visit the places we have read about in the C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit books, as well as stay with Kristin on the edge of Dartmoor and explore the British countryside. Whilst my children are clearly Latin American, I want them to maintain contact and links with Britain.


Macleod, Morna. Poder local : reflexiones sobre Guatemala / Morna Macleod. Guatemala: Oxfam U.K. Ireland / Magna Terra Editores, 1997, 227 p., bibl. Price: 25.00



Mel Davis