For nearly two decades he has partnered with Guatemalans to address injustices against indigenous peoples.
By NPCA Staff
Photo of Matthew Paneitz courtesy Long Way Home
National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) is pleased to announce the winner of the 2020 Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service: Matthew Paneitz.
The Shriver Award is presented annually by NPCA to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who continue to make a sustained and distinguished contribution to humanitarian causes at home or abroad, or who are innovative social entrepreneurs who bring about significant long-term change. The award is named in honor of the first Peace Corps Director, Sargent Shriver, who founded and developed Peace Corps.
For 18 years, Matthew “Mateo” Paneitz has devoted his life to the redress of ethnic violence and systemic oppression perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of Guatemala. He has been doing this while living and working in San Juan Comalapa, a town of 40,000 primarily indigenous Kaqchikel Maya, located in Guatemala’s Western highlands.
In Comalapa, Paneitz was exposed first-hand to the brutal aftermath of the Guatemalan Civil War, a colonialism-driven conflict that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives — primarily indigenous people.
The Peace Corps brought Paneitz to Guatemala in 2002 and shifted his trajectory away from a middle-income career in the U.S. life to a life of unwavering dedication to equitable development in Comalapa and Guatemala. In Comalapa, Paneitz was exposed first-hand to the brutal aftermath of the Guatemalan Civil War, a colonialism-driven conflict that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives — primarily indigenous people.
Throughout Guatemala, extreme environmental challenges and inequality, as well as high rates of unemployment and illiteracy, currently stymie equitable and sustainable development. To address these issues and to provide better living conditions for Comalapans, Mateo founded Long Way Home, a 501(c)3 non-profit, in 2005. Led by Mateo, Long Way Home utilizes green building, employment, and education to mobilize people to actively participate in democracy and create innovative pathways to economic and environmental justice.
Green building as a pathway to learning
In 2009, LWH began the construction of Centro Educativo Técnico Chixot (CETC), a grade school and vocational school that uses green building as a pathway for teaching principles of environmental stewardship and active democratic participation. The school itself serves as a model for the effectiveness of green building and is constructed using 500 tons of repurposed waste and over 15,000 used tires. School walls are built from eco-bricks (plastic bottles stuffed with unrecyclable soft plastics) and car tires rammed with trash and earth. Skylights are made from recycled glass bottles. And roof shingles are made from aluminum cans and liter-sized soda bottles.
In the CETC classrooms, students are taught to assess and address local opportunities and challenges through a nationally accredited, project-based curriculum. As part of their learning, students conduct surveys to identify key development issues in surrounding communities: poor smoke ventilation, access to clean water and sanitation, and earthquake-resilient infrastructure. Using these results as a guide, students work with teachers to build stoves, water tanks, latrines, and retaining walls for families identified in the survey. To reflect the work of their students, Paneitz gave this curriculum the apt name “Hero School.” Since the implementation of the curriculum in Grades 7 through 11 in 2017, students have constructed 39 smoke-efficient stoves, 25 water tanks, four compost latrines, and two tire retaining walls. Students at CETC are forming a new generation of entrepreneurs uniquely equipped to lead their communities with innovative solutions to complex local and global challenges.
Since the implementation of the curriculum in Grades 7 through 11 in 2017, students have constructed 39 smoke-efficient stoves, 25 water tanks, four compost latrines, and two tire retaining walls.
In 2021, CETC will refine and expand this curriculum to all grade levels, K–11, and begin to build the infrastructure to deliver the Hero School model at partner schools in Livingston, Guatemala and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Through Long Way Home’s international volunteer program, volunteers also receive an immersive education focused on cultivating real democratic participation skills — assessing local challenges and opportunities, partnering across disciplines and context, assembling resources, and implementing a plan for development that uplifts all.
On a global scale, Long Way Home has engaged more than 2,000 volunteers through its constantly evolving volunteer program. Collaborations with established volunteer organizations such as Engineers Without Borders have secured access to clean water for more than 1,000 families across Guatemala.
To ensure the global impact of the principles at work in Comalapa, Paneitz collaborated with green building experts to publish A Guide to Green Building. He also developed a hands-on, month-long companion course, The Green Building Academy, to teach students from around the world how to directly apply green building principles in the real world. Deepening his contributions to the green building sector, Paneitz has contributed to humanitarian green construction projects in Colombia, Venezuela, South Africa, Sierra Leone, and the United States.
Nominations for the Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service are accepted year-round. To nominate an individual, please download the Shriver Award nomination packet, and submit all nomination materials to [email protected].