Telma Sánchez, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”

Telma shows us the importance of following our dreams! Learn about her story in this edition of our “Staff Spotlight”.

Meet Telma

Hello! My name is Telma Sánchez, my colleagues call me Telma. My personal motto is “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

Hello Telma! Tell us what is your position within the FAFG and what tasks do you perform?

I am Project Coordinator within the Department of Programs and Projects. My role is to assist this Department by following through with the project planning to respond to donors, and ensure that projects and donations are executed in accordance with the provisions of the agreements.

How did you become interested in this area?

When I was finishing high school, the topic of International Cooperation caught my attention, although I did not understand it much at the time. I got a hold of a brochure from the School of Political Sciences of the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, which mentioned International Relations and International Cooperation. That is how I began to investigate what the career consisted of. All these years of professional practice have been linked to that moment.

Who inspired you to dedicate yourself to this work?

It was one of my grandmothers. She always gave a lot of humanitarian aid, just like my mom. They were my inspiration to have this social approach.

How long have you been working at the FAFG? What was it like in the beginning?

In June I will celebrate 8 years of working at the Foundation. I remember very well the first day of induction within the FAFG.When I went into the Forensic Anthropology Laboratory, I was very impressed by all the work and the processes that are carried out.

Telma Sánchez during the 1st. Anniversay of “Lanscapes of the Memory”

“What I really like is that we can help other people, especially families who are still searching and hoping.” – Telma Sánchez

Can you share with us any anecdotes or memorable experiences from your time working at the FAFG?

Working at the Foundation has given me the opportunity to generate external links and one of them is with the community of Comalapa, where I was in charge of the construction process of the Memorial of the Victims of Forced Disappearance (Landscapes of Memory). On a certain occasion, Don Basilio López’s son was at the memorial in Comalapa, and he approached me because he wanted to know the place where his father was [referring to the FAFG Laboratory], who had just been identified by the FAFG. I spoke with the Executive Director and arrangements were made to finance his and his wife’s trip to our facilities. I accompanied them and it was very impressive because he did not expect all the respectful and dignified treatment that the Foundation gives to the victims. I remember that at one point I saw him crying and it was very special for me to know that all the work we do helps these people.

During your time at FAFG, what have you learned on a personal and professional level?

It has been a continuous learning process. We are an organization that does not stop and is always innovating; there is always something new to learn. Since my first day, I have been learning everything about forensic sciences. I have to understand how each of these disciplines works to play the role within my job. It has been a day-to-day growth.

That ability to constantly innovate has been one of the most important lessons I have learned on a personal level. Also, that we are able to adjust to any change. With the pandemic, we had to adapt to different situations, as humans we are capable of doing so, no matter the circumstances.

What do you enjoy about your job?

What I really like is that we can help other people, especially families who are still searching and hoping. We give them hope because the Foundation is fighting every day to continue the search.

What do you want to contribute or continue contributing to the FAFG?

I know that through the reports, workshops, meetings, and other activities, we reflect the work we do and they are one face of the organization. I would like to continue doing that, because it is a form of accountability and transparency that allows our institutional continuity in view of those who trust us for financing, our donors. And also, continue to provide support from my work and a role for the response to families who continue to search for their loved ones

Mention three words that relate to the Foundation:

I have a personal motto, and I think it also applies to the work and it is “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. If we intend to achieve something, with hard work and a lot of effort we can achieve it, and the Foundation is an example of this. Throughout all these years, with a lot of work, the FAFG has managed to position itself where it is.

Any final message for our readers?

If we have a dream, we have to fight for it. Obstacles are not an impediment to achieving them, but they are lessons learned to improve those aspects and be able to achieve those dreams, and as I mentioned “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

Wendy Argueta, achieving goals in science

Meet Wendy Argueta, Chief of the FAFG Forensic Genetics Laboratory, in this special edition of our Staff Spotlight, as the FAFG dedicates this week to women and girls in science.

Meet Wendy

Hello! My name is Wendy Argueta, everyone knows me as Wendy. One of the things I like the most is dancing. I also really like extreme activities; I love adrenaline.

Hello Wendy. Tell us what is your position at the FAFG and what tasks do you perform?

In the Foundation, I have recently been named the Chief of the Forensic Genetics Laboratory, and previously I worked as a DNA Analyst. Our main objective in the laboratory is to process the samples that relatives donate to us, which we call reference samples, and to process the samples obtained from the recovered bones in order to obtain their genetic profiles and then to run a comparison in search of a possible genetic coincidence.

How did your interest in forensic genetics arise? What has been your journey to date?

Before deciding on my university career, I was reading and seeing how science, in terms of chemical and immunological techniques, was applied to forensic investigations. At that time there was little talk of DNA and the use of molecular techniques in forensics. I was very passionate about all of this. When I found out that there was a Biochemistry and Microbiology degree in Guatemala, and that it facilitated the study of DNA, the first thing I thought was: “I want to study this to apply it to a forensic investigation”, without knowing that 10 years later I would be able to do it.

After graduating, I began to apply what I had learned in the area of health. Later, I learned about the FAFG and that its laboratory was applying molecular techniques to forensics, and at that moment I said that this is where I wanted to be and that is where I have been for the last few years. I am very satisfied with my journey all these years.

Can you share with us any anecdote or memorable experience in the time you have been working at the FAFG?

Laboratory work is quite technical, objective, monotonous, scientific, and that is the way it should be. But getting out of this space and seeing how your work impacts the lives of others is what has left the biggest impression on me. I remember in a forum with relatives, there was a mother whose son is Disappeared spoke. She said that, generally, when a woman loses her husband, she is considered a ‘widow’, when a son or daughter loses their parents, they are considered ‘orphans.’ But what title do you receive when you lose a child? There is no way to name it. That impacted me alot, because it means that in the end the work we do can become a response for all the people who have that emptiness in their lives.

Wendy Argueta working at FAFG Forensic Genetics Laboratory.

Laboratory work is quite technical, objective, monotonous, scientific, and that is the way it should be. But getting out of this space and seeing how your work impacts the lives of others is what has left the biggest impression on me.

What is your vision for the FAFG? What impact do you want to see?

In the laboratory, we have always strived to be up-to-date with technology. From testing new extraction methods that have allowed us to recover more information from skeletal samples, incorporating kits that now have more markers that allow us to extract more genetic information from the samples, and recently integrating new sequencing technology that also impacts forensic genetics in general. I have seen the evolution as well as the openness and adaptability of all to be able to move towards the future.

Regarding the FAFG, I admire how it has always sought to adapt to new needs. We have a technical process that has been changing, where more departments or disciplines have been incorporated into the entire system in order to achieve identifications. Also, due to our experience, we have contributed to other institutions and countries. I think that in the future the FAFG is going down that path of generating and sharing these same skills in other places, so they can resolve their cases as we do here.

How has your experience been with the FAFG working outside of Guatemala?

It is something constant to see that perhaps the forms and scenarios are not identical, but the end the result is the same: there are people who are Disappeared, there are relatives who are looking for their Disappeared, and that for the institutions that are involved to resolve this problem there are answers that we can provide..

In Mexico, at the Regional Center for Human Identification in Coahuila, my contribution and participation has been more technical, strengthening the team, helping to establish the functioning of the team in the staff training processes, and validating the protocols to be used in the laboratory in the future. I have also participated in workshops with family members in Colombia, where we explain how science contributes to the search, localization, and analysis of the samples that they provide and those that are recovered.

What lessons have you learned during the pandemic?

The main lesson for me, both professionally and personally, is the importance of being adaptable, for success and knowing that adaptation is different for each person.

What is your message for all the girls who want to dedicate themselves to science?

If there is something that we are passionate about, we must follow it. We are going to encounter obstacles, but if we have a clear goal we can reach it and give more.If we have already reached the goal, we have to set ourselves the next one and work towards it. As well, we have to fight and support other women so that the path laid and they can achieve their objective.

To finish, what are three words that you relate to the FAFG?

Reparation, dignity, and truth.

Since 1997, we assist families in the search of their Disappeared loved ones.

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